Tuesday, June 30, 2009

When Foreign Ads Anger Other Markets

I’m a regular reader of several automotive blogs and one of my favorites is Jalopnik, a more irreverent version of AutoBlog or as one recent Twitter user put it – the Top Gear of the web. So it was no surprise to see a recent post covering Suggestive Automotive Print Ads that featured a very controversial BMW ad from Greece.

The ad ran in the summer of 2008 and keeps popping up every few months, thus creating a lot of negative press for BMW’s marketing efforts with some fierce bloggers and readers saying they’ll never buy a BMW. Granted, most likely empty threats, but still it is not a well-received ad when viewed by, let’s call them, “grownups” and I’m not talking age.

It was an ad, ran only in Greece where the age of consent is 15 and in a country lacking our Puritanical values. Does that make it right? No, because now with everything so easily sharable across the web, everyone gets to see how you market your products. Even if you designed an ad to appeal to male buyers in a small niche market, now the whole world knows about it and that is why it is so important for global brands to see what is going on across their agencies and to consider the backlash some regionally developed ads may cause when shared beyond the intended audience.

Some bloggers, who fail to research which sites are manufacturer ones and which ones are not, have generated some additional confusion about the ad.

Blogger Yvonne DiVita writes, “even the comments on the BMW site are divided...with too many men (at least I think they're men) making the kind of lewd, insulting remarks you would expect."

The sad thing is that the “comments on the BMW site” are not on a BMW site, they are from Ads of the World’s website which has no association with BMW (note: ad has been removed from the Ads of the World site.) The site aggregates ads from every country and the comments are probably from a bunch of random marketing people who frequent the site, not BMW owners (though some may be?)

BMW has not responded to any of this from what I could gather on search or looking through press releases on various BMW sites including the corporate BMW Group news area.

It’s been almost a year since the ad appeared in Greece and it is still showing up whenever someone wants to discuss sexism in automotive advertising. It was a concept done in poor taste, regardless of cultural mores. It also raises the importance of corporate review of international ads and how messages can affect brand perception in other countries since content sharing is so easy in the Internet age.

Yet it has had little to no affect on BMW sales, so maybe all of this doesn't really matter as we hear today that BMW is to overtake Lexus as the best selling luxury brand in the United States.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Quite the Yawner, Cadillac Yawns at Lexus

What were they thinking? This is what I’m left wondering after seeing the latest online media ads from Cadillac for their Lexus RX challenger -- the all-new redesigned 2010 Cadillac SRX.

The ads feature various middle-aged professionals yawning as they look to their right. What are they yawning at? Apparently anything on the web page I’m currently viewing, but what they are hypothetically yawning at are “boring luxury crossovers.” I wonder how many people really know which cars are luxury crossovers? Why not challenge the looks of the recently egg-ified styled Lexus RX head-on, since this is what Cadillac wants you to think of as boring.

The Lexus RX is boring; I know I drive one. But people don’t buy the Lexus because of its styling, they buy because of its dependability and, in my wife’s case, the great visibility when inside the car. Unfortunately, there isn’t much in the new SRX that make it standout against the competition so the team went for the “Curb Appeal” message.

I like the design of the new SRX, it is definitely better than the look of the Lexus. However, this segment just isn’t about exterior design. They buy their SUVs for practical lifestyle reasons and nothing stands out in the SRX product to appeal to this reason, nor is the Lexus an ugly car that is easy to ridicule for its looks. Sure it’s a bit bulbous in its new form, but it still is a good-looking crossover.

Cadillac is obviously hoping its chiseled design attracts the Lexus crowd, but that is the obsession of every luxury crossover vehicle as they try to knock Lexus off the top spot. Going after the standard criticism of Lexus cars being boring, Cadillac has taken to a kind of absurd level with this yawn campaign. Problem is the ads just come off juvenile and unenlightening.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Brand Initiated Automotive Online Communities In Practice

Forrester Research’s Jeremiah K. Owyang released a whitepaper last week titled “Community Launch Checklist: Creating A Pragmatic Approach To Launching An Onine Community.” It covers some strategic recommendations on how a company should best prepare before embarking on an online community.

There really isn’t anything revolutionary in the white paper, nor should there be, since it is meant as a simple checklist. It’s your typical stuff:

  • Define clear business goals and benchmarks to track success or failure
  • Prepare the organization so it knows its responsibilities both time and budget.
  • Research your competition
  • Define a process for participating and/or monitoring the community
  • Find the right technology implementation that fits your business objectives
  • Promote the community similar to how you promote any new product launch

Unfortunately, the article is light on any examples of companies using online communities. It does, in passing, mention Mattel’s “The Playground”, Microsoft’s Channel 9, MGM’s Facebook group, Dell’s support community and MyStarbucksIdea.

The good news for readers of this blog is that I have been actively engaging with three automotive brands that have started some very elaborate online communities. The three are Mercedes Benz’s Generation Benz, Hyundai’s Think Tank and Saturn’s ImSaturn. Here is a chart breaking down some differences and similarities across the communities:

As you can see from the examples, different companies make different content choices -- hopefully based on different strategies. It is also important to note that only one has a relatively significant media buy to promote its community, and that is ImSaturn. The Hyundai and Mercedes communities were promoted (from what I can gather) through invitations from their customer data, email-marketing data, and they allow members to invite friends. ImSaturn is promoted through their CRM data too, but they also have had media placements and promoted their content on social networking sites like Facebook where they also have a related Fan Page and Facebook application promoting the site.

Goals, Goals, Goals

Let’s get this out of the way now. The number one objective of all these sites should be to sell more cars or accessories. That doesn’t mean you measure sales against site membership numbers; rather, the sites should be about brand building by getting people more engaged with the brand through content, relationships with company staff and other enthusiasts, and should energize members through event promotions or exclusive chats. All of these activities strengthen the relationship between the customer and the community’s membership, which in turn should result in more purchases from a brand the community members have built a stronger relationship with thus leading to better loyalty retention numbers.

All three sites are clearly trying to energize their members to become vocal advocates for the brand; though, at different levels. And, by definition, if the sites create stronger advocates for the brand they will share their experiences with others, buy more products from your company, and hopefully persuade their social network to consider the brand.

Other goals include traditional market research objectives. Here Mercedes and Hyundai implementations are more aligned to these activities. They are leading the conversation through polls, discussions, and activities. Much like a virtual focus group, the two communities gather feedback from members and use that research outside of the community or they participate in discussions by responding to member comments. I tend to look at this type of effort as a way to do quick research without all the hassle of having to setup focus groups, which can be quite expensive and time consuming. Instead the benefit here is that you have this group you can bounce questions off of, provided they are the right target(s) you are wanting to engage with and provided there are enough that stay active in the community.

Saturn’s Ning

Saturn has made a stronger push to get owners to communicate with each other by allowing friending, member photo galleries, and most importantly letting members start their own groups and discussion topics. The ImSaturn site is modeled after a Facebook social community approach. Why do I say this, because the site has a very similar layout to a social community site like Ning. It also is big in creating social networks within the community; whereas, Mercedes and Hyundai are more about members being led into discussions with a company’s staff. Saturn is essentially trying to create its own social network that borrows from things that make automotive forums attractive: photo posting, public profiles, comments on member pages, having your own mailbox, and getting members to create friendships with others.

I haven’t researched the level of activity on Saturn auto enthusiast forums but they do exist. I was originally a bit surprised ImSaturn was built the way it was. It seemed to me Saturn could’ve just joined a large Saturn community that already exists and engage that way, basically Listen.

When I joined the community it had 600 members so it seemed like a lot of effort and cost to grow a community to a critical mass. Fortunately, they do have a decent size community that is now over 5,000 members, but it has taken nearly two years to do that and I’m sure at a decent cost. Seems to me they could’ve just plugged into existing communities and engaged that way at a lesser cost; though, they would’ve lost some insights, though that depends on what they were looking to get from ImSaturn and that I don’t know since I’m not part of the internal team.

Going back through my communications from the ImSaturn site, there is really nothing more than some public relations communications and some event promotion. All of this could’ve been done through their Facebook site and by engaging with existing online Saturn fan forums. So, it is unclear what strategic advantage the ImSaturn site really provides.

Consumer Insights at Your Fingertips

Mercedes and Hyundai are clearly building virtual focus groups where they can gather quick marketing insights from their members. This is very different from the social community approach of ImSaturn, where the emphasis is on social. Most interesting, Generation Benz has a particular membership requirement and that is you must be under 30 years old, since they are interested in aspirational opinions about their brand and products. Hyundai is open to all ages. Neither community restricts non-owners; even though, a lot of the content on Hyundai is very owner focused. I’m sure they divide poll results by owner/non-owner as well as other demographic data.

The company’s marketing representatives also lead both communities. The moderators start all discussion topics. When you enter either site, you are required to respond to survey questions that look to get feedback about new products, possible future products, and/or get your thoughts on current marketing efforts.

Even though the two sites are marketing department driven and are really about getting research to help assist marketing plans, they do try to energize their membership. One way that is done is through having fun polls or questionnaires that try to get more psychographic profiles about members. Sure this is used by the marketing team, but it is also a way to make the community appear more fun. Does it work? Possibly, I’m way too much of an industry person to be objective.

What’s In It for the Members?

So what keeps people coming back? Of course there are many reasons, but there are several that exist.

  • First Finder Fame: Getting exclusive information before others outside the community.
  • Brand Relationship Factor: Establish a personal relationship with a brand you like
  • Community Friendship Factor: By establishing “friends” within the community, engagement with like-minded people keeps people coming back
  • Rewards: Special offers. Hyundai recently gave members a special code for buying their cars at discount.
  • Support Reasons: Look to communities as a way to get support information for the product they own or are interested in owning.

It is interesting looking across all three communities and seeing how people interact within. Harvard Business Review did an excellent article on how people interact within communities identifying 18 roles, and those same behaviors exist on all three of these sites. There are a couple roles that dominate these marketing based, company-sponsored communities.

Every community is full of “Learners” who seek out information to improve their knowledge of the products. “Storytellers” permeate membership also as many share their ownership stories through words or photos, especially on a site like ImSaturn that encourages such behaviors.

But it takes regular engagement and the creation of fresh and interesting content by community administrators to keep the conversations going. Mercedes and Hyundai are enabling new conversation topics all the time, the only issue I see is that the discussions are more for the brand marketing team’s purpose and less for the benefit of the members. Most activities involve watching commercials and this of course can get boring quickly and cause member drop-off; hence, the idea of giving content to appeal to first find fame by letting the membership see content only available on the community before releasing it to the public, but this is a rather weak benefit that only appeals to hardcore brand advocates.

To involve more than just the hardcore members, Mercedes’ site will actually send out reminders via email saying inactivity will get you removed from the community and that one needs to login soon to remain a participant. Other sites like Hyundai’s sends out email communication that are less threatening. They simply invite me to see new content or invite me to participate in a coming product chat that hopefully appeals to my interest. I have participated in chats with product specialists on both sites and there seems to be only about 20 or so members on Mercedes chats I’ve been on. Hyundai, because it is open to a larger audience, has a slightly larger turnout, but not much better.

Direct, Responsive Access to People Inside Your Company Is Your Advantage

Engaging with the community is an active process. The people who join a manufacturer’s community expect fast responses and respect for information they seek. One member of the Generation Benz website made a statement after a moderator switch occurred last month. Referring to the prior moderator, he was highly satisfied with the moderator’s quick responses and how he would respond to any question no matter how crazy.

It takes a serious commitment of time and knowledge from the company to find the right people to actively engage with the community’s users. Owyang talks a lot about developing proper processes for positive and negative events that will happen. Knowing how to respond before something does happen will lead to a more effective experience for everyone.

The users expect engagement and this personal relationship with brand representatives is an appeal the enthusiasts’ forums don’t provide, as a brand this is your community's strategic advantage. Use it well and you can build a great reputation with your participants.

In Closing

Before embarking on a community site, brands would benefit from the Forrester article (and the Harvard Business Review article too.) There are some fundamental items you need to consider before engaging with existing communities or starting your own online community space. Oh, and don’t forget to have a strategist as part of your team.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Toyota Wants You to Create Your Own Hybrid Site

I had no idea what was until today. A desire to read about Manhattan's media news and gossip never became part of my Internet routine. Apparently, the team buying media for the 2010 Toyota Prius is up on New York City gossip and the other properties that make up Gawker Media, that surprisingly includes the automotive blog Jalopnik. A few well-known technology blogs like Gizmodo and LifeHacker are also part of the network.

The Prius team wants you to create your own Hybrid site in the Gawker network. You can checkout My Gawker Hybrid Site, but please don't assume you'll learn a thing about hybrid or green. I couldn't choose any content feeds that were specifically hybrid related nor can I create content relevant to hybrid; instead, all I could do was choose feeds from existing media properties owned by

Apparently, I can someday make comments once I have "auditioned to be commenter". Audition? Maybe this is a New York thing where social media participation is like getting into Studio 54 in the late 1970s? How I audition isn't clear. I haven't received an email from Gawker explaining how the site works, nor has Toyota sent me anything after setting up my own Hybrid site.

The only sense I can make about this whole site integration is the following. Maybe hybrid on Gawker is a reference to hybrid content in the sense of mixing content or different elements of news from various sources; instead of the automotive sense of the word referring to cars running two engines - one gas and one electric?

Besides some odd online media decisions the Toyota Prius is doing very well with its core audience with over 75,000 pre-orders and waiting lists for the car in Japan. The national TV ads look great too with their creative concept that brings a human element into the typical green fields, blue skies and bright flowers found in just about every hybrid commercial.

If there are any thoughts on what the Gawker link is that makes this work for Toyota Prius, please share. I just don't get why someone would want to create a Hybrid site on Gawker. What purpose does a Gawker user site accomplish? If it's just a portal, it's a very weak one at best. Perhaps, it's just that the MRI score for the Gawker media properties indexed high for the target consumer Toyota is going after and there really isn't much thought beyond letting users create a site.

Other thoughts? Any Gawker site users out there who can enlighten this blogger?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Nissan SHIFTs Focus to Passion Integration

Nissan’s Shift campaign has extended to some target customer passion points, particularly exercise in the form of running, cycling, yoga and strength. The content on the Nissan: Master the Shift site is divided by experts covering each topic, they include:
Ryan Hall – Olympic marathoner and record-holder in half-marathon.
Tara Stiles – Yoga instructor and founder of Manahattan’s Strala Yoga
Eddie George – Former NFL running back and Heisman winner
Chris Carmichael – Former Olympian cyclist and coach to Lance Armstrong.
Nissan has messaged the content with their “Durability tested to the next level” tagline and integrated into their brand-level SHIFT campaign. The Nissan Altima was tested through some durability exercises that emulate the riggers of everyday driving: potholes, road debris, and extreme heat; though, the last one we don’t really get in Michigan. Unfortunately, the Nissan content on the Master the Shift site is very limited and only show photos with descriptions instead of video content proving out the durability. This isn’t a bad thing though since the content budget needed to focus more on content for the passion interest and less on the car, since the car can be discussed on the Nissan site.

Upcoming marathon events will having Nissan_SHIFT booths that promote the Altima and the Master the Shift website. People at the event will have pictures taken, I assume the picture is taken at the Nissan booth, that can then be viewed online if they stop by for a SHIFT_performance Passport card that has an ID number for retrieving photos. It’s a typical, but well-done execution to tie event and online marketing together. Besides any online media that is bought, it is sure to be the other main traffic driver for the site.

I learned about the site from an advertisement on Runner’s World website. The online media is prominently featuring the expert appealing to the site’s passion interest, as opposed to pushing the Altima in its imagery. The ad is well done because it is a strong awareness buy that is better placed with a consumer’s interest and through a special interest “celebrity” and I really like this approach versus a homepage takeover on a portal site like Yahoo! or AOL.

This site has content scheduled through March 2010, must be when the budget allocation for the campaign is set to expire or get re-approved, if the program is working well. How do I know this? Well, if you click on various “Channels” within each expert’s Master class, you are informed that various channels are coming in July, September, December, and all the way out to March 2010.

Since it is a staggered schedule for content updates, it would’ve been a nice touch on the site to place a “Sign Up for Updates” button next to the Coming date indicators. Other than entering the Altima Sweepstakes, there seems no way to sign up for future content changes. This approach works very well in the GMC Professional Grade site that is on AOL Living. They actually let you sign up for a newsletter that sends out regular content notifications as things are updated. It remains to be seen if the Nissan contest will do something similar, but there is still no updates link or newsletter you can request; too bad, since it is a site that has a strong editorial content plan.

Hopefully, now that Nissan has my name, they’ll let me know when new content shows up on the site; though, I still don’t know if they are going to do that, even after entering their contest. I could definitely use the content, as I’m about to finish my first month of running. Yet, I doubt I’ll need the advice of an Olympic marathon runner. My running knowledge needs are very modest, but it’s great seeing a site that features running right alongside of my favorite passion – cars, even if it is a rather sedate Nissan Altima.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

What I'm Doing Father's Day in Southeast Michigan

I was born and raised on the West coast, Los Angeles and Portland to be exact. Portland is not a car culture city. It's idea of driving is seeing if your 1976 Volvo sedan can get you 9 miles to work and back. Los Angeles definitely is a city in love with the automobile -- Hollywood, cruising, classics, tuners, rice-boys, you name it LA has it.

The Motor City is the root of America's love for the automobile and it is one of the reasons why I feel so at home here in Michigan after leaving LA back in the early 1990s. Detroit has some amazing car events and this coming Father's Day is no exception.

The Edsel & Eleanor Ford House in Grosse Pointe Shores, Michigan is hosting the EyesOn Design Automotive Show. This year the event is focusing on The Art of the Automobile Advertising & Design, a fitting topic for someone interested in cars and advertising. I'll be sure to take a lot of photos and share what I can next week on this blog.

So, if you live in this great city, come on out to the show. At least the weather is better than the mid-January International Auto Show we host and it probably won't be as hot as the early August Meadowbrook Concours d'Elegence, another great classic car show at the Dodge Family Estate in Rochester Hills, Michigan.

Times for the EyesOn Design show are 10am - 4:30pm Sunday June 21. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Hell yeah! Changed My Mind About Drifting

Alright this isn't automotive marketing, at least in the sense of this blog's usual coverage. The content here is from DC Shoes. Yet, it really energized me to look into a Subaru WRX STI. Forget the shoes, this commercial is all about drifting as a sport featuring professional Subaru Rally Team USA driver Ken Block.

What is drifting? It's basically burning through 50,000 mile tires in 5 miles. Checkout the following video for a high-octane demonstration. Gymkhana is a special type of drifting sporting event that is done in an open space littered with cones and obstacles. The Gymkhana drifting is featured in this video and truly showcases how cool and intense this sport can get.

Ken Block is a professional driver, but he is also co-owner of DC Shoes and Gymkhana Project is in its second phase with this latest "infomercial." You can see the original site here. The whole project showcases the power of Ken's skills but it is all about style and performance something DC Shoes wants to convey and something the Subaru Rally Team has no problem showcasing. And even though this about shoes, it's about the car too. The site features specifications on the highly-modified Subaru WRX STI. It really becomes a great showcase for the car.

It would've been nice some collaboration with Subaru, beyond what already exists with the clothing being promoted for the Subaru Rally Team USA.

The DC Shoes site is great at providing some extensible content through its blog which effectively communicates the events held around the Project. Access to the products being promoted in the DC store are easy to access and shown in clear, large images. The digital team also put up some excellent screen shots form computer wallpaper to keep fans in constant awareness of the promotion, well at least until something else fills the fan's computer screen.

The intensity of the performance video is very cool and something that was all the buzz when it was release a couple weeks back. I saw a coverage from all of the major and most of the minor automotive enthusiast blogs. Maybe next time Subaru can engage better with the DC content; though, to be fair that could distract from the DC Clothing being promoted. Done tastefully, some content extensions with the Subaru brand would be a good thing.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Your GM Team" Wants You to Remain Calm

Now that Troy A. Clarke, President of GM North America, has gotten his wish by getting GM employees to successfully campaign the government for money (see this article in Wired back in November 2008.) He is now reaching out to the entire GM customer and potential customer database to send the email you see at left. This “Important Message from Troy Clarke…” that discusses three key messages the New GM wants people to know.

1. GM Dealers are still open for business.
2. GM Vehicles are backed by their warranties.
3. GM will build the “most compelling” vehicles with their remaining brands.

The letter from Troy is really Public Relations, not marketing, reaching out to make those interested in GM feel certain the company is standing behind its products. It’s not flashy, there are no graphics except a small thumbnail of a GM logo, and there is no attention grabbing email subject. There are no Calls to Action except one that invites the reader to the site, but it’s hardly a Call to Action in a marketing sense.

What I wonder about this email is who read it? It had a poor subject line: “An important message from Troy Clarke, President, GM North America”. My Yahoo! email inbox cut off part of Troy’s name and hence left out his GM job title from the subject line, so it looked like spam. The account was “Your GM Team”. Well, I don’t have a GM product so why would I have a “GM Team”? Fortunately, I read everything in the email account this was sent to, since I use the email to receive all marketing correspondences from companies I follow. I doubt most non-GM owners would have read the email and I’m sure many GM owners would’ve ignored it too.

Assuming someone actually read it, what did they come away with? Did the GM email “earn your trust in several ways”, like it sets out to do? I doubt much trust was earned. What I came away with is that the dealers are waiting for customers as the email stressed that dealers are open for business; implying GM corporate is hearing a lot from dealers that people don’t know they are open, so please tell them so customers will come.

GM vehicles are backed by a “U.S. government backed” warranty. This was just another reminder of management that is not led by GM, but by government bureaucrats. Any language stressing the association of government with GM is a negative as boycotts are already underway and I would argue that stressing the association is not helpful.

The last takeaway is that GM is committed to building a company Americans will be proud of. This seems extremely premature. Especially after just recently celebrating 100 years of business, GM is now telling potential customers that they are now planning to build products the world wants.

One criticism, I hear just about everywhere is: why has it taken GM so long to build products consumers want? This one I disagree with, as there are plenty of great products that GM builds right now. The Chevy Camaro, Pontiac G8, GMC Acadia, and several other products are strong competitive products but you would not know it from Troy’s email. Apparently, nothing is really compelling today. We all have to wait for that leaner GM to build great cars. So, as a potential customer I’m supposed to wait how long before this happens? But I thought you wanted me to come to all of those dealerships that are open for business right now?

I’m sure something had to be said to keep potential consumers interested in GM’s current products, but this letter lacked the essentials to keep people interested. Instead, tell me about the offers on the car I’m interested in (you obviously got my name from a form I filled out on a Pontiac G8.) Sure stress that warranties are still backed and include some contact information about the dealerships being open and staying in my local area. Unfortunately, Mr. Clarke’s form letter ignored the product I was interested in, gave me the impression no GM products are competitive today, and it demonstrated GM is a company that is barely alive with “government back” warranties and dealers who no one knows are open.

GM deserved better than this letter and my only hope is it ended up in a lot of spam folders. I really liked what GM's Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said the other day about GM's products not being what put them in bankruptcy; rather, it was legacy costs and the difficulty of fighting legacy perceptions about the GM brand that just are not true today. GM is not a bunch of weak, uncompetitive products and that really needed to be said in Clarke's message.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Pontiac G8 GXP Is Off to Car Heaven

Pontiac is beginning its final year since GM announced it was not continuing the brand and probably would not sell it off to another entity. So that leaves a brand to explore some interesting marketing ideas -- that may not have made it when everyone thought the company was going to stay around longer than a year. Of course, I’m being tongue-in-cheek as it is quite obvious the new Pontiac G8 GXP micro-site with MMA Fighter and Maxim Hot 100 girl Gina Carano was conceived well before the late April announcement prior to Pontiac getting knocked out of the “New GM”.

“I got your torque right here,” exclaims Gina as I was getting ready for the next round of the Pontiac Street Brawl. Apparently, a web street brawl involves you taking a quiz to vote if the G8 GXP or Gina Carano looks better in leather or which one has the best power combination. Gina is constantly throwing jabs at you while the Pontiac, for some odd reason I can’t figure out, has angel wings flapping by the side mirrors. Yes, this site is that odd.

All of this ridiculousness is just to get you to enter contest a contest and see what an angelic car the Pontiac G8 GXP is. It’s just a really weird site. I don’t know how else to put it.

You can be her “arm candy” at an upcoming MMA Fight. She is #16 on Maxim’s Hot 100, but for some reason I don’t get her appeal. That could be my issue as it took me forever to get Danica Patrick’s appeal too, until I saw her recent shoot for Sports Illustrated.

There is some unique content developed for the site featuring Gina talking about her history, showing off her skills, and filming of the marketing photo shoot. Unfortunately, the car gets very little content other than a simple 360 of the exterior. Of course, you can head out to to learn more about the car, but it could've been a bit more interesting pitting the speed of Gina's punches against some performance video of the G8 punching its rev limits.

The site is being promoted on the home page of the Maxim Hot 100 list and I received information about it through an email communication from Pontiac (I subscribe to their updates for the Pontiac G8 when it was launched.)

The G8 GXP is one of the better products at GM. Unfortunately, it appears to be heading to car heaven if this Street Brawl site's use of angel wings is any indication of the car's fate.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Maserati Wants Your Automotive Shrine

Just the word Maserati sounds cool. So where is the proper place to rest your Maserati when not on the road? That is what Maserati’s latest contest intends to find out. Their Design Driven garage contest, in collaboration with Architectural Digest, does just that by getting people to submit their garage photos and dream garage concept designs.

I love the concept; get people to showcase their automotive shrine. Prior to the recent housing bust, garage design was taking on new heights and some really cool spaces were being built. The assumption is that true automotive enthusiasts, with Maserati bank accounts, will design or have built some fabulous homes for their automotive passion. Fortunately, some of the owners found out about the contest and shared their auto residences online.

The winning existing garage will be photographed in an upcoming feature ad for Maserati in the October 2009 “Architecture Issue” of Architectural Digest. The winning concept garage will be “envisioned as an architectural model” that will go on tour across Maserati dealerships.

Unfortunately, the website design team missed some key elements to make the site a showcase and give contestants the tools to promote their entry. The biggest issue is that the contest is a voting contest where visitors can vote for a garage or garages they like best. Oddly, someone failed to allow for a direct web address to vote for or see a particular garage. So, when you tell others about your garage being on the site, they have to hunt for it using a few limited sorting methods, like highest ranked or newest entry. You can’t simply say, vote for my garage at a particular hyperlink that brings others directly to your garage. Of course, this could be intentional as the contest team wanted voters to vote for what they like, not what they were told to vote for by a contestant promoting his/her entry.

I found this issue particularly annoying once I uploaded my own auto shrine. There was no way to post the garage entry to my social network or even have a direct link to share it with friends. Instead, I had to explain how others could find my garage to vote for it. Clumsy. And who wants to feel clumsy when promoting Maserati.

Contest entries finalized on June 1 with voting ongoing through June 12. So, if you get a chance checkout entry #0162 (provided you can find it) and give me a vote if you wish. I’d love to see a photo shoot happen at my shrine.

Monday, June 1, 2009

The "New GM", Believable on Day One?

I remember when I used to work for the world’s largest Pharmaceutical company and how we were ranked as one of the most disliked industries right behind tobacco. I wonder what the most disliked industries list looks like today? I’m sure financial is pretty high, automotive must be gaining in the country’s dislike as Federal bailouts of GM and Chrysler are not very popular, especially when you look at consumer comments on articles covering these companies.

Looking at GM’s latest attempt to improve its image with the debut of the “New GM” one minute commercial, on Autoblog it is obvious that consumer feelings are running pretty extreme. A couple examples:

“Oh how cute! I want my money back you thief's [sic]!”

“ehh… I don't see it doing much to bring buyers back into the showrooms.”

“Leaner, Greener, Faster, Smarter… uhhh, How about Profitable?”

Leaner. Greener. Faster. Smarter.
That’s the mantra of the new GM. The issue many citizens are having with it isn’t that it’s the wrong direction. It’s the right direction. It’s just why wasn’t this happening for years before June 1, 2009?

That’s the tougher question to answer and one a company doesn’t want to address as it wants to focus on the future and not the past. Who could blame them? GM certainly doesn’t want to talk about its overcapacity dealer network, its hindering union obligations, and its production capacity issues. Pundits like Thomas Friedman, in his book Hot, Flat, and Crowded, blame most of the issues on auto companies lobbying Washington to keep CAFE numbers low and fought alternative energy initiatives.

One Autoblog commenter mocked the ending of the video where the announcer says, “because the only chapter we are focused on is number one.” The reader’s biting comment, “The only chapter you should focus on is chapter 11, Morons.”

It’s a tough road selling a bankrupt car company that is on the government dole.

I do hope GM becomes a leaner, smarter company but its products and organization will decide that, not one-minute videos. I would’ve personally kept the promotional video out of it right now. Let the re:invention site just communicate facts, responses, and how GM is moving forward with their plan (fortunately, that is what most of the site is doing.)

The video is good for an internal GM meeting to inspire those rooting for their company. Posting it online for the whole world to see, why? It really doesn’t change any minds. Those for GM will love it. Those against GM will criticize it. This is the problem. It accomplishes nothing.

What did accomplish something was the active engagement from the GM Public Relations representatives today sharing updates about the bankruptcy on Twitter. People like Christopher Barger and the team leading @GMblogs on Twitter are helping changing perceptions about GM showcasing how they are becoming at least a smarter company.

Convincingly Hip Hense Kia Soul

You probably know what the Kia Soul is. It’s that cute boxy car with the head-thumping hamsters and lit up speakers. But who is Hense? Hense is an Atlanta born graffiti artist who created a Soul featuring Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

It’s a nice product integration with a show that reaches Kia Soul’s target, hip 20-30 something consumers who see themselves as hip. Hense appeals to that same target in a way that is authentic, plus the car actually works as a rolling piece of graffiti; though, maybe it doesn't work if an un-hip 37 year old like myself likes the look of the finished product.

Today marks the start of the contest. A simple button to enter the sweepstakes was added to the promotion site, that launched in early May, showing what the contest is about and what inspired the artist.

Don’t think the contest entry form forgot about the hip audience. You actually have to check a box saying you “agree with all [of Hyundai’s] draining legal speak.” Dude.

And like a lot of contests lately, you can re-enter the contest everyday until June 28. Sure, the company already has your information and if you check the right boxes, can market you into oblivion, but they want people to reengage by getting people to keep coming back to think Kia Soul. You can keep coming back and everyday you’ll remember that hip Hense designed Soul that you could win and, if you don’t, hopefully you’ll buy one sans graffiti.