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Pennzoils Push


Its a Sunday afternoon in February and whether youre driving 200 miles per hour towards the checkered flag in your final lap at Daytona or just enjoying a leisurely drive with the family, Pennzoil, one of Americas leading brands, wants you to feel the clean.

The new marketing campaign, which kicked off with the launch of the NASCAR season at this years Daytona 500, focuses on active cleansing agents and promotes what Pennzoil can do positively for an engine. It marks a shift in strategy for brand owner Shell Oil Co. as it seeks to grab a larger chunk of the 715-million-gallon U.S. passenger car motor oil market – and to distance itself from its competitors.

The shift in advertising also marks a change in direction in terms of creative control. Behind the scenes, the Houston-based oil giant has employed three creative agencies in five years to develop advertising for its Pennzoil brand.

So can Pennzoils new campaign, running in high gear on television, radio, print and online through 2008, be a winning formula as it touts motor oil as clean?

Pennzoil is putting out a positive message that tries to get you to believe that you can feel the oil, said Tim Gibson, an associate professor of communication at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.

While the actual Pennzoil motor oil products – its Pennzoil conventional motor oil and Pennzoil Platinum full synthetic motor oil – have not been reformulated, the campaign spotlights the oils ability to help keep a vehicles engine clean, and a clean engines connection to the driver.

The Pennzoil formulation remains unchanged, said Luis Guimaraes, general manager of marketing at Shell Lubricants North America. However, the new campaign focuses on new brand claims. Prominent on Pennzoils homepage, the advertising campaign features an animated video that shows a driver and his sports car cruising down a country road, with arrows flowing from the cars engine up to the drivers heart.

What it is trying to do is tap into the deeply cultural love affair with the automobile weve had since the 1950s, Gibson said. It obviously targets guys and the sense of freedom, independence, power, authority and masculinity that they associate with their cars. It is taking those preexisting associations in our society and linking them back to the product.

According to Guimaraes, the ad campaign is fulfilling consumers needs.

Consumer, customer and technical research conducted throughout 2006 and 2007 led us to the decision to move forward with the new campaign, he said. We have identified a fresh, aggressive brand positioning built around unmet consumer needs, that we believe will help deliver growth to our customers and to our company in 2008 and beyond. Were seeking to go beyond just providing the traditional benefits of motor oils and focus on what consumers are saying they want and need from their vehicles: clean, responsive engines that perform.

But some suggest consumers will view the campaign with skepticism. What comes to mind when you think of oil is not clean, said Kamau High, a reporter who covers the creative beat at Adweek in New York City. Oil is a polluting product that soils the environment. Its unbelievable that something dirty can be associated with clean.

The concept for the campaign was a collaborative effort between the Pennzoil brand team and Doner, a Southfield, Mich.-based creative agency. According to Advertising Age, the Pennzoil creative account was worth $20 million last year. The advertising budget for the Pennzoil campaign will represent a 27 percent increase in media activity over 2007, said Guimaraes.

Doner is the third agency to handle the Pennzoil brand in just five years. Shell moved the account in December from New York City-based TBWA/Chiat/Day; in 2003, it had cut ties with its longtime creative agency GSD&M, based in Austin, Texas.

From that, you might get the sense that there must be trouble, said professor Gibson. But actually, in an ad-cluttered market it just might well be Pennzoils gut feeling that its brand is getting stale and that consumers are not hearing or seeing the message.

Or it just might simply be about maintaining its position atop the U.S. motor oil market. According to NPD Groups Car Care Trac, Pennzoil was the top U.S. brand with a share of 19.1 percent market share of motor oil volume in 2007, ahead of competitors Castrol and Valvoline. It held about a 32 percent share of the fast-lube market, found the 2007 Fast Lube Operators Survey by National Oil & Lube News. Shell owns the Jiffy Lube chain of fast-lube facilities nationwide.

Every time you have a change in creative agencies, that agencys pledge becomes, we will do the defining work for your brand, commented High. But from a consumers perspective what really matters is the message and the image.

High, who covers the people who make ads as well as creativity as a whole in media, admitted he personally felt that the ad was creepy, in that the driver has this weird connection with the car. In addition to Pennzoil, Doner handles advertising for another Shell brand, Quaker State. It manages both brands with different marketing teams. Some of the firms other clients include Arbys, Black&Decker, Coca-Cola, Dupont, Lexmark, Mazda, Novartis and the UPS Store.

Beginning in the 1960s, golf pro Arnold Palmer became Pennzoils star spokesman for yellow cans of motor oil. Today, the brand has aligned itself with NASCAR and past Daytona 500 race champion Kevin Harvick, who drives the Shell/Pennzoil number 29 race car.

As a venue, the Daytona 500 is a showcase event [for] our key targets, said Guimaraes. Launching it then made sense from both timing and venue standpoints. It allows us to get a jump on the important spring and summer sales season. Beyond that, our presence there allows us to create synergy with our relationship with Kevin Harvick.

The Daytona 500 is the Super Bowl of American motorsports. According to Nielsen Media Research, 33.5 million Americans watched at least part of the race, nearly 2 percent more than 2007s 33 million audience.

According to Gibson, the George Mason professor, there is no better platform for Pennzoil to launch their product than with NASCAR. What they are trying to do is connect with young men who have money to spend – those who are affluent, but not elitist affluent. These are guys who are connected to their automobiles and know about their cars.

Although Adweeks High says that Pennzoil is going against the norm and could possibly be setting itself up for a backlash with this ad campaign, he agrees that kicking off the ad campaign during Daytona, win or lose the race, has a benefit when people are watching that Shell/Pennzoil car veer left for 500 laps for several hours.

Those watching NASCAR tend to be those who change their own oil, so Pennzoil will reach its demographics, he said.

But Gibson believes that both Pennzoils positive message and its perfectly timed launch will resonate with its target audience.

Its a fine ad campaign that sends out a positive message, Gibson said. And in our saturated society, nobody does it better than NASCAR. The race car driver is wearing the brand on his suit, and it is all over the car. So there is no changing of the channel because there is this fusion of content and advertising. Chances are that fans have their favorite car on their screensaver or poster on the wall. When they cheer for their favorite car, there are also cheering for the brand.

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