Customer testimonials are all the rage right now. From Ford to Porsche, it seems every segment is featuring real customers sharing their experiences with their cars. There is a long history of this approach in automotive advertising, in fact all advertising. Why? Because it is seen as authentic and a way for people to see real people express their happiness with a purchase they made, so that if potential customers see this enthusiasm, they too will want to share in a similar exuberance and make the same purchase.
I see nothing really wrong with this approach. It is a bit more interesting than watching a grey-haired executive meander through an office building saying why he believes in the company that is paying him.
Customer testimonials ads are kind of like the traditional media example of user generated content. Sure it’s not exactly the same, but the concept is similar. You are letting real people share their real story about your brand. There is no corporate speak and the opinions are honest.
The biggest argument against this approach is that the brand has obviously cherry-picked their customer testimonials, unlike true user generated content online where you can find the good, the bad and the so-so. Naturally, campaigns using real customer experiences always focus on the good ones and consumers know this.
It’s all about the selection. I’m sure I can find a good number of people who are happy about buying the car with the worst quality rating in the industry that will speak to their flawless vehicle or the most hideous styled car owners who are willing to say it looks great. That’s the best part of controlling the conversation; you can edit your choices. It’s essentially the TV ad equivalent of moderating online conversation.
Everyone is doing it right now, even the company with the grey-haired executive. GM launched the Faces of GM this summer that features real owners and employees who give a “face” to GM. One extended video that was advertised on Facebook, has a new owner who sold her previous BMW 5-series and bought a Cadillac CTS.
Ford (our primary client at Team Detroit, the company I work for) recently launched a brand campaign for Drive One that features ads with real owners sharing their favorite features of Ford cars. An article from Business Week explains the concept best, “the people in the ads are real. They were drafted to be in focus groups. They were not asked until after all the video was shot if they would be willing to have the footage used in ads.”
Another example is one from Porsche that seeks Porsche Stories from real owners. This effort for the Porsche Panamera launch site, asks visitors to share their Porsche Story. But this effort isn’t so much about new product experiences; rather, it is about the passion Porsche enthusiasts and owners have for the brand. Porsche is doing this to show the Panamera is just another “branch on the family tree.” Essentially it showcases the community Porsche owners become a part of, even the ones who may show up to a Porsche event in a ridiculed 4-door monstrosity.
So if you own a car don’t be surprised if someone from the marketing department wants you to share your story online or maybe even invites you to star in a commercial. Testimonial advertising is making a strong comeback and is becoming a way for traditional media to play in the social media sharing that is going on today. Sure it’s not true social media sharing, but it is using the premise of consumers talking about your brand in an open and honest way, even if it is edited.