Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top 10 Automotive Marketing Efforts of 2009

Well here it is my take on the expected, every blog and news source is doing it - Top 10 List. I looked at marketing efforts across TV, print, events, and digital to come up with ten U.S. marketing implementations that caught my eye. They did for a variety of reasons and yes I know the list isn't perfect and I could have added or removed some things in here.

I also would've included more Ford, Lincoln and Mercury efforts but did not do so because I didn't want to come across as being too self-promoting, besides, others will certainly talk about some of the great stuff we did this past year; though, there was one marketing event I just couldn't avoid talking about.

The Top Ten:

10. MINI Motor-Tober (link)

I had a hard time finding ten automotive marketing efforts that really stood out in 2009. A few efforts really standout while other ideas could exist in a Top 10 list or not. This set of banner ads from MINI during the month of October really impressed when few were able to capitalize on a particular holiday. In fact, many of the holiday ads right now are so uninspiring: red bows, snowflakes, and snow-caped mountains. Yawn.

Last October MINI got it right by running several banner ads that played on the “face” of the MINI Cooper’s front fascia. Their campaign extended across mediums into TV, national radio and of course online. The ads show how an automotive company can have fun with holiday-focused campaigns while maintaining the brand’s integrity and spirit.

9. Audi BMW Billboard War (link)

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that I’m a bit of a BMW fan. I’m honestly trying to stay as objective as possible and almost didn’t include this bit of copy-writing back-and-forth, but it caught the attention of a many online and even the New York Times.

Audi ran a billboard in Southern California reading “Your move BMW” with an image of their very impressive A5 coupe. The local BMW dealership, Santa Monica BMW, retaliated by buying the billboard across the street reading “Checkmate” with an image of the new BMW M5 coupe. Audi soon answered back by changing their A5 billboard to a R8 with the lame less effective "Time to check your luxury badge. It may have expired" billboard, but by this time the joke was over and BMW had clearly won the copy-writer race.

What this demonstrates is how foolish ads are when you bring in your competitor. By acknowledging BMW, the Audi A5 ad had made it easy for BMW to mock the comparison. Even without the mocking billboard, BMW still won because Audi was running an ad that made you think, “what does BMW have that has Audi so concerned?”

This is an approach similar to what GM is doing with their “May the Best Car Win” campaign and with the Buick LaCrosse campaign that is very openly challenging Lexus. I’ve heard several podcasts, read many articles, combed quite a few forums and what seems to be happening is that Honda and Toyota owners are all laughing at GM for making small 1 or 2 MPG wins over a competing Honda or Toyota model only to reinforce their current ownership decision because the real win is resell value and long-term quality. If anything, the GM spots are causing Honda and Toyota owners to mock the GM ads in similar fashion BMW mocked Audi.

The Audi BMW billboard war was just a lot more fun and showed how something as simple as a few well-placed words on a billboard can be more viral than any overly thought out video or social media campaign.

8. Volkswagen Meet the Volkswagens (link)

This is a fun ad campaign that incorporated the data from someone’s Facebook profile. It “illustrates the future of database-driven ‘smart ads,’” according to Rick Mathieson, the author of The On-Demand Brand.

The application did some basic word matches to determine which Volkswagen would be best for the person’s data it was analyzing. It was a simple, interesting way to connect a consumer with a VW product that they may not have considered. I think what was most interesting is that the application showcased how Facebook data could connect with a company’s products in a non-intrusive way.

Unfortunately, the application never said why a Passat CC is right for me. But if I was going to buy a VW it was pretty spot-on, proving someone knew what to look for on my profile.

7. Subaru WRX STI Gymkhana Two Project

Ken Block, a world-class rally racer, showcases his rally Subaru in this video which promotes his company DC Shoes partnered with Subaru for the Gymkhana Two Project. The British auto enthusiast show Top Gear even picked up the Ken Block buzz when they had Ken showcase his rally skills on a recent episode.

This video is quite possibly the best cross-promotional marketing I’ve seen. It gets it right for Subaru, DC Shoes and Ken Block.

What makes this effort so captivating is how seriously cool the stunt is and how it caught a significant buzz on the web. To date, the video has over 9 million views! Now that’s how viral video is done. Admittedly the video showcases the DC Shoes in the video’s beginning but it certainly demonstrates how uber cool a Subaru can be too.

6. Honda Insight Gig Ad (link)

The best line in the Honda Insight campaign is “the Hybrid for everyone” line. It quickly separated the Insight from its costly competitor the Toyota Prius. Unfortunately, the product positioning statement in the ads didn’t give Honda the boost they needed. Most of this is due to a poor product, not poor marketing. The product couldn’t compete with the MPG King, the Toyota Prius. Plus the Insight suffered from too much of a me-too Prius design that was based on the outgoing model, making it look even more substandard once Toyota launched its much sleeker redesigned 2010 Prius.

That said, the Insight’s marketing caught people’s interest with its below $20,000 pricing strategy and a marketing campaign that made the Insight look like a formidable candidate to take on its more expensive hybrid rival by showing hybids can be affordable, unfortunately Honda just was a much lesser car in what was becoming a crowded hybrid sedan market with the Ford Fusion Hybrid and the new Prius.

5. Kia Soul Hamsters (link)

An automotive brand hasn’t let a little creature define it’s product since the flop of “The Caddy that Zigs” when the Cadillac Catera TV ads featured Cindy Crawford and a talking duck. Fortunately, Kia avoided the pitfalls of cartoon animals and decided to go with head bopping Zhu-Zhu pets to go along with it’s “A New Way to Roll” campaign. The cute hamsters were an instant hit as many in the target consumer group, 20-somethings, enjoyed the hip hamsters.

The latest iteration is seen in a Kia ad featuring the Forte Sedan, Forte Coupe and Soul that features one of the hamsters plastered to a showroom window. It looks like the brand is accepting its hamster-ness. The delicate line Kia must watch for in 2010 is not becoming only about hamsters. It could really go too far: newspaper-lined floors instead of floor mats anyone???

4. Volvo XC60 Integrated Twitter YouTube Road Block

Social media was the buzz du jour in 2009 and it most likely will continue in 2010. One of the more intelligent integrations of social media, online media, and event marketing was this effort from Volvo during last spring’s New York Auto Show.

Volvo was promoting the City Safety feature of its all-new XC60 SUV. City Safety automatically engages the brakes if the driver gets too close to the car in front. It’s a bit of a complicated, hard to understand feature that is best understood through real-life experience. To accomplish this for everyone who didn’t run right down to their Volvo dealer to try it out, Volvo decided to have people visiting the New York Auto Show experience it outside of the show’s convention center. Once someone tried it out, they could Tweet their experience giving instant feedback to the world. Volvo incorporated the comments in a live feed in a banner ad they ran on YouTube for that day.

I’m certain that we will see a few other automotive companies emulate this integration as the auto show season kicks up here in 2010.

3. Nissan Cube Mobile Device

If there is one ad that really captures where the automobile is in the mind of Millennials, it’s Nissan Cube’s Mobile Device TV spot. The ad features a car that does not move and merely acts as a connection device for connecting with one’s friends, music and lifestyle. Everything moves around the Cube. The wheels are stationary. It is not about driving, it’s about socializing.

Nissan’s treatment of the car as more of a smart phone on wheels is quite interesting. It really says the car’s benefits to a person’s life is not horsepower, a growling exhaust note, or a sleek design. Nope. It’s quite the opposite here. Here the car is more about its connectivity to your life and how well all your gadgets interact with it. This is a drastic change in how a car is sold and I’m quite certain it won’t be the last.

2. Hyundai Assurance (link)

Ad Age readers voted Hyundai Marketer of the Year. The main reason is 2009 was a year all about results. A company that could maintain sales or market share was a winner in this brutal economy, but Hyundai did more than that. It was one of only two auto manufacturers to increase sales through all of 2009 (compared to 2008 sales.)

The most notable thing Hyundai did from a marketing decision was implement their Assurance program that said it would let buyers of a recently bought Hyundai return the car if they lost their job (a few easy to understand restrictions applied.) It was an idea born out of consumer research that found potential Hyundai buyers were apprehensive mostly due to their concerns of rising unemployment impacting them. So, Hyundai answered with this campaign that was further promoted during the Super Bowl in early 2009. The high-profile TV spot was a great way to get the word out and it kept Hyundai sales in the positive while most manufacturers were losing 20-30% year-over-year sales.

General Motors and Ford both came back with their own versions of the Assurance program but by that time most in the industry were talking about the latest sales boosting craze – Cash for Clunkers that would define the summer months.

Hyundai continued to launch all kinds of extensions of the Assurance program, adding $1.49 a gallon gas price for a full year and additional cash incentives. None of the other ideas caught as much attention as the original Assurance program, but that didn’t matter as consumers understood Hyundai had a safety net program for uneasy shoppers. The brands impressive results with great new products and timely marketing campaign kept one company in this industry from a negative year.

1. Ford Fiesta Movement (link)

I don’t usually add anything from Ford, Lincoln or Mercury to this blog, but I can’t ignore the Fiesta Movement and what it has added to the automotive marketing space in 2009. The Fiesta Movement is all about generating buzz, buzz, buzz! It did so by giving 100 “Fiesta Agents” a European model Fiesta for 6 months and letting the Agents document their fun with the car using YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, basically across social media. Agents were chosen primarily for their social media influence and creativity.

Why I think this is the #1 automotive marketing effort for 2009 is not about me praising my own client or marketing firm I work for; rather, this idea of letting influencers (whatever that means) experience cars in an unusual, very involved way is going to be the big idea for many campaigns to come. Rumor has it that Honda is already thinking about doing something similar with the Insight as is another undisclosed auto firm.

The attention Ford has received from the Fiesta Movement is quite impressive and sure to be copied. It was a great way to get the word out about a product that was originally almost 18 months away from debuting on dealer lots. In fact, the awareness of the Fiesta is similar to Ford’s Edge CUV that has been in the market for several years.

The only question remains is how will all the early buzz of the Fiesta Movement impact sales? Will people not see it as a new fresh car to buy after 18 months of promotion before launch or will the momentum continue as Ford intends as The Fiesta Movement Part II is underway right now?

Either way the Fiesta Movement will probably be one of the few if any campaigns our industry will remember 5 years out from 2009 and that is mainly why I gave it the top spot in my list.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

VW Eos Dodges Low Flying Pelican Birds

Volkswagen has a tradition of making it on the Favorite Website Awards (FWA) website which recognizes highly creative, also usually highly frustrating user experience websites. One site that showed up on FWA this year was Volkswagen’s Eos Open Cage site.

Eos Open Cage is a Brazilian online experience described as an “interactive short film.” It is that. Basically, a woman (the Eos target consumer, I'll assume) drives around in a top down VW Eos where she weaves around open roads avoiding Hitchcockian birds that are trying to disrupt her country drive.

Playing involves some keyboard keys to avoid birds where one can swerve away or speed up. It’s pretty simple stuff with visual cues when to press an arrow key. If user response is too slow, a warning pops up explaining how to play.

It is not a game as there is no score or timing, the site plays in the space of interacting with the film. The implementation is really simple and clean where video is used in a way that is more engaging than simply pressing a Play button. One challenge a lot of sites have is the overuse of video content with no interactive element. Here VW Brazil finds a way to make video more interesting.

What isn’t intended from the implementation is what the image of swooping birds mean to automotive enthusiasts. One of the bigger stories toward the end of 2009 was a story about a $1.6 million Bugatti Veyron super car wrecking into small pond in Texas after a “low flying pelican” distracted the driver. It’s a bit comical using the VW Eos site, dodging birds that you can’t help but think this is a game to avoid low flying pelicans.*

How Does It Reconnect the Shopper?

Linking to the main shopping site is easy and clear in the lower navigation. Also, once one is at the landing page for the VW Eos the video intro for the Open Cage site plays and there is a promotional box that lets users visit the Open Cage site. A Build & Price link is also conveniently provided as is a link to the Technology page of the shopping site where one can learn about the features of the car.

Overall it is a nicely done experience that doesn’t get too technical, too game oriented, and nicely extends the usually passive video watching behavior most automotive sites rely too heavily on. Now if only we can get VW to do a Bugatti version with one very aggressive pelican.

* The Bugatti story seems to have been staged as the “owner” owns a wrecked exotics repair company and was also the driver a “wrecked” Ferrari Enzo.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

MINI's Positweets Lacks Positive Consumer Value

“We all know there is plenty of negative news in the world and we think it’s time to start focusing on all the good. Positweets is the destination for all the latest positive news and updates from Twitter. Here, you can see what others are saying and post your own #positweets!”
Positweets is a new marketing experience from MINI. It is a standalone site that lets vistors easily send a Tweet with the hashtag “#positweets”. What positive tweet will someone send? Who knows unless you already have something positive to say when you arrive at the site, there is nothing the site does to recommend a positive comment or thought. The positivity is up to the visitor.

So what is being said from people who arrived at this site?

I ran a tweet cloud for “#positweets” and discovered the most prominent words tweeted were “Noam Chomsky”, yes the liberal professor from MIT. So why was Noam Chomsky the most tweeted from the hashtag? It’s because of an odd ball link from the website about a
Noam Chomsky Garden “Noam” (BoingBoing is one of a few websites paid to be "Positributors".) The words MINI, Cooper, anything car or auto related do not show up in the Tweet Cloud. Of course this is probably hardly surprising to the people who developed the site, since other than a single picture of a MINI Cooper on the homepage of, there is nothing promoting MINI. This is only about being positive and being positive requires one to add the hashtag “#positweets”.

So why would someone decide to lose 11 characters from their already limiting 140 character tweets to append the hashtag? I’m not sure. There really is no incentive other than the incentive of the MINI team being able to run statistics showing how many “Positive Words Per Hour” is being said on Twitter.

With no consumer incentive, this effort just seems pointless. Sure I get it that MINI wants to foster positive words in a negative world and that positivism will somehow make you think MINI was involved. It’s a huge stretch. My guess is that few people will ever return to the Positweets website after clicking on an advertisement that brought them there.

I saw the ad on BoingBoing (sorry I didn’t screen capture it) and thought I was going to MINI’s Twitter page, but no I ended up on this site. It seemed a bit confusing and sure some small percentage of site visitors will Tweet a “#positweet” but after that there is no reason to stay engaged with this effort. Consumer value is very, very low.

And why setup a branded Twitter account called @Positweets? I thought the whole idea was to engage via hashtag not via an account. Seems someone is a bit confused about how Twitter communication works. No one is really engaging with the Twitter account because it’s not clear why one would engage with the account; though, 29 people don’t agree with me as there are a few followers.

So does any of this effort connect to MINI’s primary site?

The site has been around at least since early September. The site has nothing that I could find promoting Positweets. I checked all of the emails I receive from MINI and not one included anything about the site.

Perhaps a few media dollars were left to promote the site and that’s why I saw an ad for it today on After the media spend, I doubt much else will happen since it lacks any consumer value and does little, if anything to promote the brand. Though it did do a lot to promote a certain Garden Noam.

UPDATE 2/13/2010: I tried to see how the Positweets website was doing and not surprisingly the site is no more. It looks like this idea went nowhere and someone decided to pull the plug after 2 or 3 months.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo a Comfortable Fit for the Neiman Marcus MILF

In case you do not know, the new BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo isn’t for the M3 racer type. It’s not even promoted as a high-performance car. No the marketing for the 5 Series GT is all about style, fashion, practicality and the Nomadic life. This is an effort to reach the professional female consumer, one with a significant emphasis on style and beauty or as I prefer to call the demographic – “The Nieman Marcus MILF”.

To appeal to this demographic, BMW North America has created three lifestyle videos featuring Catherine Malandrino. Since I’m not exactly the target consumer, I had to do a bit of research to figure out who Malandrino is. She owns several New York City clothing boutiques. Her clothing line is also appropriately for sale at Nieman Marcus and Saks too. She is a French designer who probably has significant appeal for the high-end female consumer BMW is trying to appeal too.

I was impressed when going to Catherine Malandrino’s fashion website that she has a link to the BMW 5 Series GT site. A very nice, simple integration that is often missed when efforts like these happen.

One common approach car companies use to match their online efforts with the consumer is a “day in the life” video. The 5 Series GT site is no exception. It shows Catherine getting her morning coffee, talking about her busy life as a mother and a fashion designer. So if you have a morning photo shoot with your professional photographer after stopping at Starbucks, this is the ride for you. Of course it really isn’t fair mocking these videos, all of them are quite humorous because they typical ooze pretentious behavior and really how many women out there live Catherine’s life? This is marketing so it really is more about perceiving yourself as a Catherine Malandrino.

The videos are nicely shot and bring in images of the 5 Series in a way that is tasteful and purposeful. The more involved product content is in the Space, Form, Function and Motion site areas. Each section features some beautifully shot, large video content that displays the luxury of the crossover. The product videos also have some nice chaptering where users can jump to desired product information without having to watch the full video.

I also really liked the full-size window icons where product images can be viewed in more detail. Hopefully, most users will know to click the window size icon on the product detail screens, if they do they are in for a treat. The photography is elegant and really shows off the beauty of the car.

Beauty of the car? The 5 Series GT hasn’t received the most flattering of coverage from the automotive press while BMW fans are a bit less harsh. I was just recently at a BMW Car Club Christmas party where this vehicle was featured. A lot of negative comments were heard especially about the exterior and BMW losing some of its brand identity with products like this. It is definitely a move a way from the brand’s performance heritage.

The interior is where the car is a work of art. The interior seats, dash, materials and space are impressive. It really is quite beautiful from the inside.

Where the site is confusing is in the “History of the Gran Turismo” section. Why this crossover is even called a GT is odd, even offensive to auto enthusiasts. In the 1950 page of the Gran Turismo history the copy reads, “a two-seater that can go great distances, take sport-car turns, and store luggage for a weekend getaway.” Then we get the connection of the 5 Series GT to this heritage. “A high-performance answer to the open road.”

This is an extension of Gran Turismo touring history? It’s not about weekend getaways, it’s about piling in your kids, turning on the DVD system, and heading to Mall of America. There is no sense of freedom and adventure. The 5 Series GT is not the answer to enjoying winding roads and the freedom of two people enjoying a quiet weekend at beach cottage in Santa Barbara. I suppose someone had to justify the name so this section was created to appeal to the product naming consultant who does know what Gran Turismo means, just that it sounds cool and sporty.

Also there is an odd site behavior when someone clicks on the News Feed link. This brings viewers to BMW’s News Feed page, which takes people away from the launch site experience to what looks like a Public Relations release. It removes the 5 Series GT navigation which is very confusing and probably leads to a higher abandonment rate from the site. The same happens with the Sign up for updates link, you leave the launch site experience.

Gran Turismo naming abuse and some poor site navigation decisions aside, the 5 Series GT site does have some beautiful content showcasing a rather controversial product for BMW. The good news is the website left me with a more positive impression of the vehicle, much like when I saw the 5 Series GT in person. What’s more important than my feeling better about it: Does it appeal to professional fashionista women who are the target consumer? It probably does as I really felt the site was what I'd expect from a Mercedes-Benz launch site appealing to their typical consumer, the Neiman Marcus MILF.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Is Chevy Dorking Up the Volt's Vibe?

First it was the announcement of 230 MPG with a giant happy face outlet plug. Now it's a campy, Suzanne Vega sounding song with a lot of whistling that is promoting GM's buzz workhorse - the Chevy Volt.

Electric Vehicle (EV) technology is not easy to explain and is definitely creating a lot of confusion as companies promote ridiculous MPG claims and even crazier torque claims.
"Our goal is to craft that education in a manner that is family friendly (as it should be because we are America’s original mass /heart brand), entertaining and simple to understand for a rather sophisticated product.

A Volt song helps us to achieve those objectives. 'Chevy Volt and Me' explains what Volt is all about as a better EV in simple friendly terms," explains Maria Roher, GM’s director of global Volt marketing.
So let me get this straight. To explain the complexity of the Volt's three-phase AC induction motor rated at 120 kilowatts, or 160 hp, powered by a 6-foot-long, 375-pound array of lithium-ion cells mounted low along the Volt's floorpan requires a whistle laden, rhyme challenged song to help the common person understand what the Volt is all about?

Now what rhymes with lithium-ion? Conan O'Brien? Uruguayan? Scion?

I don't know. Seems to me the target Volt customer is going to be an early adopter and someone very knowledgable, well-educated and looking to better understand the details
of Volt's green footprint and technological advances. Perhaps a see through diagram of the powertrain from Popular Mechanics would be more helpful.

Nissan's LEAF effort is much more appealing to an educated audience looking for answers about this whole new Electric Vehicle segment. For the general population, Nissan went with a simple, concise video to educate new users about the vehicle.

Sure the LEAF doesn't get jammed in your head like a Lady Gaga song, but one quickly understands what it is, what it is not, and how it functions. For the more advanced mind, the LEAF site can be used to dive deeper into answers from the novice to the intermediate shopper.

Of course I understand the Chevy Volt song isn't the only effort Chevy is doing to promote the Volt. In fact, a lot is going on to share information about the Volt and the GM team has been releasing every minute detail about the Volt to keep the buzz going.

Chevy Volt has it's own presence on where visitors can get answers to several common questions about the car. A Popular Mechanics like diagram is also available to show how the Volt works. A few videos, images and even a full Volt Community called VoltAge is available to keep up with the latest on all things Volt.

I just wonder if a few of the marketing efforts like the "Chevy Volt and Me" song and the What Is 230? website will define the car in an unflattering way. And after the car sells to well-off early adopters, the Chevy Volt has to appeal to the general population in a cool, compelling way to make it as desirable as the concept car it originated from.

UPDATE: This is really getting weird. The GMVolt YouTube channel posted the "Chevy Volt Dance" from the LA Auto Show on December 13, 2009 complete with breakdancing.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Fallon to the Rescue, Stat!

It's already been called the "worst car ad ever" by Jalopnik's Ray Wert. Auto Extremist Peter De Lorenzo is quoted in Ad Age saying it is "patently absurd." Chrysler was forced to make a public statement it didn't hire an Italian ad agency the day the new ad was launched.

I don't even know what to say. I can only hope Chrysler gets things straightened out and starts to realize you can't change a somewhat premium brand into a highfalutin snob brand with one cause marketing effort. Mercedes didn't become Mercedes overnight.

Also, don't even get me started on how they turned the homepage of their shopping site into a giant TV commercial with the ad as the main image taking over the main body of It's just shocking and not good shocking.

The strangest thing is that the ad is a rehashed version of the same idea (and in some cases same images) as this Lancia spot that ran last year. I've heard of platform sharing across brands from a manufacturing benefit, but never as a cost saving technique for marketing.

On the very same day the ad started running on television, Chrysler announced it has selected Publicis Groupe's Fallon agency to handle the creative work previously led by BBDO. One can only hope that Chrysler gets some better marketing direction with Fallon. I'm not sure Lancia has enough good advertising to recycle to make the brand desirable again; though, I do really like this print advertisement from Lancia:

So Fallon you have your work cutout for you. I really wish you the best of luck as a lot of us want to see Chrysler succeed. Unfortunately, it's getting harder and harder to believe success is in the brand's future.

Automotive Facebook Fans by Brand: November 2009

Each month I plan on posting where automotive companies are with their fan love on the popular social networking site Facebook. This is the first of what will be monthly reports that will be posted to this blog within the first few days of each new month.

I have been tracking data since September 14, 2009 but have been doing it in no particular regularity until November. The data here looks at fans as of December 01. Any percentages of change in the graphs are comparing fan changes from 11/3/09 to 12/1/09, basically a month’s change in fans.

The leader board may tell us something about changes in brand perception over time, but that remains to be seen as data collected builds. If anything, much of what we see today with fans on Facebook are a few isolated large-scale marketing campaigns designed to get people to fan (e.g. Honda’s recent Everybody Loves a Honda campaign) and mostly it shows brands with very high socially acceptable brand association. What I mean by the latter is that people are likely to fan brands like Porsche, Aston Martin, Audi and Mercedes-Benz because they are highly aspirational brands that people want to align themselves with in their social network. It’s very socially acceptable to say I’m a fan of Porsche than say a Kia.

Fan Counts: Marketing or Organic Social Acceptance

Current fan counts tell us more about social braggadocios behavior and big campaign pushes to get fans. The largest fanned brand on Facebook is Ferrari at 681,329 fans as of 12/1/09. Lamborghini used to have 823,776 fans back on 9/14/09, but they have since revived their brand page and are rebuilding at a new count of 241,257. I decided not to include the super car brands because they skew the data too much when looking against the main automotive brands and finding correlations with sales. What the Ferrari, Lamborghini and, yes even, Porsche brands tell us about fanning on Facebook is that highly aspirational products will grow organically.

Audi and Mercedes both show a high count of fans. They too are aspirational brands. Three brands that are not as aspirational are Jeep, VW, and Honda all of which have very high fan counts.

VW recently ran the first ever Facebook fan campaign when they launched their “Meet the VWs” effort last May. Honda followed their lead with the “Everybody Loves a Honda” campaign that ran TV ads, online media (in and out of Facebook) and email marketing communications promoting the idea of going to Honda’s Facebook page. The Honda effort began last August and went full speed in September and October. They went from 22,806 fans in 9/14/09 to 262,435 fans by about the time the media ended, resulting in 1,050% increase in fans!

I wish I had more historical data on Jeep. I know they did a lot of early Facebook applications like Boostin’ Nuts and did a lot of outreach to their online communities. They were also one of the best-organized automotive brands on Facebook. Facebook used to give brands much more customization of the brand pages and before that changed this year, Jeep was one of the best examples of Facebook marketing on a brand page. I’m guessing most of their growth came when they were early adopters of the platform, but that is a guess as I don’t have the numbers.

The remaining brands are all over the place. Some brands advertise a lot on Facebook – Lexus, Cadillac, Chevy, Infiniti and Acura to name a few. Most brands also advertise nameplates like Ford with Mustang and Fusion. Chevy has done a lot promoting the Camaro and Cadillac SRX. One of the biggest jumps in fans comes from Volvo this past month with a 57% increase, attributable to their What Drives Edward campaign aligned with the Twilight: New Moon film.

Fan numbers for non-aspirational sports car or luxury brands have more to do with advertising on Facebook to attract fans to their pages on the site. I’ve seen this happen a few times in watching this closely since early September. For example Chevy and Cadillac have been running several ads on Facebook this past month and have seen nice jumps of 50% and 84% since the prior month. Kia also saw a major gain of 111%, attributed most likely to their latest campaign for the new Forte.

HUMMER is the most intriguing here. The brand has basically no marketing presence and was recently bought by the Chinese firm Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Corp. back in October. Fortunately they did have some events that helped their social visibility, like Rod Hall Racing winning with a H3 at Baja 1000 last month.

Nick Richards, HUMMER Manager of Public Relations, shared,"The HUMMER Facebook fan page, which was only started 8 weeks ago, has likely benefited from recent promotions and active outreach on the part of the HUMMER social media team to existing global HUMMER Club members."

MINI is a special case too as they just recently switched from promoting their MINI USA Facebook fan page to a global MINI fan page. The brand has been building up their fan base on the new page since the move a couple months ago.

I’ve noticed whenever there are double-digit jumps in a brand’s fans it is because of marketing and I wish I could see spend to fan increase, but no one will give me their marketing budget numbers; though, to be fair, I really haven’t asked…

In Summary

So I’ll post this data on a monthly interval for all to see. Consider it my blog’s version of Autoblog’s “By the Numbers”. Hope you find it useful and please let me know what you’d like to know from these numbers?

I do plan on comparing fans to changes in market share, how product launches may affect fans, major brand advertising campaigns, or other similar comparisons to see if any correlation exists or to see how a particular campaign is impacting fan trend.

Thanks for reading and I hope this becomes a useful exercise worth reading and tracking.

Download the Excel file: Facebook Auto Fan File

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Audi and Infiniti Debut New Vehicles on Facebook

A lot is going on when it’s Auto Show week. With the Los Angeles Auto Show in full swing, automakers were looking for ways to involve those who couldn’t visit the land of swimmin’ pools and movie stars.

Audi and Infiniti decided to bring their reveal events online to the popular social networking site Facebook. The Infiniti event was an online look into the reveal happening in conjunction with the LA Auto Show. The Audi event was held on the opposite coast in Miami with some additional corporate promotion. Both events used the same template construct with a live video feed and Facebook chat.

Audi’s Miami Talk Show

“Since our inception, Audi has embraced progress in the quest to create groundbreaking technologies and deliver new ideas to the road. Just as artists make it a mission to work for the untold future, so does Audi design to be relevant not just today, but for many years to come,” said Rupert Stadler, Chairman of the Board of Management, Audi AG

That statement is representative of how painful it was to watch the Audi A8 reveal on Facebook last Monday evening. Just imagine that language repeated ad nauseam for 30 minutes and you'll understand why the chat participants on Facebook started to get a bit rowdy.

The event started nicely enough with TV and film star Lucy Liu welcoming everyone to the event and sharing how Audi is entrenched in design and why they were making the U.S. debut of the new Audi A8 at the Art Basel Miami Beach.

A welcoming is nice and expected, but then things got a bit weird. Lucy invited several people up to discuss design and the Miami community’s commitment to art. The discussion went on and on and on like a Sergio Marchionne press event. Chat participants started mocking the Miami community, Lucy Liu, and were getting very frustrated with Audi wasting everyone’s time talking about things they didn’t care about. I was personally waiting for an artistic discussion on chiaroscuro and its meaning in Hieronymus Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delight”.

Eventually Audi revealed the A8, but it was too much of wait for me personally as I had things to do with my family that evening. My wife’s patience was really being tried and well she wins. I caught the photos of the car on Jalopnik that evening and everything looked pretty good and mostly followed the Sport Back Concept Audi showed last January at the Detroit Auto Show.

Infiniti Shows Us How It’s Done

Last night was the second Facebook vehicle reveal, this time from Infiniti. They showed off some minor changes to the G sedan and were mainly promoting the unveiling of the 2011 Infiniti M.

Maybe Infiniti watched the chat discussion from Audi’s event and decided it was best to keep things on topic. They welcomed everyone sans celebrity, showed off the G sedan, then briefly talked about the key message for the M, and pulled the car cover off the new M. All of this took 16 minutes from start to finish. It was short and sweet.

Conversation at the Infiniti event mainly stayed on topic, because it was respectful of people’s time. Most importantly the presentation was all about the cars. Simple. Effective.

While companies may want to make their online reveal more of an event by having a celebrity host and tying it in with some philanthropic effort, it is best to keep the event to the reason why people came. Watching something like this on the web is not the same as being trapped in a seat at a Miami auditorium. Internet users can come and go very easily. Plus they didn't get any hors d'uvres or have an incentive to stay for a picture with a Charlie's Angel.

Kia's Moochie Needs Zhu Zhu If It Wants Mania

Sorry for another Kia blog post (really I'm not obsessed), but in doing research for the Kia Soul Collective an ad network media buy must have picked up that I was a Kia shopper and sent a Moochie expandable ad unit to a site I was viewing. A what? A Moochie.

ACR New York, a creative advertising agency produced six-webisodes for the all-new Kia Soul campaign in collaboration with the David & Goliath agency. The experience called "Moochie Mania" is another attempt to appeal to the youth market.

The six-webisodes feature three recent college graduate friends trying to save their pet hamster. The hamster not only talks, only the three friends can hear his words, but the hamster is dying of a heart condition. It’s a real tug at your heartstrings story that is well sure to appeal to… someone.

The hamsters have severed Kia well on the Soul campaign. With over a million views of their Hamster TV spot on YouTube, the hamsters are definitely viral (I added up several posts of the TV ad to get the over million number.) To further extend that viral interest, Kia’s marketing team is promoting the “Moochie Mania Webisodes” on YouTube’s Promoted Video area when you search for the Kia hamster commercial, plus they are running a media buy outside of YouTube.

The Staggered Approach

Episode One was launched two months ago and did generate a fair amount of traffic to the YouTube video with over 50,000 views that is fairly decent assuming a minimal advertising spend.

The other two episodes (#2 & #3) have considerably fewer views that are pretty common in a staggered strategic approach. It’s my professional guess that the remaining three episodes still to come will perform even worse.

Why? Because staggered video content strategies assume an audience is growing and that early visitors are likely to return. But my experience and watching similar efforts like Audi’s Meet the Beckers, shows that visitors do not return. So unless the media plan increases as episodes launch, the later released content will not generate as much traffic.

Staggering really doesn’t make much sense for the main reason that most of your media spend, for an attempt at a “viral” effort like this, is at the debut of the first episode or two. Beyond that the team waits to see if the effort catches on and if it doesn’t the campaign moves on to the next idea and lets the remaining episodes launch as planned without much care.

The better idea is to have all the content available at launch for people to engage with and hopefully share if they find it compelling. The best idea is to plan your media spend in a staggered way too. Spread the media spend so that you spend say 30% at start and then spread out the other 70% as episodes are released, changing up where you buy as you learn what buys are performing best for this sort of content. Kia may be doing this for all I know, I'm just assuming their approach is similar to most. Spend the wad early and hope for a viral spark to ignite interest.

Moochie Needs a Viral Partner

Maybe Moochie could catch the enthusiasm of a popular kid’s toy that is all the rage this season – Zhu Zhu. Kia’s hamster looks very similar to the Zhu Zhu toys and there certainly is considerable buzz around them. It would’ve been pretty funny seeing a co-marketed product where one can buy a Zhu Zhu with a toy Kia Soul he can drive. Maybe that will cause some buzz even beyond the buzz of the original TV commercial.

Short of a major marketing alignment with a popular Christmas toy, the Moochie Mania probably won’t be much of a mania. It takes considerable, consistent ad spending to generate enough interest in a campaign like this and with all of these various efforts for the Kia Soul -- launch site, Go Hamster Go game on Facebook, Kia Soul Collective, this and I’m sure others efforts – it is probably a good guess that the marketing budget is getting spread pretty thin.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Part I: How Cash for Clunkers Impacted 2009 Sales & Advertising to Attract Bargain Shoppers

There are a lot of articles out talking about a resurgence in automotive sales. As a recent LA Times article claims, “U.S. car sales are out of rut.” While there certainly is some very positive momentum that all started with Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) or more commonly known as “Cash For Clunkers”, Ford posted a pretax third-quarter profit of $357 million and General Motors has improved its market share for four straight months, the market is far from recovery.

All of this talk about improvements in the automotive market has left me wondering what is really going on, since we recently crossed 10% national unemployment and little has changed with economic fundamentals.

Did Cash For Clunkers wake people up and get them interested in car buying? Or was it simply a temporary spike where numbers returned to pre-Clunker sales? Or is something else going. Of course, I’m curious if the sales momentum in late 2009 is advertising or product related or a little of both or not really a momentum at all.


Most of the analysis done by the media is year-over-year comparisons. But if this year is highly unusual and looking back at the tanking of sales in late 2008 is naturally going to provide what looks like a surge in sales, how can we judge sales performance post Cash for Clunkers?

This analysis looks at 2009 only. I looked at sales through the first six months of 2009 (January-June) and then took an average of sales for those months to obtain an average month in 2009.

The chart looks at percentage of change from a six-month average, against the months where Cash for Clunkers was active and the following two months post the end of the Clunkers offer: September and October.

The data also only looks at non-luxury automotive brands for the companies included in the analysis. Why? The legislation applied only to cars priced below $45,000. Cash for Clunkers had a negative or non-impact on luxury car sales, so I decided to exclude it in this analysis.

One company that may seem odd here is Smart. I only included them because they were running a high profile $99/month Cash for Clunkers promotion. I was curious if it had an impact on sales.

Sales During Cash for Clunkers

Honda, Nissan and Toyota saw the most significant increases in sales in August when Cash for Clunkers was at its peak. Honda had a 90% increase while Nissan increased 89% and Toyota 78% over the 6-month 2009 average.

U.S. brands Ford, General Motors and Chrysler saw decent gains, but almost two-thirds or half the gain of their foreign counterparts. General Motors led with a 60% gain, Ford saw a 45% increase and Chrysler performed the lowest across the major brands with only a 19% improvement; though, many Chrysler dealers were caught without adequate inventories.

Truck sales were one area where American brands did fairly well. “The single most common swap - which occurred more than 8,200 times - involved Ford 150 pickup owners who took advantage of a government rebate to trade their old trucks for new Ford 150s,” according to the Associated Press.

Not surprisingly, Hyundai received a nice bump especially with some low-priced value alternatives for SUV traders with significant sales of the Tucson and Santa Fe. The Elantra, their economy car, doubled sales in August as value seekers sought alternatives to the Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla which all ran into availability issues.

Smart saw a negative change in July as Cash for Clunkers started, but eventually turned positive, barely, as the program peaked in August. Unfortunately for Smart, their sole product only allows for a driver and one passenger and while the 33/41 mpg fuel-economy at first is appealing, it comes with giving up a lot like interior space and concerns for safety.

The program did what most expected it to do. It increased sales and spurred a lot of interest in new car sales. Who benefited more is really more of a political concern and caused a lot of discussion as it is easy to see the Asian automakers did very well from the program.

Marketing To Clunker Sellers

There were various efforts as automakers tried their best to attract clunker sales. Hyundai was the first out of the gate by offering trades a few weeks before the program officially started, good thing for Hyundai the government accepted the early trades.

Ford Motor Company went with their “Let Ford Recycle Your Ride” site that simplified the process for figuring out if a car qualified and then returned a list of qualifying Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicle choices. The site also included manufacturer incentives. All of this made for a very easy understanding of cost in a few simple steps. Ford was the third most popular car brand that consumers visiting this website have requested calls from a local dealer.

Chrysler had by far the easiest, most effective message with its Cash for Clunkers advertising. Their program simply promoted a “Double Cash” incentive where Chrysler matched the government’s incentive. If one qualified for a $4,500 rebate from CARS, Chrysler added another $4,500 to the purchase allowing for a $9,000 incentive! It was very impressive and a clear, effective way to communicate their offer. Unfortunately, Chrysler is suffering very low consideration due to its bankruptcy and ran into supply issues even if customers wanted a vehicle.

Toyota was “proud to be part of the US government’s program.” They promoted their most fuel efficient and most dependable car company in America message in the TV spots for the program.

GM did a Cash for Clunkers qualification experience from their corporate website. The site was similar to Ford’s where one entered in their car information and it said what GM products were eligible for trade. It however did not include additional manufacturer incentive information.

Smart, as I mentioned earlier, provided a very interesting effort to gain some interest from bargain shoppers. They promoted a $99/month payment when a clunker was traded in for a new Smart car. The low monthly payment was definitely attractive and looked great in large print. Unfortunately, many were quick to chastise the offer as it came with a large $6,667 balloon payment at the end of the 36-month term. The full cost of the deal and the limited appeal of a two-seat car that looks like a death trap next to a Chevy Cobalt, probably caused most buyers to look elsewhere.

It was no surprise to see the small car; fuel-efficient leaders gain the most from the program. Truck sales were strong which definitely helped the home team along with a couple shining examples like the Ford Focus which led the program as the Number 1 buy of shoppers.

To be Continued (Article should be up no later than Dec 2):
Part II: Examining Post Cash for Clunkers

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Kia Microsite and Tour Reaches for Gen-Y

“We got together with a group of really cool people to celebrate Music, Film, Design, Entrepreneur Spirit and Gaming. We call them The Soul Collective”
From this continues Kia’s marketing outreach to teen and twenty-something consumers. The Kia Soul Collective was a ten-city tour promoting the Kia Soul as it showed up at concert events where show goers could get more information about the car and if they arrived between 12pm-8pm could test-drive a car. The effort was run by Cornerstone, a full-service lifestyle marketing company.

The site is divided into a various artistic interests: Music, Film, Design, Entrepreneur. All of the representatives for each section are Gen-Y up-and-comers with some established credibility. They all appeal to the creative nature of the target consumer and attempt to bring some coolness to the Kia Soul product. “Each member of the collective was tasked with demonstrating ‘how they roll’ through creating original films, art, music and more,” states the Press Release announcing the series of free concert events and the Kia Soul Collective site.

The Kia Soul is in a battle of the boxes as it launched the Soul at the same time Nissan launched their aptly named Cube and Scion had recently redesigned their xB. Kia picked up some immediate buzz with their funky hamster TV ad, which was one of the more memorable commercials of 2009. They also received some decent blogger coverage from non-automotive writers.

The Kia Soul Collective effort nixed the hamsters for turntables and nightclubs. The nice thing is there is still a connection across all of the efforts – the slogan “a new way to roll.” Roll can apply in a variety of ways and throughout the campaign has brought together rolling wheels and roll as in attitude. Connecting with artists is a natural integration in showcasing interesting people who have chosen a path that is definitely relevant to the target consumers.

There is a Flickr account setup for the event. I browsed several of the photo galleries and couldn’t find one photo with over 20 views. This isn’t uncommon from what I’ve experienced looking at all kinds of event marketing efforts brought online to Flickr. It doesn’t seem to matter what brand or product, but few people ever view these photos and probably for good reason. They only matter if you attended the event. Watching people you don’t know sign in at tables, drive around in a car, and go to a concert you didn’t attend just isn’t that compelling. It’s probably not even worth the effort to put up these galleries for any brand. Unless you have some compelling reason to do so, like they’re the first photos of the car or a celebrity is involved; otherwise, it’s not worth doing.

What is worth doing that is in the Kia Soul Collective site is the “Click Here for Your Event Photo” section where if you did attend an event you can retrieve it at the site and hopefully learn some more about the Soul’s marketing effort.

One disconnect is that there is virtually zero product information on the site. Obviously, adding product information to a hip, creative site promoting concert events could turnoff the audience Kia wishes to reach; however, providing a simple call to action to learn more about the Soul, say in the right side’s Keep Informed section would’ve been an easy way to promote the car a bit more. There is a Soul logo that is clickable to the Kia site, but clickable logos are weak Calls to Action, something stronger would’ve probably helped with what I’m guessing is a very low click-through rate to product pages.

The other question that begs asking is should this effort exist as an unique site, separate from the Kia Soul Launch experience. The Kia Soul launch site is pretty odd in its own expression and the Soul Collective effort probably could’ve lived in the existing site; instead of creating a whole other web site for people to find.

In an article from iMediaConnection called “3 Reasons to Ditch Your Microsites” author Sean X Cummings states, “Microsites are orphans. The URLs are orphans. You have to keep feeding them, housing them and clothing them, even though no one really wants them anymore.”

Looking at all the effort put into getting people to the Kia Soul Collective microsite, I wonder if Cummings is right. There is no point now that the tour is over and the content is old. No one has a reason to go here, yet Kia still feeds the site by linking to it from their shopping site at Why? Why have potential shoppers go to the Collective URL where you may deter their interest in your product and forget they were even interested in a Kia Soul? Internet users are fickle and you are just a click away to the next attention getter.

That’s why it’s often a better move to integrate your marketing efforts into minimal destinations like the shopping site and a launch experience, and even that you may want to combine into one single destination. I’m personally a fan of having a site for the launch efforts that are not convoluted by shopping links. Let your main site be the destination for serious buyers or product researchers. Let the launch site familiarize visitors with the campaign and key messages you want the product to communicate, not everyone is ready to start Build & Pricing and trying to find a dealership.

Anyway, the Soul Collective is another effort to combine creativity, youth and event marketing. There is nothing revolutionary here, but for what it is it subscribes to most of the fundamental elements company’s have when approaching these efforts: microsite, Flickr and a Twitter account. Being more integrated to the online efforts already in place with the Kia launch site would have alleviated the need to maintain a distinct effort, plus integration with the launch experience would’ve brought more of the digital effort into a more impactful singular effort. It still is a decent effort to reach that coveted Generation-Y demographic so many marketers wish to appeal too.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Beyond Mud: Jeep Spreads Its Brand Wings

After seeing the “I am Ram” commercial the day of Chrysler’s grueling 8-hour media event, I thought maybe Chrysler was done – time to stick a fork in it. Fortunately, the Jeep brand’s version of “I am…” is remarkably impressive and really hits the mark.

Three spots have debuted for the “I am Jeep” campaign. The first is a nod to people who don’t just passively watch life happen in front a TV set, like I am right now as I type this and watch Always Sunny In Philadelphia. “I live. I ride. I am.” mocks the social behavior of non-Jeep people by demonstrating how passive a lot of lives are as TV screens show active lifestyles while no one is in the room, a subtle way to show Jeep owners are out doing the adventurous not watching it. It's a bit different than the atypical muddy trail ride expected from Jeep's marketing team.

“It’s Only Hair” is a more whimsical extension of Jeep’s brand identity. With women as roughly 40% of Jeep buyers, it certainly reaches a significant demographic. In the ad, several women are getting extensive salon styling work done only to hop into their Jeeps and let the open air destroy the hairstylists' work. The appeal is of interest for either gender as it knocks the vanity of our society, something that has a greater appeal than just catering to off-road drivers. The ad is "rugged", but not in the stereotypical dirt and trail way yet still hits a core brand attribute - carefree living.

The only strange part about the “It’s Only Hair” commercial is the 1970’s sitcom music track that is a bit trite; even though, it is an obvious nod at the ridiculous score of most salon product ads. Unfortunately, it’s a bit too distracting and causes the spot to lose some of its punch by being too cutesy in its execution.

Some may argue the spots lack product communication and may be too much of an emotional, lifestyle message. However, it is important to note that, at this time, product is Jeep’s weakness. They are in a product lull and need to rebuild the image while attracting more than just their hardcore enthusiasts to the brand. Reminding people what Jeep stands for is a great way to generate interest while not doing the expected tearing up of sand dunes. The brand is obviously hoping this less-rugged approach will broaden appeal.

According to Automotive News, "Jeep research found that only 30 percent of consumers are interested in true off-roading, so the brand aims to appeal to both its traditional 'adventurers' and 'dreamers', a larger group of people who are time-constrained by family and work, who want authentic gear with the hope that one day they'll be able to do more and dream less.'"

In attempt to appeal to the time-constrained Jeep consumer, “Clocks” is the other commercial that unfortunately is a bit weak when compared to the other two spots. It does encapsulate the same message and is connected to the campaign idea; however, it just lacks a bit of the charm of “It’s Only Hair” or the pulse of “I live. I ride. I am.”

The enthusiasts are not fans of the new spots, but it's really not for them. This is about extending the brand, not entrenching it. Most enthusiast forum members had things like this to say, "The concept is good, but instead of showing coffee makers, clocks, TV's it should have shown the Jeep out in nature while saying those things and then it would be perfect. Without knowing this was a Jeep commercial I was expecting it will end up with an insurance ad or about a new high tech cell phone."

Overall the campaign is interesting and while it may not appeal much to the trail seeking Jeep owner, it has another agenda to extend the joie de vivre Jeep ownership brings to those who may be intrigued to join the club. With not a lot to talk about product-wise until the new Jeep Grand Cherokee arrives in Summer 2010, this campaign is a good strategic move as the brand repairs some scars after a brutal 2009.

UPDATE from Bloomberg News 12/4/2009
: Seems the Jeep dealers are not too happy about the brand's direction and are calling for "the company to pull new television ads and restore regional marketing budgets."

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

What Drives Edward? The Volvo XC60

It's highly unusual for a car company commercial to generate any buzz, but team up with this Fall's most buzz worthy film and people start watching and commenting about your ad. The latest movie that uses a car as star in a film is Twilight: New Moon. A Volvo XC60 is driven by the film's protagonist, Edward, and with fans eagerly waiting for the film's debut this Friday, the commercial is satisfying some of that need with over 240,000 views and 160 comments on YouTube. And the hysteria is reaching epic proportions with comments like this from fans, "SEXY CAR DROVE BY A SEXY˛ˇ MAN !!" Way to go Volvo, your SUV is "sexy!"

What's most intriguing about the Volvo promotion is that it extends beyond the normal email or online marketing campaign for a contest. In this case, the contest is further promoted in a TV spot which by most contest standards is quite unique. But with a popular film to tie it all together, it's providing some excellent awareness for Volvo's first entry-level luxury SUV.

The promotion online includes a sweepstakes and contest with the contest requiring visitors to solve six phases, each borrowing knowledge from fans of the Twilight series. The first to solve all six phases wins a brand-new Volvo XC60.

The contest is the most confusing thing about the promotion. I have been getting emails from Volvo promoting each phase of the contest, but every time I click to "play the latest phase" I end up at the homepage of the site instead of viewing the instructions for the latest phase. Some deep linking into the What Drives Edward site would've been very helpful.

Volvo, probably realizing most Twilight fans are in their twenties and early thirties, decided to additionally promote their entry-level car the Volvo C30. Both in email communications and on the What Drives Edward site, there are side-by-side images of the XC60 and C30 for visitors to click-on to get more information about the cars. This is a nice way to extend the product portfolio to a more relevant product for site visitors, since the SUV may not appeal best to the contest participants.

If you wish to try your Twilight knowledge, there are a few days left to get the six contest phases solved or you can just enter the sweepstakes for your chance to win a XC60.