Stephanie Hayes, Times Staff Writer
Say you're Cadillac.
For decades, you have been the go-to ride for old men who play golf. A status symbol for grandpas.
But time passes. Women browse car lots without men telling them what to do. They care about fuel economy and the ozone and cup holders and where the soccer balls will go.
If you're Cadillac, how do you get people talking about you again?
You play fairy godmother. You find dozens of well-connected Tampa women and shower them with fresh-smelling luxury cars. You dispatch them on local roads. You ask them to blog. How does it handle in the grocery store lot? How do their kids like the leather? How does the stereo sound while cruising over the Sunshine Skyway?
You ask them to tell their friends. And you hope they hyperventilate a little when they do.
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Just parked my beautiful Cadillac SRX in the parking garage to walk over to TBPAC for the Tampa Bay TweetUp hosted by Tampa Bloggers!
— From Carissa Caricato's blog.
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Last week, Caricato drove her Cadillac, which she nicknamed "Big Red," to Treasure Island for sunset, to Ybor City for sushi, to South Tampa for hula hoop lessons. She drove to work and charity events and important business lunches.
"How could you possibly pass up such a fun opportunity of driving a Cadillac for free and spreading the word about it?" said Caricato, marketing director for the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
In an era when fewer people have the patience to sit through television ads and fewer companies have money to buy them, marketers are looking for new ways to do their jobs.
Cadillac is using Tampa Bay, Sarasota and Orlando as guinea pigs to market its new crossover SUV, the 2010 SRX, which came out around Labor Day and costs between $34,000 and $44,000. Here's how the marketing plan works:
Each week through late November, eight women — executives, homemakers, volunteers — in the area get new Cadillac SRXs to drive. Women such as Kari Conley, community relations director for the Orlando Magic, Heidi Shimberg, vice president of marketing for the Glazer Children's Museum, recording artist September Penn, who is married to St. Petersburg Times writer Ivan Penn.
"It's absolutely new frontier," said Jennifer Costabile, regional sales and marketing manager for Cadillac. "It was exciting because it was either going to work or it wasn't going to work. The first week, we said, 'Wow, I think we've got it.' "
The women blog about what they like and what they don't (though most blogs are resoundingly enthusiastic). At the end of the week, the woman whose blog has drawn the most viewers gets $500 paid to a charity of her choice.
Caricato, 23, won the money for the Crisis Center. Through her Facebook network of 1,175 friends and Twitter network of 912 followers, she drove traffic to her Cadillac blog.
She got 771 new people reading about the car.
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