Oprah's auto giveaway fuels Web spike

A giveaway of Pontiacs sends traffic roaring to the TV show host's and carmaker GM's Web sites.

Matt Hines Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Matt Hines
covers business software, with a particular focus on enterprise applications.
Matt Hines
3 min read
Lesson No. 1: If you give away something expensive in large quantities, they will come--to your Web site, that is.

Both daytime TV legend Oprah Winfrey and automaker General Motors hit the mark if they were trying to generate consumer interest with this week's much-publicized giveaway of 276 automobiles. According to Internet statisticians ComScore Networks, traffic to the Oprah.com Web site and GM's Pontiac.com increased dramatically after the talk show host's show aired on Monday.

ComScore, based in Reston, Va., estimates that traffic to Oprah.com peaked at approximately 634,000 hits on Tuesday, the day after the show was first broadcast. That represents an 864 percent jump over the Web site's average activity over the preceding four Tuesdays. Pontiac.com experienced its heaviest traffic on the same day, charting roughly 141,000 hits, a 636 percent spike over its own Tuesday average.

The two Web sites also experienced larger numbers of visitors on Monday, the day of the actual giveaway, with Oprah.com receiving 346,000 hits and Pontiac.com logging 85,000 hits. By comparison, Oprah.com only drew 56,000 on the Sunday before the giveaway, which was still a 192 percent increase over the site's average traffic for the previous four Sundays. Pontiac.com received 26,000 hits on Sunday, approximately 135 percent more than it typically draws on that day, according to ComScore.

Traffic remained strong but began to wind down on Wednesday, with Oprah.com attracting 290,000 visitors and Pontiac.com logging 76,000 hits.

Oprah surprised each member of Tuesday's audience with a brand new Pontiac G6, one of the company's midtier sedans that retails starting at $21,300. The talk show maven had preselected the audience based on their need for new cars, with people nominated by family members and friends who offered stories of their disreputable vehicles.

GM, which donated the giveaway cars, used the event as part of its launch of the G6, one of its new models for 2005. According to Mark-Hans Richer, director of marketing at Pontiac, the company counted more than 500,000 visits to its site Monday and Tuesday. The executive said the company had hoped to drive traffic with the promotion, but the response was even better than expected. Richer pointed out that Google ranked "Pontiac G6" as its eighth most popular search term on Thursday, a benfit that Pontiac had not completely anticipated.

"Everything we do in marketing leads back to the Web, but this is pretty exciting," he said. "It's amazing. If you had asked someone a week ago what a G6 was, they probably would have said it was a computer or an economic forum held in Geneva. We're pretty happy overall."

Richer said Pontiac has received a wealth of positive e-mail response to the giveaway, with some consumers even promising to buy the automaker's cars based on the promotion. Pontiac will remain a corporate sponsor on Oprah.com for the next 90 days as part of the deal between the two companies. Pontiac launched a G6-oriented promotion in collaboration with the CBS network and its "Survivor" reality series Thursday night, and is planning an aggressive Web marketing campaign for the launch of its Solstice coupe, due out late next year.

ComScore found that a majority of the Web surfers visited the two sites from work, with more than 370,000 Americans visiting Oprah.com from the office on Tuesday, accounting for approximately 60 percent of visitors, compared with an average of 50 percent during a typical weekday. The researcher said almost 100,000 work-place surfers visited Pontiac.com on Tuesday, representing roughly 70 percent of the site's overall traffic, compared with less than 50 percent on a typical weekday.

The company's analysis of Internet search engine activity found a related spike in interest surrounding the Pontiac giveaway. ComScore said that on Tuesday, U.S.-based Web users conducted more than 500,000 searches containing either "Oprah" or "Pontiac," an increase of more than 1,000 percent on the week before.

"The giveaway buzz was clearly a winner in breaking through the clutter on every media channel and in the work place, where word-of-mouth is a particularly valuable marketing tool," Dan Hess, senior vice president of ComScore, said in a statement. "With the majority of new car buyers researching online before they buy, the impact of this event in drawing Americans to Pontiac online can't be overlooked."