Tuesday, August 25, 2009

GM's LAB Invites the Common Man

General Motors recently launched a new social collaboration experiment called LAB. It sets out to gain insights from web users who are interested in the design direction and future product innovations GM is planning. It’s basically a glimpse into the design studio where concept vehicles are currently under development.

An introduction video from GM’s Manager of Advanced Design Wade Bryant shares that “The Lab is to share these ideas with a broader audience… to have an open dialogue.” This assumes that the open dialogue will further shape the end conceptual design and that GM can later claim that “x” concept vehicle was built with consumer input via The Lab’s collaborative environment; thereby, creating a better end product.

All of this reminds me of Herbert Powell, the brother of Homer Simpson, who exclaims, “I want you to design a car for all the Homer Simpsons out there.” He then gives Homer the opportunity to design a new car that would be devoid of the failings of an insular corporate culture that had become disconnected from the needs of the “Working Man.” Homer becomes the persona for all the needs and wants of that common man which ultimately leads to the unveiling of a new $82,000 car that shutters the company as its final effort to get things right only to have everything come to a bitter, misdirected end.

To be fair, GM's LAB doesn’t trust one person to make every decision; instead, it uses more of a crowdsourcing approach that seeks the inputs from many to find some consensus or unique ideas that may not have come from the internal corporate design team.

One company has applied the crowdsourcing model in automotive design to a much more radical interpretation and that is Local Motors. Local Motors is a very interesting experiment and is undergoing the real development of their Rally Fighter product, an off-road desert racer housing a BMW diesel engine. The Rally Fighter looks like what a Chevrolet Vega might have looked like today if it were to undergo decades of minor updates, you mounted a cluster of KC lights to the grille, and then gave it the ground clearance of some farm boy football player’s pickup truck. It’s a design only crowdsourcing could be proud of, definitely not a vehicle for mass appeal.

But I think LAB has little to do with true input into automotive design and more to do with perception. It shows that General Motors is listening to what most people criticize it for – not building what people want to drive. So, if you listen and open input from anyone with a computer and the ability to complete a simple registration form, no one can complain that GM is not building what people want.

Funny thing is, design isn’t GM’s issue as it has recently designed some very impressive vehicles lately: the new Camaro, GMC Acadia, Saturn Sky, Pontiac G8, Cadillac CTS and the new Chevy Malibu. Design isn’t the issue. The issue is people having a concern with long-term quality of American products and having little reason to switch from their favorite, reliable Asian car that meets their needs.

GM's LAB addresses nothing about quality, nor should it. The LAB instead is a Public Relations move to show that GM is listening and adjusting to consumer input.

I’m sure The Lab will affect future concepts so someone can point to the success of the project, but if this was really about collaboration to drive vehicle design The Lab would be more focused in its conversational execution. What I mean by that is the feedback on a vehicle would be topical and focus on particular elements of the design instead of being the free for all comment thread that is currently under each design study.

If we look at Local Motors and how they foster discussion, they host a Forum area that looks at unique steps across the vehicle development process. Discussions around design studies, chassis, wheel size, and other vehicle attributes focuses the commentaries around distinct areas that can be elaborated on further. Plus the Local Motors execution attracts vehicle designers instead of just the common workingman, allowing for less cheerleading for a brand and more serious commentary on design.

So in the end it’s essentially a Public Relations move to show GM is listening to those who criticize its vehicle development decisions. Whether it nets any real design impact will be purely accidental.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In the Footsteps of the Nissan GT-R and Ferrari California Comes the Honda Accord CrossTour

There are only 13 days 16 hours 49 minutes and 17 seconds until Honda’s latest vehicle debut. Is it the new Honda S2000? Discontinued. Or is it Honda’s luxury brand Acura building a new NSX? Discontinued. Or is Honda building the S3000 Concept from 2008? Unfortunately not.

The countdown is for the all-new Honda Accord CrossTour, a “coupe” SUV variant of the already debuted Acura ZDX. In an attempt to build buzz for Honda’s latest boring, reliable transportation, they have implemented a countdown clock that is more familiar on debuts for a lust worthy sports car like a Ferrari California, Nissan GT-R or Ford Mustang, all of which had countdown clocks on their launch websites.

Honda is currently running ad units on Facebook that bring users to a Honda Accord CrossTour fan page where they can read some posts from Honda’s own Twitter PR representative @Alicia_at_Honda and can watch a video showing clear valley, mountain lush roads just waiting for a vehicle to appear, but nothing but barren roads are shown. It ends with no messaging.

The Facebook execution is currently void of any information, beyond a wall post saying it will be available fall of 2009. So, if you click through the ads you are brought to fan page for a vehicle you can’t see, watch a video with an empty road, and learn nothing about Honda’s new product. It’s a fairly odd destination and fails to entice the reader to want to know more, except for the ardent Honda brand advocate. You wonder what some one thinks when they essentially get nothing.

Comments on the Facebook fan page predominantly come from Honda defenders who are happy with their prior Honda purchase. Few commentators care to know more about the Accord CrossTour. Those who do want to know more share links to Car & Driver spy photos.

We’ll have to see how the reveal evolves. Maybe something will finally show up on the video’s empty roads. Right now, it’s an interesting way to unveil and build buzz for a rather sedate vehicle. Will anyone really care 13 days 15 hours 35 minutes and 9 seconds remain until a new beefed up hatchback enters the US market? Apparently 1,849 Facebook fans care enough to listen.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Chevy Traverse Entry into the Mommy-sphere

There is a lot of data showing the engagement of women online, especially highly desirable family oriented professional moms who have considerable influence in automotive purchases, women influence 85% of all the car buying decisions.

A recent report from eMarketer shows the following impressive social interaction from female social network users:

One key category that is getting a ton of attention is the “Read Blogs” statistic. With all the hype around mommy bloggers who are showing up in all kinds of traditional media outlets with stories showing highly successful bloggers getting perks from companies and, more importantly, having influence on other female consumers, it is no surprise that automotive brands want to reach out to these influencers.

With all this attention, it would seem a mommy blogger outreach would be a slam-dunk for any automaker with an impressive new product that is perfectly targeted to cool, trendy mommy bloggers and their readers.

So the marketing department develops a profile showing some hip, trendy mom who can flawlessly juggle life via Blackberry, running a bunch of kids around town and finding time to hit the spa between soccer and dance classes.

Chevy Dealers Reach Out to Influencers

North Texas Chevy Dealers took their new family hauler, the Traverse, to moms by giving the SUV to them for 8-weeks, plenty of time to write and create stories around the Traverse. All the while, the bloggers were competing for a prize and readers could also win a prize in a drawing.

Some details about the contest element:
From April – June, readers were to visit the mommy madness local sites (two in Dallas and one in Kansas City) where the voter is entered into a contest to win a resort trip and vote for their favorite mommy blogger who would also win a prize if they were voted the top spot.
I love the idea of giving bloggers the car for such a long time. Eight weeks really gives the women some quality time to experience the vehicle and write about their use and share their honest feedback. It's a great way to gain some consumer insights from a customer perspective.

One mommy blogger, and there are several examples showing the same results, had no engagement on her site when she wrote about the contest or SUV (no engagement = no comments.) Bloggers were directed to post the reviews, not on their blog, but on a separate site. That’s due to Chevrolet and CBS Radio, the two sponsors, creating sites to host the blogger articles and videos. Funny thing is that all of the content the bloggers created, minus a few videos on YouTube, all went away and are no longer viewable on the web since the sites have been shutdown.

YouTube videos from the contest show on average 47 views with the top video getting a whopping 126. Seems engagement was very low with the content, probably partially due to the contest creating sites outside of the very blogger audiences they wanted to reach.

Three-Month Life to Content

Why on earth would you reach out to mommy bloggers who have established audiences, have them post your product’s content on some separate contest website and then delete all the content when the contest wraps up? This has to be about the crazyiest way to tap into the built-in audience a blog has.

Didn’t anyone say, “Hey we should let the content live on the bloggers’ sites because that’s where the bloggers’ readers are.”

Instead the result is that there is very little content on YouTube (think needle in a haystack) and very limited reviews on mom blogger websites from people who lived with the vehicle for 8 weeks. Chevrolet spent all this time and money to create user-generated content only to have it live for three months. Huh?

A Blogger Kept Her Reviews on Her Blog

Fortunately, one blogger recognized that keeping her posts on her site would be of value, beyond the contest. The “Dinkypops No More” blog kept the engagement on her site and included a lot of information about her experience with the Traverse. The articles are actually pretty good and included some nice pictures and a few video reviews (though video metrics show rather minuscule results 70-120 views per video.)

The good news is that the blogger’s readers did engage with some posts, mostly cheerleading about how awesome it is she was selected for the opportunity and comments about the mission not the car (e.g. riding roller coasters, getting a haircut, and other family activities.)

So even though the product is aimed right at the busy mom target, it doesn’t mean mommy blogger readers care enough to talk about a $30,000 plus vehicle. What is also interesting is how few comment on the attributes of the car (one post I found finally had some car related comments, because it focused entirely on the driver’s favorite things.) Leaving me to wonder is a car too much of a considered purchase that few mommy blogger readers care about as they do with day-to-day consumer goods like food, sundries, and child-focused products?


The metrics allude to my question about the blogger's readers not really wanting to find out more about a shiny, expensive new car. One insight into the metrics of the separate Mommy Madness sites is a post showing results four days into the contest in April:

884 Unique visits
3130 Unique page views
3:32 average time on site

520 Unique visits
1926 Unique page views
4:31 avg. time on site

Is this good? Tough to know if media buys also drove visits or was traffic only from the mom bloggers the source. My guess is that media buys were limited, if any at all, since the contest was lead not by Chevrolet the brand, but by the regional North Texas Chevy Dealers.


When leveraging a blogger's audience, don't have the readership go out to your marketing website to read reviews about your product. Drop off has to be huge and loses the whole point of engaging that blogger - her readers.

Hosting content on a marketing site that you intend to shut down after said contest also loses all of the great content the bloggers created for your product. This great content is no longer available when others are researching your product.

The contest element is interesting and will entice some readers to jump to an unfamiliar website, but as one friend of mine once said, "contests should read: Enter for your chance to lose..."

Finally, there is a big question of whether mommy blogger engagement is right for automotive brands. Sure the appeal of the demographic is there, but do people visiting sites - mainly focused on parenting and household dynamics - really care to engage with a highly-considered purchase like a car/SUV?

One thing is certain, the mommy blogger community is too intoxicating to ignore for marketers and future examples of blogger engagement may prove more compelling than this regionally focused one from a dealership group was.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ferrari 458 Italia, Aspirational Branding at Its Best

So you can’t afford the new Ferrari 458 Italia. Bummer. It would really look great in your driveway and you would look better behind the wheel of it.

So, what does a brand do when it’s not about attracting in-market buyers, but more about attracting aspirational excitement for your brand? You provide a ton of ways to experience the vehicle virtually.

The new 458 reveal site presents several ways for aspirational Ferrari fans to engage with the car. The site features demonstration videos on chassis, engine, braking and other performance related features, typical Ferrari content. The sports car is also showcased with large full site images that make the red 458 pop on the page.

One can continue their experience in a rich “Downloads” section where the traditional screensaver and wallpaper images exist. What’s cool is the rich sound of the car can be loaded to a mobile phone with special files for iPhone users. So that every time your boss calls you can hear the acceleration of your stress represented by the acceleration of a monstrous 562 hp engine.

Unfortunately, the engagement stops at the site. I attempted to Register for Ferrari news after going through three pages of registration - guess one has to be highly motivated to get any news from a super car company. Well after completing the extensive registration, an error was generated causing my registration to fail and now I had to re-enter everything all over again. After a second attempt -- I’m uber-motivated apparently, the registration failed again.

I can only assume it’s technical but I’m starting to think that it’s due to my choice on the form for the question: "Would you consider the 458 Italia as your next Ferrari?" Where I entered “It will always be a dream of mine.”

So maybe covertly Ferrari is not interested in engaging aspirational fans, but rather someone who may be able to afford it sometime in the future, not us dreamers.

For now, there are some great takeaways with the iPhone/mobile ringtones, wallpaper, and screensaver. At least I can experience the car in an affordable way.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Show Your Commitment for the Sauber F1 Team (Because We Are Not)

Almost two weeks after announcing they will leave Formula One, BMW Lifestyle’s email marketing group decided to promote the Sauber F1 Team's merchandise. So while they are no longer interested in supporting the team and they have a bunch of inventory to clear out, it’s time to get the fans to empty the warehouse.

My favorite line in the email comes from the subject line: “Fuel Your Enthusiasm”, which should have been followed by “…Before Our Tank is Empty.” But the worst part of the email was the fact that BMW failed to give any price discounts on the products which obviously will go on fire sale mode in less than three months after the Formula One season comes to an end.

So why is BMW leaving?

BMW’s press statement claims the reasoning is as follows:
"Premium will be increasingly defined in terms of sustainability and environmental compatibility. This is an area in which we want to remain in the lead… Our Formula 1 campaign is thus less a key promoter for us."
Most feel it is more about disappointing results. The results of the Team have been poor as they have failed to win the world championship like Director Mario Theissen, who runs the Team, said they would do in three years. So it hasn’t been the best time for the Team, especially after an awful 2009 season. Mercedes has particularly made BMW look bad in the sport and so maybe BMW is just backing out under the guise of the move being a strategic refocus on environmental sustainability.

Well you can’t really blame the BMW Lifestyle marketing team for trying to dump a bunch of product before the Team’s final season wraps up. Some discount would’ve been nice as I’m sure the Sauber Team fans all know the Team is dissolving soon.

All I can think is that marketing doesn’t know the Team is coming to an end, because a lot of people in marketing pay more attention to Click-Through-Rates and less attention to industry news. I’d guess that without a discount the merchandise will sit since who really wants to support a Team with such a short time left. Now, if only I can get a deal on a 2008 Sauber F1 child's car seat...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

GM's Manufactured Buzz, All 230 Volts

What Is 230? General Motors wants you to get all excited about an unveiling coming up on August 11, 2009. They have launched a website, Flickr photostream, YouTube channel, Facebook group, blog, and are actively Tweeting “I spotted 230. #whatis230”

The campaign launched in early March as there are a set of photos from March 19, 2009 in New York City where t-shirts were handed out to passers by (3/19/09 is the date on all of the photos in the Flickr stream, though they were uploaded on August 9.) Since then, there’s been the website and some ads running on Hulu promoting the event.

But what is the event? I follow several automotive enthusiasts on Twitter and several of them are being flown in to Detroit for an event on Monday. It’s pretty safe to assume this effort is related to the 230 announcement GM is holding Tuesday. The campaign is all about buzz and engagement with social media auto enthusiasts is part of the effort to generate discussion.

An AdAge article on August 6 dug further into the matter but GM wouldn’t say a thing. We do know from the article that Meghan Winger, a staffer of Chicago agency All Terrain, is the creator of the What Is 230 group. Other guesses from readers include the following:
  • Number of days until GM files bankruptcy again
  • 230 is the MPG of the Chevy Volt
  • Price of the new Volt - $230,000
  • 230 days until delivery of the Volt
Most people definitely think this is Chevy Volt related and with All Terrain having Chevy as their top client it is a pretty reasonable guess. But what else can GM reveal about the Chevy Volt that people don’t already know? I think it is not about the Volt; though, it is about Chevrolet. Maybe GM is getting ready to announce another electric vehicle product? Guess we’ll find out Tuesday.

UPDATE 8/11/2009: Seems I was wrong. There was some news about the Volt that hadn't been shared - fuel economy numbers. Though, I find it odd that the EPA rating is out a year before vehicle introduction. Strange? Anyway, the 230 refers to 230 MPG city driving and the Volt is expected to have a combined MPG rating with three digits. More at the Wall Street Journal. Also, a great article from John Voelcker of on the math behind the Volt's 230 MPG rating.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Share Your America Lacks Some Simple Sharing

I may change the name of this blog to The Korean Auto Marketing Blog after the past couple weeks. Seems everything I’m covering is from Kia or Hyundai. It’s just that these two companies have been actively launching several new initiatives in the online space. This time the focus is Hyundai.

Hyundai has been running their latest $1.49 gas for a year campaign since it had promoted multiple extensions from their highly successful Hyundai Assurance campaign, that guaranteed loan payments for the laid off.

TV spots for the $1.49 gas for a year have been running for a couple months now and Hyundai is branching out online with some new media placements promoting a $149 sweepstakes.

The sweepstakes asks participants to share a photo of somewhere in America where they have a story to tell. The “Share Your America with $1.49 Gas” landing page links out to a Facebook application with a Google Map and some form fields and a place to upload a photo.

Filling out the form and uploading a photo for the contest entry was easy. What wasn’t, was trying to navigate the Google Map that showed photos uploaded by other contestants. Unfortunately, the map took several minutes to adjust between each zoom, causing me to wait and wait to see others photos. Why would I look at other photos, curiosity but really there is no reason to check them out. A better feature would’ve been letting me see my friends entries to the contest to read their Share America stories, but this was not offered.

Seems to me there is very little for the end user, except the possibility to win the contest. Looking at other’s photos and brief descriptions was rather boring and something I doubt anyone would do again.

Few entries existed as of this evening, maybe 40 or so, leaving me some hope that I could win a $149 gift card.

They are promoting the contest through a Twitter campaign account @roadtrip149. The Twitter account is your typical lame marketing execution. The account keeps searching Twitter for “road trip” and sending Tweets, to anyone using that phrase, the following message: “Our map could use your great road trip pics! post them here”.

Why is the Twitter execution lame? Because it is just an account that doesn’t engage in conversation or contribute anything more than noise pointing people to the campaign’s website. That said 174 people are still following the account to see if anything interesting develops.

After my entry was accepted the next morning, the post to the Facebook application did not show up in my News Feed on Facebook, thus limiting the reach of the campaign. You would think contest entry would at least ask me to “Publish” my entry so others in my social network could engage and learn about my sharing of America. Seems like a missed sharing opportunity for this Share campaign.

Kia Forte, Looks Small But Is of Decent Size

Launch websites are all about communicating the strengths of a new product. They typically have several key elements common across every brand. A few navigational links are provided highlighting the product’s key feature set like safety, performance, or technology. A limited photo gallery exists and some link to keep interested consumers updated about the product, when it hits dealerships or another model type is available.

Basically, these sites are placeholders for the shopping experience content and a place to drive media traffic to or to give early consumers more information. A product’s campaign plan is usually set by this time and you should see a site that leverages the print and TV campaign.

The Kia Forte follows that model for the most part. The site showcases the car’s strengths and hammers the message throughout that the Kia Forte has class leading fuel-efficiency and horsepower.

I explored the site seeing many formulaic elements until I reached the Gallery and that’s when I ran into the strangest thing I think I’ve ever seen on a vehicle website: The Turtlecock.

“Meet the Turtlecock. An impressive fusion of style and safety. Although incredibly rare, it has much in common with the Kia Forte, which offers advanced standard features, distinctive design and class-leading standard safety equipment.” (see image at top of article)

Maybe Turtlecock means something else at Kia but it has a more familiar definition I found online:

"Turtlecock (tûr´tl•koˇk) n. A term used that denotes a man who is posessor of a cock that looks small, or very small (may even be hidden by a belly), when unerect; but once erect (comes out of the shell in essence) the cock is of a decent size.
Often referred to as growers not showers”

Now I know that some random online definition is no Webster’s, but this is a well-known slang term. Though, maybe this is intentional as the Forte is rather tiny at first sight yet impressive when you spend some quality time with the car.

Didn’t someone at Kia or Kia’s agency realize what a turtle cock is or at least Google it? Part of me wonders if this was some kind of dare in the creative department to see if turtle cock could get approved all the way through launch.

Whatever the case, it definitely ranks as one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen on an automotive product launch site. I just won’t be planning on downloading it as a wallpaper which, by the way, Kia lets me do.

Looking beyond the species breeding: Turtlecock, Horsephant, and Cheetamel (browse the site’s gallery if you wish to know more), each product area features a short documentary-like commercial using historic clips about performance, the evolution of engine design, and the launch of Sputnik. It’s a rather mundane concept but hey it’s a Forte, not the most exciting car in the world and probably with a very limited advertising budget.

Finally, each product section also includes a nice “Compare” button where you can evaluate the Forte’s strengths against the segments two key competitors: Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla. This is far more useful than learning about a Horsephant and does convey the product’s positioning rather nicely in a simple, easy way for consumers.

If any of you were involved with this project, please let us know what the person won that got turtle cock into the gallery. I hope it was good

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Hamsters. They Keeping Going and Going and Going

When you have a highly successful marketing campaign what should you do? Extend, extend, extend… And this is what Kia is doing with their Soul’s hamster campaign. Their TV spots have been very well received and now they are reaching out into social media with “Go Hamster Go” an online game on Facebook.

The game uses augmented reality technology, requiring a webcam. The object is to drop as many hamsters into a Kia Soul as you can in a timed race. You drop each hamster “using the magnet that will appear on your forehead.” Sound odd? Sure but this is a Kia Soul and it’s a bit odd too, but like the car the game is some fun odd.

Your image appears in the background as hamsters roll down an assembly belt and you move your head back and forth to snag hamsters and drop them in Kia Souls that appear, each time the color of the Soul changes featuring the different colors the car comes in. Occasionally, a vehicle feature also appears to the side.

The game promotes Facebook behaviors like “Challenge a Friend” and “Publish” your score which will also inspire more usage as friends share across their social network. I always like the challenge aspect as it gets others who may not be interested in the brand or product at least interested in beating their friend at a game.

The bad part is that there are some barriers to playing. One you need a computer with a webcam and you need to install some software to play, which will cause some drop-off in people playing each other. I sent the game to five friends at work and realized none of them have webcams on their laptops, maybe they can use it at home, if they remember.

Overall the execution is well done. The game play is a bit different but that’s part of its appeal. It’s challenging which is a good thing. Most importantly, it extends the already popular hamster idea a bit further while also making the vehicle a prominent part of the game’s engagement.