Naming the 1963-1965 Buick Riviera
Buick came to the competition loaded for bear. By this time its sales were down to almost half of what they'd been in record-setting 1955, and some of its factories were standing idle. The XP-715 seemed to be just the tonic the division needed.
Its marketing group had recently completed a survey that defined the potential customers for such a car, with demographic data on income level, number of children, general lifestyle, features desired, and other factors.
Anxious to ensure victory in the competition, Buick did something quite out of the ordinary. It called in its ad agency, McCann-Erickson, to give its presentation a professional polish. Marion Harper, head of McCann-Erickson's parent company, Interpublic, offered his company's full support. Paul Foley, who headed the McCann-Erickson office in Detroit, called in Jack Tinker from New York to work with the Buick people.
Though the decision process ran into a second session before the GM Executive Committee, Buick blew away its sister divisions. It was prepared for and eager to sell the car, and its presentation convinced the Executive Committee.
Responsibility for XP-715 was now transferred
to Buick, but the car was still without a name. "LaSalle II" was out
because it was associated with Cadillac and might be interpreted to
mean "cheap Cadillac" by the public.
Crisp superstructure and rounded lower body
contours were beautifully blended in the 1963 Riviera.
Passing over such jewels as "Centurian" and "Drake," product planners ultimately chose "Riviera," which evoked the elegance of the Italian and French coastal playground. Of course, it was a name long familiar at Buick, having been used for the make's pillarless hardtops since 1949, but it would gain new meaning from the design on which it would now appear.
The intensity Buick had built up in preparing its competitive presentation continued into its strategy for marketing the Riviera. Roland Withers, the division's head of marketing, was a man who did things in grand style. The Riviera would be crucial to Buick's recovery, and he wanted the car to have a special image.
Accordingly, he decreed that no more than 40,000 per year would be built, which would make this a somewhat rare automobile that would bring people into showrooms. It would also endow the Riviera with a certain snob appeal that would, it was hoped, rub off on other Buicks. He kept production at or below that figure for 1963-1965, and Buick's substantial increase in overall sales proved that his strategy worked.
Also to his credit, Withers made the Riviera a special project for McCann-Erickson. Jack Tinker, who had assisted in the committee presentation, had since retired from the agency, but Marion Harper persuaded him to come back to work with Interpublic. However, Tinker agreed only with the understanding that he could form his own separate "think tank" and would not have to work in the corporate offices.
Eventually, his little team became known among people in the ad business as "Tinker's Thinkers." Operating out of a suite in The Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, they came up with such successful product names as Tab for Coca-Cola and Accutron for Bulova. Tinker's Thinkers were tops in the ad business.
In the next section, read about the Buick Riviera's journey through the world of automotive production.
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