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Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Augmented Reality Race



In the early days of the Internet, I was an application developer and found a lot of enjoyment in writing VRML, ActiveX controls and Java Applets. Technology was evolving very quickly in the 1990s as we moved from early HTML with all its embossed tables, grey backgrounds and blinking text. It wasn’t long until dynamically data-driven websites and early Flash became a way to showcase web content in a new fascinating way. One new technology that is starting to gain interest in the latter part of our current decade is Augmented Reality.

What is Augmented Reality? It is simply a way to blend computer graphics objects with real-life objects. It really isn’t new technology, but it is a new way to let consumers interact with your product through a web cam and free software. Bringing it to the masses is what’s new.

Advertising is finding ways to integrate their products into your real-world life through the use of a web cam and PC (sorry Mac users, myself included.) How are they doing it? By letting people view images of a product on their computer screen that shares the space with their present physical world. Play some of the videos on this article to get an idea of how it works.



So far this is an International method of promoting a car as the UK has two examples; one from MINI and the other from BMW, while the Australian’s get to play with a paper steering wheel while viewing the new Nissan 370z.

It is cool. And like anything that uses technology in a cool way, it comes across as being innovative which in turn gets consumers to see your product as innovative.

The thing I really find most interesting about Augmented Reality’s use in marketing is how it gets your ad noticed in a sea of typical advertising. Provided you take the time to engage with the Augmented Reality software, you are probably going to show your friends or talk about it with your co-workers. Why, because it’s different and relatively fresh.



Of the three automotive brands using the technology, the best implementation goes to BMW for their incorporation of the technology into their Z4 campaign. The Nissan and MINI demos merely showcase the car on visual plane. The Nissan has a nice touch of lighting up in a dark room, but it is still just a visual ah ha moment. The Z4 implementation actually lets you “drive” the Augmented Reality car to create a painting. Their implementation makes use of the technology in a way that relates back to their campaign and, best of all, may actually get you to try doing another painting again so you reengage with the brand many times.

The one problem with Augmented Reality use by marketers is that few people will use the technology, since it has a few technical barriers; even though, most new technology innovations have audience adoption limitations. Using the technology requires taking a print ad or mailer to your computer to see the product demonstration (most also let you print out a page on your printer.) There will be few who do that or realize what the advertisement is talking about. It isn’t instant and does require downloading software and sitting at your computer screen to engage.
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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tiguan Configuration Overload

Attention Deficit Disorder
n. Abbr. ADD
A syndrome, usually diagnosed in childhood, characterized by a persistent pattern of impulsiveness, a short attention span, and often hyperactivity, and interfering especially with academic, occupational, and social performance.

Don’t get me wrong when you read this, but I really find some of the worst sites on The FWA: Favourite Website Awards. Sure they are pretty and sure they find some interesting ways to visually communicate a product, but they are rarely consumer focused.

Take for instance the latest FWA winner the Volkswagen Tiguan Portugal site. Like a lot of Favourite Website Awards it is visually interesting. It’s also visually annoying.

This cute little sport utility vehicle must be a highly configurable car with lots of options, seat configurations and sport versatility. Why do I think this? Because the site is dynamically reconfiguring itself constantly while I am trying to navigate through it. It’s as if I’m in the car, sitting there minding my own business when magically the glove box pops open, the rear seat folds down and the passenger door opens and shuts by itself. Sound confusing? It is. The Tiguan site does a similar bizarre dance while you are trying to click on the image gallery, learn about the performance options and…wait, just wait a second, the gallery just disappeared and moved to another position on the screen!

Now like I said above, don’t get me wrong the site is pretty and visually cool, but this is about promoting a new vehicle not testing the attention span of your potential customers.

Moving navigation that keeps rebuilding itself is annoying, to say the least, but it must be really frustrating if you are someone interested in the product and have to keep fighting with the site to get at what you want to see. Maybe the Portuguese are people who have a love for visually erratic art and have a lot of patience?

All I know is in my experience of usability testing and working with some great interface designers that this site would be a consumer nightmare. Beautiful yes. Usable only if you have a lot of time. On the web, I find a lot of automotive consumers are not that patient when Flash animations take over to a dizzying degree.
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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

An Automotive Strategist's Look at Twitter


I uploaded a presentation on Slideshare.net I developed on how I came to find Twitter a useful medium for an automotive enthusiast or marketer. Basically, the deck looks at how I approached Twitter and found a way to make it work for me. I also reviewed a couple of automotive experiments on Twitter and how they are giving auto lovers a place to congregate and engage with brands, publications, and other enthusiasts.
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Toyota Prius Undefined


The new 2010 Toyota Prius recently launched their media for the campaign “Harmony Between Man, Nature and Machine”. From John Voelcker, Editor-in-Chief of All About Prius, the campaign is all about “highlighting the car's latest features, the campaign paints the Prius as offering what buyers want--advanced technology, more power, interior space, safety, and the magic 50-MPG figure--while simultaneously giving nature what it wants: lower tailpipe emissions.”

The team is reaching out to some other media outlets to build awareness outside of normal automotive channels (what I mean is not marketing in auto related websites or on portals.) They are planning some content within How Stuff Works and have already implemented a homepage wallpaper on Dictionary.com promoting the Prius.

Let’s discuss the Prius Dictionary.com example. Right now it is simply a beautiful image of a Prius that covers the homepage. It’s a nice break from traditional banner advertisements. Unfortunately where it leaves off is in getting some good content integration in the Dictionary site. For example, type in “Prius” to get a definition and all you get is “–adjective (in prescriptions) before; former.” And the best part is the “sponsored results” above the definition provide links to the 2009 Prius and the all new Honda Insight.

What Toyota should have done is, at least, own the Prius definition page advertising if people search Dictionary.com. They also could’ve included a definition about the car, if the Dictionary.com site would let them (I’m not sure if they have restrictions on only formal definitions can exist.)

It will be interesting to see how Toyota markets the new Prius against some competition from it’s Honda Insight neighbor. Already, Toyota is making some great traction as pre-orders have reached 75,000 units; though, I caution that number being customers only. What I’ve seen is a reporting of pre-orders also including dealership orders. Also, the Prius’ main competitor the Honda Insight isn’t getting rave reviews, at least from the world’s most anti-hybrid car reviewer – Jeremy Clarkson – who called it “Biblically horrible.”
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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Chrysler Rebuilds in Its Rubble


Earlier this week the government’s auto industry task force slashed Chrysler’s proposed marketing budget in half. As the company is under a dark cloud of a very public bankruptcy, the government is definitely making it difficult for Chrysler to stay present in consumer’s minds and worse all the negative press is making Chrysler an even less attractive decision for shoppers. This all leaves one to ponder if the Chrysler customer is down to one type of customer – the bargain shopper.

As Business Week reported, "customers are coming into the showroom making outrageously low offers for Chrysler vehicles, expecting them to take any price just to sell a car." The bargain shopper wants a deal and not just any deal, but a huge deal. Giving them $6,000 off a $30,000 plus vehicle isn’t what they expect. They want more, like 50% off. They’re the same type of shopper who is out there looking to buy a foreclosed house at half-off or more. And Chrysler is the automotive industry’s example of a distressed sale. Much like real estate’s demise, consumers are waiting to show up and get a bargain. And if the bargain isn’t good enough, they’ll wait it out. They’re not stupid.

With today’s announcement of Chrysler eliminating over 700 dealerships nationwide, the inventory situation gets worse for a company in the droves of restructuring. So, not only are consumers questioning the viability of the company. Now prospective shoppers know the market is about to get flooded with more supply as dealerships consolidate and inventory piles up with fewer retail outlets to move product.

Meanwhile, Chrysler is trying to rebuild its reputation with their new brand campaign: We Build. In the TV spots, Chrysler promotes how it is building a new car company that they are building for us. Of course, I can hear the criticism of the anti-bailout crowd – you mean we are rebuilding your company for your executives and unions.

One hopes with Chrysler’s reduced ad budget that they can sway public opinion in their favor as the campaign promotes upcoming electric vehicles and strengthens the brand’s identity of building rugged off-road products, like Jeeps and Ram trucks, that customers have come to love.

But it will be a struggle to sway public opinion with a limited marketing campaign budget. Also the recent marketing mistake they made when they ran a full-page ads in major newspapers thanking America for their first bailout last year doesn’t help either. Many will feel any advertising is money wasted where “their money” is being used to sell them. That’s the problem with very public government bailouts and meddling government task forces, people don’t like throwing good money after bad and for a lot of America, Chrysler is a weak company with weak products. They don’t show up on Consumer Reports recommendation lists, they rank low on JD Power Quality studies, and, the worse part, everyone knows they are in this position because they make inferior products in a very competitive automotive industry.

Fair or not, Chrysler has a very hard road to travel and it will be interesting to see how the new “We Build” campaign is received. I have my doubts it will be received well; though, I’m sure some focus groups will think the ad campaign improves brand perception.
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Monday, May 11, 2009

Mercedes E-Class Making Sheep Nervous


Okay, I've been a fairly observant automotive industry watcher and pay particular attention to how companies advertise. Until today, I've never seen two sexy nurses, a midget, midget unicorn, and a really nervous sheep get booted out of a new car to launch that car's new technology feature.

One YouTube watcher left the comment most viewers are probably thinking, "Don't understand. Strange characters get out of the car, driver drives off. WTF." WTF, is right. It's Mercedes way of communicating the new E-Class' feature Attention Assist that alerts the driver from dozing-off.

The ad will not run here in the States, it's apparently too risque for our country's Mercedes intenders; instead, it will show in Europe where admitting you dream about circus midgets is appropriate behavior.

My feeling about the ad: It is odd and took me a second to get what it was leading to. I'm not sure it is as succinct as some other creative efforts to communicate complex technology features in a fun and compelling way. My favorite example of showing advanced technology in an effective, playful spot goes to the BMW 7-Series TV spot on Night Vision.

What are your thoughts? Did you get what it was trying to communicate? Was it fun and interesting or dumb and boring or somewhere in between?
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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Facebook Fan the Volkswagens


There's a new retro Volkswagen to promote their products. After some success with their black 1960s VW Bug "Max", VW is now introducing "Bus" - a read and white 1968 Microbus. "Bus" doesn't have the heavy German accent of "Max", instead, he is an American with a voice from actor Thomas Haden Church.

Bus made his debut on the new Crispin-Porter Facebook application Meet the Volkswagens.

From USA Today: "Why Facebook? 'More and more consumers are selling products for us,' says Charlie Taylor, general manager for VW's digital marketing. 'Social media and word of mouth is much less about brochure downloads and more about brand awareness.'"

Taylor is absolutely right, social media is about brand awareness. The landing page of Meet the Volkswagens is welcoming and has a clear call to action to have the page "Analyze Me". This action captures keywords from your Facebook profile and through some magical algorithm spits out two VWs that are just right for you.

So what was right for me? Well, apparently I'm speedy and sporty - must be the BMW in my profile; though, it missed how I drive a hardtop convertible. So why didn't I end up with the Eos - apparently not speedy or sporty enough, which is honestly true. Instead, I was prompted with access to VW fan pages for the Passat CC and Touareg 2.

While I am told I'm speedy and sporty, why the application selected the two vehicles isn't really clear. There could've been some better messaging about the products once chosen for me that could share why they were selected, but this is a minor point.

The bigger issue is that each vehicle selected leads you to that page's Facebook fan page. The Passat CC page had only 3 posts on it (2 from VW), only 54 fans, and showcased a couple pictures. There just wasn't anything to do once I got there. What was I supposed to do? I could "fan" the page but other than that people are probably just going to go back to talking to their friends and forget about the VW Passat CC fan page.

All of the automotive experiments on social media are just that experiments. The VW effort can be successful, depending on the metrics the campaign is seeking. It appears to me they are just looking to increase their Fans on vehicle pages and with that they can increase their communications with the car's fans going forward. This is probably just phase one of a multi-dimensional plan. I look forward to seeing how this evolves now that I'm a fan of the Passat CC and Touareg 2.
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Buzz Study Releases First Social Automotive Brands Report


Buzz Study is a blog maintained by software company infegy. Their social media product, Social Radar, is a social media tracking tool. To promote their tool, they produce a monthly Top 50 Social Brands list that is now being accompanied by a first ever Top Social Automotive Brands report (U.S. market only.) The first example was published Tuesday. You can see it here.


How are brands measured? Well according to Buzz Study the Top Automotive report uses the same methodology as the Top 50 report they publish. "To create the Top 50 list, we used Social Radar to analyze millions of blog posts, news feeds, forums, social networks and Twitter posts to aggregate a list of the words and brands mentioned most frequently on the Web during April 2009. The list measures the number of unique individuals or sources that posted content about each brand during April 2009 rather than the overall number of mentions, which would be more heavily influenced by big fans who post frequently about a specific brand."

One of the things Buzz Study doesn't mention about their ranking is what significance there is of having a top ranking? There is no sentiment study posted showing if buzz is good or bad. You only simply learn if there is a lot of discussion going on across the web. In Chrysler's case, this probably isn't a good thing.

Ford came out on top in the automotive brands and #25 on the all brands Top 50 report. When your CEO is on YouTube Twittering with his Head of Social Media Scott Monty, it isn't that surprising. Plus there are some big campaign pushes in the social space, like The Fiesta Movement.

Brands with very few owners, brand advocates or an older customer will likely not improve much on this list. Also, brands with very limited marketing budgets or no new product news will place low too. That's probably why we see brands like Buick, Mercury, Lincoln, and Suzuki at the bottom.

The surprising one at the end of the list is Infiniti which has a very hot, buzz worthy pool of products like the G37 and FX. This just shows that Infiniti isn't really investing in this space and is not part of their media mix right now. One trite example I did was Google "infiniti social media", one of the top spots for the automotive brand is a G20.net enthusiast site. If you don't know, Infiniti hasn't made the G20 for seven years. Point made.

On the other hand, BMW has been very active on Facebook, iPhone (yes I knew iPhone is not social media, but doing things on iPhone generates social media buzz) and has a large amount of brand oriented blogs, even one that I run. Sorry had to promote my other blog for a second. BMW hasn't made any push into Twitter, showing that you don't need to be in every social media environment to have an impact.

It is an interesting report and could be a data point to see how large-scale social media marketing efforts by automotive brands can impact their ranking on Buzz Study's report; though, I'm sure infegy would rather you just purchase their social media tracking product to analyze your efforts.
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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Porsche Enters The 4th Dimension: Wasting Time


The Porsche Panamera, a four-door Frakenstein of a Porsche, just launched its campaign The 4th dimension. The new Panamera. According to AutoEvolution, “A central component of the campaign is a six-issue interactive online magazine (www.porsche.com/panamera) that builds excitement leading up to the vehicle's launch in September.”

For those who don’t remember from physics class, or were lucky enough to avoid it, the fourth dimension is time, which leaves one to wonder who has the time to read six issues of an interactive online magazine? I’d venture to guess that the Panamera consumer is someone who is entrepreneurial, has a family, loves technology, and spends a lot of his or her time working; thereby, leaving little time to sit through “The Porsche house of treasures” article.

Fortunately, I have no life so I went through the site and found several articles justifying Porsche’s decision to build a four-door sports car. For those who didn’t know, Porsche actually developed a concept 4-seater in 1959 – The Porsche 754. This information thus justifies the decision to build the Panamera, even if some blogger naysayer feels they shouldn’t have. It’s in their DNA. So, there!

The good news for the busy Panamera consumer, well at least the ones with an iPhone in their pocket, is the six ezines are available in an iPhone application (download the app for iTunes here.) The iPhone application is actually far more navigable than the website. The article content is easier to page through and the images look great on the screen.

Navigation aside, the content still suffers from too much marketing speak and very little information. Granted the car doesn’t show up in dealerships for a couple months, but the extensive content Porsche produced for this campaign misses what most consumers are after: specifications, availability info, and pricing. But it's obvious this is about marketing the brand, not catering to buyers. The least Porsche could do to appease buyers is provide some linking to the detailed vehicle content at Porsche.com.

It’s too bad Porsche couldn’t have hired Autoblog’s Sam Abuelsamid to write for the Panamera ezine. Why? Because his one article on the car’s In-depth Tech Briefing and First Drive was far more informative and interesting than all of the encyclopedic nonsense used to justify the brand’s decision to make a four-door Porsche.
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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Chevy Debuts New Site with Some Unthought-Out Clutter


Is the Chevy brand trying to appeal to the Entourage crowd? Maybe it’s the high fashion couch from Target or the slightly loosened preppy boy tie or the arms expanded across the couch that makes me wonder what was someone thinking when they created the new Experience Chevrolet section on the Chevrolet.com website redesign that debuted yesterday.

It’s kind of funny the main image on the Experience Chevrolet site section (see above image), because the content just doesn’t fit what the image conveys. Instead what you get is a list of Chevy’s promotions with Major League Baseball, Fishing sponsorship, motor sports, and, of course, a few Country music stars thrown in. The partnerships and promotions are very apple pie America and true to the good ole’ boy brand of Chevrolet.

The page also showcases wallpaper downloads, events, social media page links, and awards. The Chevy Fueling Change content shows what Chevrolet is doing to further fuel-efficient products. But it seems all of this is a hodgepodge of content that can’t find a proper home. It’s like that closet in your house where a vacuum cleaner, old purses, light bulbs, stacks of old VHS tapes, and an old camera sit as some holding place without a proper home.

Of course, Chevy is promoting a couple new products. The new Camaro certainly attracts a style conscience muscle car fan with its retro-cool good looks. The new Chevy Volt appeals to a green consumer who really doesn’t fit well into the hardcore American muscle appeal Chevy personifies, but it’s game changers like the Volt that create some new direction for the Chevy brand.

Chevy has always been a mass appeal brand with products like the Cobalt, Malibu and Silverado. Plus they have an iconic halo product in the Corvette. It’s interesting though, now that Chevy is entrenching itself as the broad appeal brand for GM as they keep Buick as a premium brand, Cadillac as their luxury brand, and GMC as a utility brand.

The brand section of the new Chevrolet.com just lacks a strong cohesive message and seems all over the place. This is part of the problem big brands have when synthesizing their brand into a strong distinct message, because the products are appealing to all sorts of segments. Maybe some better categorization of the content would help strengthen the different appeals the Chevy brand supports.

I just find it odd leading the brand experience section with a young 20-something guy all alone on a modern couch in the highway. Seems to me the Chevy brand is stronger than that, and has an appeal that is much more compelling. Maybe the aspirational target is a younger, single consumer who thinks of himself as trendy? If so, it doesn’t feel authentic. I’m not saying the image had to be a family in the country with an organic farm in the background. The page just needs an image showcasing the board appeal of the brand and less the just out of college Enterprise Rent-A-Car employee.
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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Fiat Wants You. All Online Expressions of You


With Fiat showing up in the news everyday, I thought it would be interesting to look at how they’re marketing their key product -- the Fiat 500. The 500 campaign is “We have something to say”, but Fiat wants to hear what you have to say so they have provided a self-expression focused digital implementation.

There are several ways for Fiat 500 owners, enthusiasts, and aspirational consumers to express themselves on the 500 Wants You website.

Speak 500 on Video: Send Fiat a video of you saying “500” in your native language.

500 Jingle Video Box
: Create you own soundtrack to share on the homepage or download as a MP3 for your own use. Plus, something called “Dante” will even dance to it.

500 Questionnaire: Take a survey (you can’t now, the survey is closed) to discover how well you and the Fiat can co-exist.

500 Video Configurator: This is a build module that allows you to see your custom built 500 in a video sequence. You can send this to a friend and save it for later view.

Fiat Air Drive
: Showcase you driving a Fiat, well not a real Fiat; rather, something you created with cardboard or similar material. The videos are then shown on YouTube and 10 winners were selected. They each received 16 GB iPod Touch music players.

Feelings of 500: This allows visitors to share their thoughts on a Diesel jeans version of the 500 in 160 words or less.

500 Faces: Morphs a face with a classic image of a Fiat 500. Why? So you can send an e-card of it.

500 Wants a Mascot: Create a mascot inspired by the 500. Who won? “Dante” the dancing thing from the Jingle Video Box.

500 Wants Your Ad: Two winners were chosen from the 14 finalists selected by our professional jury out of the more than 3300 communication ideas for the launch of the new 500.

The Ad and Mascot contests had significant prizes associated with them and ended up in some relatively compelling professional content. The winners from the Ad contest were showcased at Cannes. The mascot winner collected 3,000 euros and the mascot was featured in 500 communications.

As you can tell, Fiat has turned “We have something to say” into listening what you have to say; even if, what you have to say adds more useless content to the Internet. I actually spent some time reviewing the Air Drive, Video Box, and Speak 500 content and, with only one exception – this weird guy, all of the content is disposable and should not take up a byte of data on a server.

Unfortunately, there is very little vehicle content on the 500 Wants You site. The closest thing you could call vehicle content is a 500C Private Preview that showcases a carrousel of photos with your atypical techno festival soundtrack.

The Video Configurator could’ve been useful vehicle content; instead, all it does is label each option but gives you no information about the option and pricing is absent. Of course, this is not a shopping website but it would’ve been useful for Fiat to include some integrated vehicle content to help visitors and potential buyers learn more about the Fiat 500 while browsing the content on this site.

What I do like about the 500 Wants You execution is that it fits with how the 500 buyer sees himself or herself. The 500 allows a lot of customization in its product options and it’s a cute, quirky car that interests people who want to standout, i.e. express themselves on the highway or city streets.

Fiat also extended the self-expression in an experiential way by providing a billboard in Germany that displayed text messages people sent to a number listed on the billboard. Although done before, it was a decent way to extend the self-expression outside of a web browser and webcam.

What I don’t like is that most of the content is boring and unbearable to watch, like most user generated content. Listening to someone say "500" in Romanian lacks a certain viral effectiveness and you wonder why you are watching it.

Fortunately, Fiat found a couple ways to get some quality content through lucrative prizes that engaged its creative, talented consumers. Or, at least, gave one person 3,000 euros to help buy a new 500.
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