OnStar refocusing on safety with new ad campaign

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News

General Motors Co.’s OnStar will air its first stand-alone TV advertisement in at least six years with a marketing campaign that brings the connectivity feature back to its safety and security roots.

Airing Thursday during Major League Baseball’s Opening Day and the NCAA basketball tournament’s Final Four over the weekend, OnStar’s new “Horn” spot is the first in its new “Be Safe Out There” campaign.

The advertisement pans over a forest, with the sound of a horn blaring in the distance. The camera pans up a stream to a bridge, where a woman in an SUV has driven off the road to avoid a deer in her path. The only company logo visible in the ad is the OnStar button.

“We think (the ad) is really going to capture people’s attention and refocus our messaging on safety and security, (while) very clearly reminding people that it’s available on every Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac vehicle,” said Gerard Connell, OnStar’s director of sales and marketing.

The 21-year-old OnStar service is also resurrecting its “Real Calls” radio spots, featuring real recordings of OnStar dispatchers helping drivers in need. This time, they’ll be narrated by “Star Wars” and “Big Little Lies” star Laura Dern. The radio spot airing Thursday features a phone call from a distressed mother who is rear-ended with her son in the backseat.

“It’s very raw, it’s very emotional because it is real,” Connell said. “Our hope is that it cuts through and it captures people’s attention when they’re on the road.”

OnStar launched in 1996 primarily as a safety feature, delivering a suite of emergency response services, navigation and various other connections. Today, OnStar offers automatic crash response, emergency and crisis assist services, stolen vehicle recovery and roadside assistance. Connell said OnStar dispatchers have responded to everything from fender-benders to heart attacks and births.

But in recent years, it has been used to brand GM’s other connected services like in-car WiFi and LTE hotspots.

The return to safety and security comes as traffic fatalities increased 6 percent in 2017 to 38,000 deaths — and as connected features become common-place in cars. GM believes OnStar has something unique to offer with its team of 2,500 dispatchers in the U.S. and Canada.

“Safety and security as a message is just as relevant today as it was when we started this 21 years ago,” Connell said. “At the center of all of it are our specially trained advisers ... It can be very hard to quantify the value of having that real human being that’s there and cares about you when you’re in a moment of need and need help the most.”

Connell said that the rise of smartphones that can match most of OnStar’s connected features have not dented subscriptions to the service, noting that OnStar’s member base has been on a “growing trajectory” over the last few years. OnStar dispatchers intercept some 245,000 calls per day, or nearly 3 calls every second.