Friday, July 31, 2009

Buick’s “Photo Shoot” the Symptom, Not the Cause

Since Bob Lutz was put in charge of all things marketing at General Motors, one campaign has taken the brunt of the criticism. The first TV Spot from the campaign is “Photo Shoot” which launched Buick’s new flagship sedan the LaCrosse.

Why all the attention?

Autoblog claims “the 2010 Buick LaCrosse is the most important vehicle launched by the brand in decades.” Whether that is entirely true or not, we at least know the car market is very important and Buick really needs a wining product to fill GM’s need to remake the Buick brand with premium luxury-like products and the LaCrosse fits that need perfectly.

Buick - Cadillac’s Pestering Luxury Brand:

Four brands remain in the New GM: Chevrolet, GMC, Buick and Cadillac. Chevrolet is definitely the mass appeal brand, while Cadillac remains GM's luxury brand. GMC is a dedicated truck and SUV brand even though it is just a bunch of me-too Chevy and Cadillac products. Buick, meanwhile, is slotted between Chevy and Cadillac and is supposed to be a premium brand that will butt heads with Cadillac for years to come. Many think Buick only survived because of its success in China, but that’s nonsense. GM didn’t have to keep the brand in the States to keep it in China.

What’s most interesting is that Buick is going after similar competitors its sister brand Cadillac is after too. The Lexus ES350 is in Buick LaCrosse’s sight and the Cadillac SRX is running a campaign chasing the Lexus RX350. So which one is really the luxury brand?

Enter “Photo Shoot”

The TV spot treats the car and SUV like fashion models that are being shot by a hip photographer. The setup is to convince the viewer that the Buick is an unexpected subject for the ultra-cool design crowd. It is meant to disrupt consumer impression of the brand and get viewers to think of the Buick LaCrosse and Enclave as upscale, cool products.

Whether it is successful at doing all of that I’m sure someone in the marketing department will prove out with consumer research and BEAT metrics showing how well the TV spot is changing consumer perception.

Bob Lutz looked at the ad and slammed the testing saying, “that Buick commercial tested very well, which is not the same as saying that it's an effective ad." What does Bob mean? I think he means does it really get buyers to consider the Buick LaCrosse. We’ll see but we at least know the new guy in charge of marketing won’t give marketing the credit if sales are meeting or exceeding expectations.

Blame the Creative

The saddest part of the “Photo Shoot” public criticism is that the creative independent Gary Topolewski who developed the spot is getting most of the blame. Topolewski tried to downplay the attention by telling Automotive News, “the idea was to gain attention for Buick, which I think it surely did." He’s right, but the attention isn’t the kind you want from your client or client’s client.

Campaigns are not developed in a vacuum. In fact, we learn from a recent Ad Age article that Buick’s own VP of Sales and Marketing for North America, Mark LaNeve, was the one who “urged” the agency Leo Burnett Chicago to hire Topolewski. But even that is not the issue. The creative concept had to come from a Creative Brief developed out of brand planning and approvals of the TV spot from Topolewski had to undergo multiple layers of approvals I’m certain, before it ever showed up on anyone’s television set.

All of this doesn’t mean Bob Lutz is wrong. The Creative Brief that became the inspiration for “Photo Shoot” probably struggled to find what a brand does when it isn’t luxury but wants to be luxury but can’t be too luxury because Cadillac is the luxury brand.

Fortunately, the Buick LaCrosse is getting some solid reviews and the product may save the marketing provided the tweaks to the LaCrosse advertising campaign can calm some of the public ugliness going on and nothing can be more effective than some great sales results to forget about “Photo Shoot.”

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ford Fusion Hybrid Invites You to Share Your Green Ideas

I rarely share client related work because of sensitivity, I don't want to be a shill, and concern I may reveal too much with my brutal honesty, but I wanted to share some work we did for the new 2010 Ford Fusion + Fusion Hybrid.

Our idea was to get people to share their small environmental behavioral tips to collectively effect positive change, emulating the new Ford Fusion Hybrid’s SmartGauge Cluster with EcoGuide that help aid the driver’s behaviors. The hybrid model has a display on the LCD instrument panel that grows or sheds leaves depending on how ‘green’ your driving is in real-time. As the driver changes their behavior by going easy on the gas from a light more leaves grow on the vine’s dash display. See this video to learn more about the feature.

Following this same concept of small changes leading to improved environmental impact, the new Ford Fusion Facebook application You Speak Green asks participants to leave their own behavioral change that can then be shared within their social network and across all of the application’s participants.

Collectively ideas are spread that can be ranked by others and even adopted. Some common ideas like using reusable grocery bags, using a coffee mug instead of disposable cups, or turning off the water while brushing your teeth are shared for others to consider. Other ideas one may not have thought of could be learned from others and collectively adopted for the greater good.

All of this is a light-touch to communicate positive change and showcase the thinking behind the Fusion Hybrid’s own design. People are brought to an application tab of the Fusion Fan Page and there is some communication that this is brought to you by the Fusion and one can Friend the Fusion.

For those of you who decide to install the application, I’d be curious to know what you think. Please share your comments on this blog.

UPDATE 10/15/2009: Our team won a JD Power Catalyst Interactive Advertising Award for Social Media.

Friday, July 24, 2009

An Insider Look into the Minds of Car Dealers

There is one site on the web that every automotive marketing industry person should frequent regularly and that is the Automotive Digital Marketing site. There are some real gems out there, as the above video uhm... proves. Okay, it proves that progress is an elusive thing and that local TV production hasn't evolved much in thirty years, but if you want to see what is "viral" in dealer videos you will find it on the site.

Silly videos aside, what is great about the Automotive Digital Marketing site is that you get a look into the struggles, marketing efforts, and insights of dealerships across the country. I find a lot of the discussions quite interesting and the use of video is sometimes educational, compelling, and baffling.

The ADM Forum is where a lot of the learning and insights exist on the site. Dealers engage in a range of topics and share their experiences and even strategies. It's a really well done area with a solid community following so you know there is some critical mass from those who are regulars.

Basically, the site is an excellent resource and probably the best resource on the web for getting a dealer perspective. It's the automotive dealer equivelant to the marketing industry's Ad Gabber site. I highly recommend joining the community if you are interested in what is happening at the Tier 3 level.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Vote For Your Friend's Lavish Lifestyle

A common theme lately is the marketing contest that asks you to engage your social network. A couple months back it was Maserati trying to get friends and family to vote for your garage so you could win a photo shoot with Architectural Digest. This time around it is Lexus generating awareness for their new luxury hybrid the 250h. But instead of some fame in a magazine spread, Lexus' grand prize winner will get the keys to a 250h for a full year.

So what's this all about?

The new contest idea is to get one person to enter the contest and then promote their entry in the contest by socially "advertising" their entry by getting their friends to vote for them. The early adopters of this approach are the photo contests. Over the past several years I have received a mountain of vote for my kid or pet requests from those in my social network. Well now automotive brands are adopting this vote for me and I can win something tactic.

From a brand's perspective, why just do the standard sweepstakes entry form when you can now tap into someone's social media network. It's better to get out into the social media environment through sites like Facebook where people probably have a similar demographic makeup with their network. This way, as a brand, getting one entry into a contest becomes a way to get their friends to visit your site, which generates awareness for your product, to a broader audience. It's a very attractive approach for marketers who are always trying to increase views and engagement on their websites.

Lexus has decided to follow this approach to promote their new hybrid. I noticed the contest from a post a former coworker of mine had on his Facebook news feed. He had a link to his entry for him to win a Lexus.

What really caught my eye though was the first comment someone left for him. "You kiddin'? More spam for you, no lexus for me? I don't think so!" This is what has always bothered me about the vote for me giveaway contests. What's in it for the voters?

To vote for your friend you must register your name and email on the Lexus 250h site. Sure you can check the box to not receive communications from Lexus, but this still creates a barrier for many and people still don't feel that comfortable leaving their contact information when their is no benefit for them.

Also, in a time now when luxury living is becoming less socially acceptable there is a concern that vote for me to get luxury item x is a bit of a repulsive proposition when your social network may have lost a job or home to foreclosure recently.

One ploy that does lessen the luxury-pampering stigma is when users or brands tie in some kind of charitable element to the contest. One Lexus 250h contestant claims she will give half of her financial benefit if she wins to a charitable organization. This way your contest voters are now doing something beneficial for all, not just for their friend who wants a luxury car.

Charitable pleas are rare, leaving the question: What's in it for your voters? This is the one fatal flaw of the approach. That may not matter though if the social media outreach is getting your product in front of others radar. And to that point, my former co-worker’s entry into the Lexus contest definitely made me aware of the contest and the vehicle which may not have happened through the typical banner ad.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

MINI E Ignored on the Street But Not Online

The MINI E is “an experiment of sorts”, according to MINI’s own website. 500 people were given the opportunity to lease a fully electric MINI E for $850/month for 12 months where the cars are undergoing a real-world experiment. The field trial was limited to only California, New York and New Jersey dealers.

Like most experiments, some things go according to plan and some do not. From USA Today, one owner had a major glitch. “The car's motor shut down on his wife, Suzanne, while she was driving on the freeway, apparently having overheated. The car restarted a few minutes later.”

The idea of getting vehicles into consumers hands is an admirable one and one that will help BMW, who owns MINI, get a solid understanding of the challenges involved with supporting an electric vehicle (EV) product.

A Hurried Experiment?

Some wonder though if MINI rushed their experiment. BMW had to meet a hard date to obtain the important California Air Resources Board (CARB) credits earned from a Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV). To meet this date, it seems the vehicle wasn’t ready for primetime and some bad press has ensued around two key EV topics: vehicle mileage range and charging time.

It was taking a full day for MINI E owners to charge their new cars due to some issues with the 120-volt cable that comes with the car. Estimated charging time was supposed to be in the 4-hour range.

Estimated range on the vehicle was 156 miles when released, but MINI USA has been re-stating the range as 100 miles. Some owners are of course seeing lower or slightly higher mileage ranges, but well below the initial estimate of 156.

Combined these issues were best summed up by an automotive enthusiast friend of mine, Mike Juergens, who commented, "they are like the RC cars I had growing up. I'd wait all day for it to charge to play with it for 10 minutes."

Getting the Word Out

There is some significant coverage of the MINI E in the blogsphere, especially when compared against a similar social media effort like Ford’s Fiesta Movement; though, the Fiesta Movement is more Twitter, YouTube and Facebook and less about blogging. The graph, at left, does show the MINI E is getting its message out in the blog community.

With so much attention, the MINI E is an important test for all EV cars. It is a test to see how consumers enjoy them on a day-to-day basis and what issues may arise for all EV manufacturers. Releasing the car too soon to consumers is a gutsy move and one wonders if this trial will negatively impact the marketing of the MINI E going forward.

One lesson MINI is sure to learn is that green vehicles need to be unique to be considered differentiating to the public. Even with some decals and other visual cues from a gas MINI, the new MINI E doesn’t scream look at me.

One of the things I have found most interesting about the MINI E blogs out there are the number of owners concerned that the MINI E car itself is ignored. It isn’t the visual status symbol a Prius is. And considering that a MINI E is fully electric, it should be a level up in Green status from a hybrid car but no one is noticing the full electric merits of the car.

CNW Marketing Research has an interesting finding on top reasons customers bought a Toyota Prius. "Makes a statement about me" ranked as the highest reason owners bought the car (granted this is Q2 2007 data and I'm sure fuel-economy has surpassed it but its very telling how significant this reason is.)

MINI E drivers also are doing it for the self recognition and other more altruistic reason too I'm sure. How do I know? Here are some quotes from various MINI E leasee bloggers:

“It’s been almost a week and a half and hardly anyone noticed I’m driving an electric car. Not even other MINI drivers acknowledge the MINI E.” -

“I've been disappointed that no one seems to notice there is anything special about this car so I added some vinyl lettering to the car, "100% Electric" for over the front window, and "Just Say No to Gas" for on the rear.” -

“I get more questions when I walk my labradoodle.” -

So perhaps the first lesson is to make the car look entirely different than its gas counterpart.

Suzuki's Purple Cow

There are some recent reports saying Suzuki and Mitsubishi should exit the US automotive market. Not much is really working for either company, but I was surprised to see an ad the other day for the Suzuki SX4 Crossover that caught my attention.

The ad features the old advertising strategy of comparing yourself to a superior product that in turn raises your lesser product's cognitive position. Most of the time this approach doesn't work, like how the Nissan Altima tried to compare itself against the BMW 318i back in the mid-1990s or when Chrysler raced a Lebaron against the BMW 528 in the 1980s. Comparisons usually fall into the who cares category of advertising and do little to make you think a Chysler Lebaron really can compete against a luxury car.

The fun thing with this Suzuki versus the MINI Cooper ad is that yeah it's a little econo-box comparing itself to a much more superior product, the MINI Cooper, but what's interesting is that it's not the typical serious voice over race commercial showing some performance prowess. Instead, the Suzuki comes out with some comical red cape and yellow lightning bolt decal. It's an absurd comparison and Suzuki knows it but the ad makes you pay attention and that is something a Suzuki commercial rarely does, correction - never does.

So for what it's worth this new ad from Suzuki is a fun, interesting way for a forgotten brand with nothing to lose to get some much needed attention. Isn't that what TV spots are supposed to do - get your attention, peak your interest? The Suzuki spot is basically what Seth Godin refers to as a Purple Cow. It's unexpected.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Toyota Prius Gem on Facebook

I have been a bit critical of the online media buys from the new Toyota Prius launch team. There was some really poor content integration with Gawker Media. Thanks, now I get all of these vacuous emails about the day’s celebrity gossip and still not a peep from Toyota about what the point is of my Hybrid Page.

Fortunately, the team has released a new content media buy that actually is entertaining, reaches their target and promotes the vehicle effectively. Anything has to be better than their poorly thought out homepage takeover.

The new Prius buy is a contest on Facebook using the popular online game Bejeweled. I caught the promotion because I was already a fan of the Prius on the social networking site.

The game automatically affiliates you with anyone else in your friend network who has granted the game access to their profile. You are then inserted into a team with your “friends” and the team can compete to enter weekly prize giveaways.

Unfortunately, after my stellar 9,400 points, the current giveaway is some $4,000 touch screen video game system and not a new Prius. But that doesn’t matter to Toyota as their qualification graphic only gives the arcade prize a 1/8 of screen real-estate while the Prius takes over the rest. Nothing is wrong about this of course, but I sure wish I was entering to win a car instead of video game just being “brought” to me by the Toyota Prius.

The game’s application screen also features a couple of buttons for you to “Become a Prius Fan”. This will bring you to the site if you are already a fan of their Facebook page. I couldn’t test it but I’d assume you go to the Prius Facebook page if you are not already a Prius fan.

Overall it’s a nice promotion of the car using a game that appeals to women. As a game, Bejeweled tests higher with women than with men and it also is well-known to those in their 30s, which fits well with the hybrid Prius’ target consumer.

Monday, July 6, 2009

And Yet Another Movement Begins

Apparently you need a movement to get Americans to understand that diesel technology has vastly changed since the days of great, but stinky cars like a 1984 Mercedes 300 Turbo Diesel. Audi is the one leading the movement with their new campaign “Truth in Diesel”; a variation from their multi-year brand campaign “Truth in Engineering”.

Before we get into the “movement" and its merits, let’s first discuss what perception Audi is trying to change and why a movement is even necessary.

Diesel, A Dirty, Stinky Word

We Americans think of foul-smelling public buses and interstate 18-wheeler semi trucks spewing gobs of black smoke when we think diesel.

I had a neighbor recently who owned an early 1990s Ford F-250 diesel that he would run a remote starter on during the winter months in Michigan. In Birmingham, where I live, the homes are very close – think forty-foot wide lots right smack next to each other. Well the smell from the neighbor’s diesel truck would leave a lovely odor in our home after about three minutes of the truck running. My wife hates, hates diesels because of this neighbor. She is the perfect person that needs convincing that diesels of today have changed and hence diesel’s perception issue is now Audi’s issue as they launch the diesel Q7 and A3 vehicles.

One of the great things about my experience on Twitter is finding advocates out there who really live their passion. One such person is Daniel Gray (follow him @mpgomatic) who runs MPGoMatic, a blog about cars and the energy they use. Daniel wrote an excellent article asking if there is an anti-diesel conspiracy since so much of the automotive press ignores diesel as a viable way to gain better MPGs in today’s cars. For some reason, diesel gets no respect from journalists either; though, the article does mention some positive coverage of the VW Jetta TDI which got through the clutter. Audi’s movement must address the diesel bias that still permeates most fuel efficient discussions.

Truth in Diesel Movement Outreach

So what makes up the Audi “Truth in Diesel” campaign? A website, of course, and some TV spots that show rolling oil barrels returning to the oil tankers that bring them to the US shore. The current home page of the Audi USA site prominently features the video and the new campaign. So much so you wonder if it is distracting shoppers interested in other Audi vehicles?

The Diesel: It’s No Longer a Dirty Word page features a Join the Conversation message that features all of the “conversations” going on across Twitter, YouTube, Blogs, and Flickr. Here you can click on oilcans that show a popup where you can read a Tweet and even “Tweet This”. Its your typical search a keyword feed pulling “Audi + Diesel” terms from various open social network sites that then display how you are connected to the “conversation” going on in cyberspace.

Once you get beyond the social media oilcans, there is a very rich site that includes some demonstration videos showcasing the Turbo Direct Injection (TDI) diesel engine with a stodgy voiceover; I guess that’s luxury education for you. Not very engaging, but informative.

You can also explore “The Truths” which are various facts about better fuel choices and how diesel is an excellent decision for green consumers. Fuel economy savings, impact on environment when fewer fossil fuels are used, and less dependence on foreign oil are the key messages in the Truth campaign.

We Want You to Join the Movement By Us Donating a Dollar, Huh?

You can join the movement by joining Audi’s cause application that contributes donations to the Nature Conservancy. From the cause:

“From now until July 23, Audi will give $1 to our Tensas River Basin voluntary carbon offset program for each and every new member to our Facebook Cause! You've just earned us $1 -- Now, invite your friends to our cause to help us reach our goal of 25,000 new members by July 23!”

It’s a nice link between fuel economy and supporting a green organization like the Nature Conservancy. Unfortunately, joining the cause in Facebook brings you to a donation play that does nothing to help people understand and promote the improvements in diesel technology which is what the Audi campaign is really about.

Nothing is really wrong with the charitable cause approach, except it misses the real point, which is educating the world about clean diesel and what the new technology has accomplished. Just seems to me someone in campaign brainstorming said hey we are doing something Green and we want to be on Facebook so maybe we should do one of those cause thingys since they're so popular.

Perception Change Missing

What is still missed, however, is how the new diesel isn’t the diesel of old and this message is still lost in all of the positive fuel benefits. I think most know, especially higher income Audi consumers that fuel benefits exist when going diesel, but they are still not educated on how diesel is cleaner in today’s new engines; hence, perception change is lost in the campaign.

This all brings me back to my wife and her hatred for the diesel truck next door. I asked her if she would buy a diesel Audi Q7, a SUV I know she likes, though the non-diesel version. She said, “whenever I see a diesel car; I wonder why they would drive diesel? Just to be different?” What she considers confusing is why drive a stinky car and one that’s gas usually costs more than non-diesel fuel. Neither of these issues are addressed by the Audi campaign, at least yet. We do learn in the Wall Street Journal article about the campaign that what is out now is phase one of the campaign. Hopefully phase two addresses some more pressing concerns.

Daniel Gray shared with me some of his thoughts on the topic. “America's acceptance of Clean Diesel passenger vehicles is inevitable. The truth can only be suppressed for so long. Eventually, word on the street will make it known that modern clean diesel engines aren't just remarkably fuel-efficient, they're a joy to drive.”

I think Daniel is right. Whether the Audi “Truth in Diesel” campaign speeds up that acceptance remains to be seen, but I hope it does. The new diesels are not the diesels of old and they should be considered part of America’s move to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Courting the Clunker Demographic

If you drive a clunker, you are the darling of the auto world, at least until the $1 billion runs out or November 1st arrives which ever comes first.

That’s right Cash for Clunkers was signed into legislation on June 24 and is expected to be active on July 23. The CARS (Cash Allowance Rebate System) legislation is a convoluted version of several European Cash for Clunker programs that have spurred automotive sales. The US has been considering adopting a similar program and finally passed a complex version that was signed by President Barack Obama.

With so many rules and restrictions to determine if your clunker is eligible, several automakers have rolled out their own initiatives to attract these shoppers and help them navigate through the requirements. The requirements include poor fuel economy numbers, model year of the car or truck, and the newly purchased vehicle must get better, though not much, gas mileage than your clunker. If you want the gory details checkout the website.

When searching Google, I received the following results with paid search results from GM, Toyota, and Ford. Mazda, Nissan and Kia also occasionally show up in the paid search results. Several OEMs are highlighting their sites as helpful ways to lead you into a particular brand’s products.

The most interesting marketing example comes from SMART with its full product line of a whopping two cars that fully meets the CARS requirements, no matter what clunker you are scraping to give you the maximum $4,500 credit.

Combined with SMART’s $99 payment promotion, the SMART Cash for Clunkers marketing pitch seems like a good blend of reaching cost conscious and green minded consumers. Of course, this means you have to be willing to risk your life driving a fortwo; though, this may not be a problem if you have been flaunting with death in a 1986 Dodge Omni with bald tires and a oil leak that leaves a trail from your home to work every morning.

SMART is also actively building up their contact database to keep interested buyers informed the minute the plan goes live. “Sign up today to receive notification of available inventory and details regarding smart fortwo express delivery to a dealership near you,” reads the SMART Cash for Clunkers page where people can leave their contact information to get a follow up when details come out.

So the battle to get those clunker dollars is in full swing and brands are trying their best to help you navigate if you qualify and help you navigator you and your clunker into their dealership.