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Friday, September 25, 2009

Will Sidewiki Become an OEM or Dealership's Worst Social Media Nightmare?


Google just released a new technology they call Sidewiki. It allows anyone who installs Sidewiki on their browser to read and add comments to any website (requires Internet Explorer 6+ or Firefox 2+, for now.) A side panel that can expand or contract sits on the side of the browser window. Comments in the Sidewiki window are unique to each website and are viewable to anyone with the technology installed on their browser.

Social media strategist Richard Stacy explains the technology best in SocialMediaToday, “Because this is linked to the browser, the site owners themselves have no say here – you can’t opt-in or opt-out. At one level this could be a move which forces every website into the social media space – whether they like it or not.”

I thought about this technology and immediately became concerned about all of the vendettas people have about their poor experiences with a particular brand, car and dealership. Now people can instantly share their disgust with your brand and products as long as you have a website. You can’t turn it off, you can’t delete their comments and you are now instantly part of the social media party whether or not you want it.

Take for instance a person who owns the car I own – a 2007 BMW 335i convertible. He started a website called BimmerIssues.com that covers his ownership frustration with water coming through his convertible top. Now he can go to BMW’s website and his dealership’s website and share his frustration with everyone who visits these web pages. Provided someone has Sidewiki installed, they now may avoid that dealership or that product and move right on to a competitor simply because of this one person’s issue or worse if many people have a similar issue with a vehicle, everyone now can voice their frustration collectively on that brand’s own website’s Sidewiki.

I did a test to see how this would work and added a Sidewiki complaint to a dealership I bought from over 10 years ago. As you can see, in the image that leads this story, it is quite easy to share one’s frustration and leave negative feedback (note: I deleted the comment after taking the screenshot for this story.) Not an unusual problem in social media, but now I can do it right on that dealer’s website and they have only a few options: ignore the comment, defend what happened in their own words, or hope others will come to their defense.

The most frustrating part for a dealership (or any commercial website) is that now no one has to search for feedback by reading various blogs and digging deep into search results. In fact, a site is probably using media buys to drive people to their site and now this drives them to all of the Sidewiki commentary too.

Now anyone with an issue can raise that issue right on the company’s website and the minute there is some sort of Public Relations fiasco, just think how bombarded a site will get with Sidewiki comments?

It’s a new world out there and every website now has public feedback turned on. Sidewiki is very new and it may not develop as I am outlining it here, but my guess is that we will see this technology spread. What will be interesting is to see how brands respond and if Google will eventually have to pull the plug or change functionality (like allowing sites to disable Sidewiki functionality.)
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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Audi's e-tron Concept Hopefully Not the Future of Website Navigation


I wonder if some sites ever went through usability testing. The Audi e-tron concept website definitely suffers from some significant design issues. First of all it contains no obvious cues about what one gets when clicking on the icon based navigation elements.

There are four key video content elements in the right-hand navigation featuring futurist diagrams and computer-generated imagery (CGI). Navigation includes design, technology, the intelligent automobile, and interior concept all visually demonstrating the e-tron’s features. The problem is each link is a tilted image not easily showing what the image is or what one sees when it is clicked on. In fact, the titled image navigation doesn't even seem like a navigation, you only know because your mouse changes its icon.

One demonstration is a nod to a future interior concept that seems very close to what might happen in the next few years. For example, a “Streets of Tomorrow” demonstration shows how the navigation of the future will tell us when we need milk as we are passing a grocery store. I think I heard this idea in 1998, but hey it still has never been done and people keep suggesting it. Telling me it is an idea no one wants, but keeps coming up in brainstorming or there is some technical barrier, I'm guessing the former. Another example is the car diagnostic system showing actual psi ratings of the tires is far more advanced than the Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) of today.

The footer of the site features a share on Facebook, a 360 view and a film of the product unveiling at the Frankfurt Auto Show. Another link shows the conversation that is ongoing across multiple social network properties featuring a count of YouTube, Flickr, Twitter and blogs covering the vehicle. The conversation section is very well executed and makes for an interesting way to showcase social dialog. This technique is becoming a standard approach as it was recently featured on the TDI site Audi recently launched.

When a social conversation is selected, Audi returns a very nice card that shows the social media content and allows the user to view it on its source site or one can Tweet the content if they so wish. The execution is very nice and one of the best implementations of social media content integration and sharing I have seen. Audi truly is on to showing all sites a very effective to show buzz and allow further sharing through a clean, well-designed interface.

It’s too bad that the Audi e-tron site suffers from some difficult navigation. Some proper usability testing would have corrected many of the apparent issues here. Of course, I haven’t put the site through testing, but having done testing on many sites in my decade plus experience, I’m sure the site would have some major hurdles for all but the technically adept or ultra-patient.

The big message here is the electric engine in an Audi R8 and whether Audi will really ever build an electric super car, especially after Audi President of North America Johan de Nysschen recently called anyone who buys a Chevy Volt a car for idiots.

Where the Audi campaign really shines isn’t this site. The really great work are the viral videos that were created to promote the electricityuntamed.com site. There is a YouTube Channel housing three videos produced to launch the e-tron concept. All three are performing very well for a concept launch. The videos are getting over around 200,000 views each, which may sound low, but relative to most automotive content of similar nature the numbers are pretty good.

It’s great having this amount of content for a concept vehicle. Few concept vehicles get this much attention and I'm sure the agency, Venables Bell & Partners, had a great time concepting the effort. We had a similar effort done for our Lincoln C Concept car at the 2009 International Auto Show and it was very well received. I think car companies can benefit by extending the concept experience to a digital space, especially when the vehicle showcases some compelling exterior and interior design elements and technology advancements. The only caution with all of this futuristic design is that website navigation is still constrained to the usability best practices of today and designers should consider the aggravation complex site navigation can cause the average visitor.

Be cool, just don't be difficult.
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Is a Station Wagon Desirable If You Call It a Sportback?


Smaller brands lack the big budgets to develop creative-rich launch web site experiences, but this can be a good thing. There’s an efficiency that happens when constrained and that can evolve into some clever, effective content that a large budget, heavy Flash site may lose in all its clever transitions.

Mitsubishi’s team put together a few clever ways to engage site visitors with the launch site for the new Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback. The primary message for the vehicle is its versatility. To communicate what it can hold, site visitors can drop various “items” into the cargo area. You can move a bike, soccer ball, bulldog, or even attempt a pachyderm if you dare to see what can fit in 52.7 cubic feet. It’s a simple way to communicate versatility. The only issue is that the items themselves fail to communicate what space they are taking up. It might have been a bit more interesting to calculate down the amount of space dynamically showing cubic space left as items drop-in. It still does add some simple engagement that lets the user play around.

There are some nice touches that message the vehicle in some unusual places. For example, the site’s 360 has rotating messaging when you click different angles to view. Some messages promote the engine or stereo system while other messages communicate to the target consumer with “Hello sexy! Lancer Sportback’s European styling makes it stand out on any road.” Cheesy, sure but it also helps put a little fun into something as boring as looking at a side profile of a hatchback.

One of the disappointing things about constrained budgets is the minimal use of product feature communication using video or CGI demonstration. There are a lot of advanced features on the Lancer like RALLIART, their advanced all-wheel-drive system that isn’t effectively communicated in a small paragraph of copy and could’ve benefited from some instructional, detailed video.

The vehicle is being promoted jointly with a VANS shoes Los Angeles skateboarding event showing that Mitsubishi is trying to attract a young, active audience. As a former skateboarder, I would’ve loved a Lancer Sportback, if such a car existed and I wasn’t broke in 1986.

Overall the launch site provides some effective content and tries to find low-cost ways to effectively communicate the benefits of the Lancer Sportback to potential buyers.
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Thursday, September 17, 2009

BF Goodrich Runs After the Driving Enthusiast


There is an excellent site for runners that has gained some notoriety. It’s a site from Reebok called “Run Easy”. The site provides a destination where community members can talk about topics interesting to runners.

The “Run Easy” site applies some great practices for a community. It allows people to share their own experiences with other enthusiasts through the use of sharing runner routes. Runners can plot their run on a Google map in full detail, others can rate it and comment. It allows sharing of music playlists people use on their runs. Best of all, the site creates a dialog in a friendly community environment that does not push Reebok products on the participants. Reebok merely picks up the tab and gains some benefit through goodwill with less experienced runners that might some day become hardcore runners, thus possibly repositioning Reebok in more accomplished runners’ minds.

Leaving Runners in the Dust

Nation of Go, a new community site “for people who live to drive”, takes a lot of its cues from the Reebok site. “Imitation is the highest form of flattery.” It’s clear that Reebok is doing some very effective things in its community that could easily transfer to automotive enthusiasts.

BF Goodrich Tires is the sponsor of Nation of Go. Their implementation is about sharing the best drives and connecting with other drivers. Similar to the “create your favorite runs”, Nation of Go features track, trail and road drives for others to share and plot on a Google map. Since the site just launched this week, there are only a few drives on the map and it will be interesting to see if enthusiasts find the site and take the time to share their favorite routes.

The best part of this idea is that there is no authoritative destination for driving roads on the web, at least that I’m aware of. So, there is an opportunity for BF Goodrich to own this space. Owning a space that appeals to your customers and even competitors customers has a highly desirable impact. Even if one doesn’t own BF Goodrich tires, they are welcome in the community and may find tremendous value if road trips and racing is their passion. Down the road, BF Goodrich may become that person’s next tire through positive brand lift from the site.

Plus BF Goodrich is a brand that can be acceptable to all drivers. Having an automotive company do this may only interest its brand advocates and cause others to turn away. Mercedes, Chevy, and Audi drivers can even talk a little trash on the Nation of Go site and share in a common passion without having the barrier of it being a particular automotive company sponsored site (ie it would be odd for Mercedes owners to be frequenting a Chevy site, even if Chevy wants that.) Having this come from a tire company is far more encompassing.

There is a Forum that allows for more open topical discussions. This can serve as a place to discuss best driving music, how-to, and yes even tire tips. The possibilities are wide open and with a strong community it too can serve as great resource on the web.

Media Is Essential to Attract a Significant Membership

Yesterday, the Nation of Go team had invited some social media influencers and media to a marketing launch event. I learned of the site through some people I follow on Twitter who attended. A hashtag on Twitter #NationofGo brings back some insights into who attended and what some initial thoughts were about the idea. There is even talk of NationofGo attending Twitter’s weekly #carchat.

Beyond social media buzz and blogger outreach, it will be interesting to see how Nation of Go is promoted using digital and/or traditional media. I notice today that the BF Goodrich USA site is prominently promoting the Nation of Go on its homepage.

Nation of Go’s appeal is to a very involved automotive enthusiast or racing enthusiast and I expect to see some media from these sites to attract people who will help build such a community. Hopefully, BF Goodrich will not solely rely on word of mouth, though powerful, a community needs a significant amount of members to make it valuable and this will be a slow and arduous process if the company relies only on buzz. They'll need some media and promotion through their product marketing to help grow mass on the site.

What We Need is a Van, Dude

One way Nation of Go is getting their word out is by taking a page from Plaid Nation. Plaid Nation is a small marketing agency in the Northeast that took the road in a van (and later a Ford Flex.) Plaid Nation generated buzz by visiting various leading brands and people who were influencing technology, social media and marketing.

Similar to Plaid Nation's tour, Nation of Go is traveling in a van visiting "well-known shops and drivers" and like Plaid share their adventures on their blog. You can follow their visits via Twitter too at NationofGo. Event based marketing will hopefully gain some ongoing interest in the effort and should help gain some momentum to the story during the 20 plus day road trip.

Effective Communities are Passion Destinations

If properly supported by media, BF Goodrich may be on to something here with Nation of Go. Driving enthusiasts love finding new places to enjoy their vehicle. With some added features like adding photos to a drive, the routes could become more personal and expressive beyond just a map.

Also, right now you can only share a drive by copying a URL's text. A more fully integrated sharing using social media destinations like Facebook, Twitter or MySpace will further promote the site. I'll assume this is probably coming in the future.

It's unfortunate recreational racing isn't as popular here in the States as it is in Europe. Running is very popular, at least lately from what I can tell on Facebook with almost all of my lazy friends (self included) now posting their latest run on their status, but I rarely see a post about anyone going for a scenic drive. Anecdotal examples aside, recreational driving just isn't as big as running (or so it seems, I had trouble finding any hard research numbers.) With a much smaller enthusiast base, attracting the right people to the Nation of Go community is more difficult, not impossible, but does require some effective micro-targeted marketing buys.

All of this is a great way to get people to come to a tire company website. Beyond trying to find out what your warranty is, where a particular tire is sold, or if there is a rebate form for a recent purchase, BF Goodrich may have found a way to make visiting a tire company website a more frequent stop by appealing to their customer's passion - driving. And if they can appeal to the racing crowd and convert them to buy BF Goodrich, that's a great way to become more relevant to frequent tire buyers.
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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Honda's Inferiority Complex Goes Social


Wow, I guess the negative comments from the Honda Crosstour really wounded the mighty Honda's self-perception. Their latest foray into social media marketing is a new Facebook application called "Who Loves a Honda?" that they are advertising on the Facebook site. It asks people to say they love a Honda and/or to send a notice to someone they think also loves a Honda.

The application is a "love chain" (Honda's words, not mine) counting how many people you are connected to who love Honda, the age of the oldest Honda, and the number of Honda lovers connected to your profile. All of this creates a massive amount of "Honda Love" that as of this evening reached over a half a million across Facebook. Maybe a half a million votes of love will make Honda feel better after all those awful things people said about their Accord Crosstour? Or is a million or 5 million the right number?

Other than spreading the word about Honda, the Facebook application does nothing else. It is basically a way to identify oneself as a lover of the Honda brand, which by the way is the whole point of being a "fan" of a brand on Facebook. Seems to me just having a decent count of fans on the social network would be a good enough way to measure brand love. The 22,000 plus fans just wasn't enough considering Ford has over 40,000 and General Motors over 120,000. This application Honda created is their way of getting people to really prove it, as their ad pathetically asks "help us prove it".

Self-doubt is really unattractive and really who likes to hangout with someone constantly asking for acknowledgment of your love. The "Who loves a Honda" application provides no consumer value beyond what a typical "Become a Fan" does. In fact it does less, at least when you fan a brand you get notified of updates, but this application just let's you prove your love like bringing flowers home after saying or doing something wrong to your spouse.

Now that they have received some public love on Facebook after their Accord Crosstour fiasco, can we all move on and sing kumbaya, because this is getting weird.
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Friday, September 11, 2009

This Week: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly


The Good

Land Rover released a whimsical Freelander 2 ad that playfully expresses the fun and family aspect of the Land Rover brand.





The Bad

MINI is getting set to reveal two new products at this week's coming Frankfurt Auto Show: the MINI coupe and Roadster Concept. To promote the twin reveal, MINI has released their Two Untamed campaign. It has to be the strangest, most disturbing thing I've seen from MINI, who usually creates great ads.





The Ugly

As the hosts of Burnout Radio shared with me "this afternoon regarding the new Mercedes SLS AMG, "oh god that's hideous, i think i just threw up a little bit."

This ugly isn't about the idea or production value of the reveal video Mercedes-Benz TV released. No this ugly is the product. After a 46 year hiatus, the return of the Mercedes Gullwing should have resulted in a perfect vehicle - much like the beauty that is the timeless 300SL. Instead, Mercedes gave the world a stub-nosed, rakish rear-end coupe that disappoints. Maybe they were set up for failure as following the 300SL really is an impossible task.



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Thursday, September 10, 2009

GM Resurrects Chrysler's 1980 Marketing Plan

After a successful Cash for Clunkers government induced spiff, the automotive industry is now left wondering what to do next now that the generous $3,500 - $4,500 clunker incentive rapidly faded away. GM’s marketing department has an answer: Bring back the 1980s with a Lee Iacocca wannabe and the return of the return policy. Much like when Iacocca asked America “if you can find a better car, buy it.” GM will now ask Americans, “if you bought a car from us, but found a better car between 31-60 days, providing you drove less than 4,000 miles, return our car and get the better car.” It doesn’t exactly roll right off the tongue.

Brand Quiz Show

To help with some better messaging, the new campaign is called "May the Best Car Win". Earlier this week on Gmail, several travel sites, and a variety of other placements; someone was mysteriously advertising an unbranded site http://www.thebestcarwins.com and Twitter account @thebestcarwins. The site asked users to take a simple five-question quiz:
Who do you think builds the most fuel-efficient car?

Who do you think builds the safest car?

Who do you think builds the most dependable car?

Who do you think builds the best performance car?

Who do you think builds the best car?
Results displayed showing everyone’s collective response against the response the quiz taker entered. It was an interesting test to see how dominant some brands are in each category. What it showed was how difficult it is for a brand to become synonymous with a particular attribute. It took all of the brands years to become recognized for best safety, best performance, etc. Now that we know GM is the one behind the mystery site, the results of the quiz show a mountain of a task GM has to change brand perception in a category.

The funny thing is I think GM feels they can lead in all of the categories, meaning their brand or brands should be the top pick in any future quiz about best quality, safety, dependability, performance, fuel-efficiency, and overall.

Nice try. If there is one constant reason why a brand ‘won’ in this quiz, it is because they are not trying to be all of these things. If you want a great example of what I mean, check out Peter M. De Lorenzo’s recent column warning BMW not to compromise their performance brand identity for a piece of the Green pie.

Diving Into the 1980’s Playbook


The reason this is so 1980s is that all of this has been done before, over and over again. Just watch this 1984 ad from Chrysler where they were introducing two sedans that would take on and beat BMW, Audi and even Mercedes. Oh and they were getting ready to debut a small car to rival the Japanese (got to love the computer screen picture in the ad showcasing the concept.)

Someone (I think we can all guess who) is reading from the Chrysler post government bailout playbook.
  • Communicate you build the best cars, hands down
  • Tell people if they can find a better car buy it, this time with a buyer’s remorse guarantee
  • Find a spokesperson whom people can trust: Old white executive, white hair, glasses and talks in friendly voice
  • Directly challenge the foreign and domestic competition so far as to even take on anyone willing to race Bob Lutz in his Cadillac CTS-V.

The “Fine Print Effect”

The 60-day return policy is the big offer to get consumers interested in GM’s products. It’s the driver to bring people into the dealerships. But does this work? We know it’s been done before by many brands: Chrysler, Volkswagen, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile.

Past return policy campaigns didn’t change consumer brand perception. Did anyone in 1990 really think any better of Oldsmobile or Pontiac because they guaranteed the purchase?

Returned vehicles were more a result of buyer’s remorse than rethinking deep brand stalwarts like quality or safety. Instead a 1990 article in the LA Times titled Why Returnable Cars Haven’t Caught On discovered, “typically, say dealers, cars came back because someone disliked the color, or the model seemed too small for the family.”

One of the biggest issues with return policy effectiveness is the “fine-print effect”. The former Pontiac campaign brought in 5% more showroom traffic. In that same 1990 LA Times article the result of the infectiveness is that “there's so much distrust, and people may worry that it's not that easy to get in or out (of the deal), that there are probably a lot of gimmicks." So I have my doubts about the return policy being all that effective.

Whitacre to Play GM’s Iacocca

Return policy aside, the most intriguing part of the “May the Best Car Win” campaign is the spokes model. We learn that GM Chairman Edward E. Whitacre Jr., who from across a room resembles Lee Iacocca, tested well with research when GM ran the new ads featuring him.

In today’s Ad Age, Bob Lutz says the campaign will present America with a new face for GM. "What we were looking for was a highly credible spokesperson who would be a new fresh face," Mr. Lutz said, noting that Mr. Whitacre "is the new guy in town. He's tall, good looking, has impeccable white hair and has this nice soft Texas drawl and limps a little bit when he walks, which sort of gives him this old cowboy look."

Perhaps this is what’s needed, having a friendly, nice elderly man telling America this is the car to buy. It was the most effective and most memorable part of the Lee Iacocca playbook. It’s really Whitacre’s impact that will be the win or lose of this campaign.

UPDATE: The Ed Whitacre spot showed up on YouTube. View it here. Looks very similar to Iacocca walking around the factory convincing the viewer they build the best cars and can challenge any brand.
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Monday, September 7, 2009

"New Chrysler" Equals More Brands


As its cross-town rival General Motors sheds several brands, Chrysler is mounting a plethora of new brands under its Pentastar. There is a lot of talk about the new Chrysler-Fiat Company bringing over Alfa-Romeo and importing the new Fiat 500 not as a Chrylser, but as a Fiat which will reintroduce the brand after a 26-year hiatus.

The strangest news isn’t the re-introduction of Fiat and Alfa Romeo into the US marketplace, we all expected that when Fiat “bought” Chrysler for zero Euros, but there is an article in this week's BusinessWeek saying Chrysler is going to pull the Dodge Ram truck from the Dodge brand and create a Ram brand.

The new Ram brand will become the pickup and commercial vehicles brand for the post-bankrupt Chrysler.

Dodge Ram is what defines Dodge

The Dodge Ram is one of the strongest products in Chrysler and moving it from Dodge to its own brand doesn’t seem like it would really impact sales much. The Dodge Ram actually defines everything in the Dodge stable. For example, if you want to know what all future Dodge grilles will look like, just look at the next Ram pickup. The current Ram’s grille has inundated everything in Dodge: Caliber, Journey, Avenger, and even the Grand Caravan minivan mimic the Ram’s grille.

Why create a new brand with all the additional cost to market and position it in consumers’ minds?

Establishing a new brand will cost Chrysler considerably. They’ll have to communicate what Ram is all about; buy ad time for two brands instead of one; and the dealer network will have to have all new materials and training.

The dealership nightmare alone is not worth the effort. It would be odd for any Dodge dealer to not become a Ram dealer too. I’m quite sure Dodge dealers would be none too happy losing their truck products and left with Calibers and Avengers on their lots.

The Problem at Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram is Product


The worse part of adding Ram as a brand is that it does nothing to address Chrysler’s elephant in the room – poor product. Not one product is recommended by Consumer Reports, product design is severely lacking behind competition, interior design is at least two product cycles behind GM and Ford, and long-term quality has been a major issue.

What the Ram brand decision says to me is that Chrysler thinks their issue is branding, not product or worse it says they can solve their product issues by re-branding. If only they could market their products better they could increase sales. Now, I’m not saying they can’t improve their marketing – we all can. What I am saying is that marketing isn’t the big problem at Chrysler. You need to have highly desirable products in such a competitive automotive market and Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram is seriously lacking products that beat or meet the competition.

Maybe Chrysler knows this and decided the only way to increase interest is to create a new brand and hope no one will notice the products didn’t change? Unfortunately, they’re only fooling themselves.
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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Honda's Rainbow of “Passionate Opinions”


Today was just another reminder that social media marketing is still in its infancy.

After a couple weeks promoting the new Accord Crosstour on Facebook, Honda released the official photos revealing the design that any good Googler could’ve found on Car and Driver weeks ago. It was the latest trend in CUV/SUV/SAV – or as I like to call it SUC (sport utility coupe, pronounced “suck” of course, since the brands keep wanting to call these coupes) -- design that gave birth to the BMW X6, Acura ZDX and now the Honda Crosstour.

What made a rather dull product debut not so dull were the “passionate opinions” Honda’s PR representative @Alicia_at_Honda heard on the Facebook wall. It seems Alicia was caught a bit off guard, but shouldn't this event be expected?

The most recent case study on allowing a free-for-all consumer discussion about your product is the fiasco from Skittles. Back in March, Skittles decided to make Twitter their brand site’s home page. The approach used a hyperlink that returned the Twitter search page with the keyword “Skittles”. This showed all of the Skittles comments, discussions happening about the brand in real-time on the popular social networking site, thereby, allowing Skittles to showcase all of the buzz from their fans.

What happened is a lesson in Sigmund Freud's crowd behavior theory.
People who are in a crowd act differently towards people from those who are thinking individually. The minds of the group would merge to form a way of thinking. Each member's enthusiasm would be increased as a result, and one becomes less aware of the true nature of one's actions.
People found out that any comment using the word “Skittles” would appear on the candy’s website and that many people were coming to the site since it was such a new concept and was getting a lot of publicity. The Skittles Twitter search became the bathroom wall allowing people to say hi to their friends, promote their own goods and showcase their personality. Some of the comments included things like “Hitler eats Skittles” and “If you eat Skittles you support killing kittens and puppies.”

The Skittles experiment was successful in driving traffic as their site had a 1332% increase in one-day of traffic. Unfortunately, it was more successful for mockery and less so for positive brand buzz. Soon Skittles backed away from the idea by changing their home page.

Honda’s Accord Crosstour reveal on Facebook wasn’t as revolutionary; in fact, a lot of autos are promoted on Facebook. In contrast, BMW has been revealing their X1 compact SUV over Facebook too, yet it didn’t get the same public humiliation Honda did. Why? The most likely reason is that BMW is not running media to the X1 or promoting it as actively as Honda is with the Accord Crosstour.

The Crosstour has been running Facebook advertising promoting the coming reveal for weeks and even had a page on the US Honda site showing a countdown clock for when the Crosstour would debut. The Honda Crosstour content on Honda.com also promotes the Facebook page with the call to action “Join the discussion on Facebook, and become a fan.” Media promotion brought the Crosstour to the masses.

By promoting the Crosstour Facebook page as the key destination for the reveal, it gave people a public wall to criticize everything they didn’t like about the Crosstour or any decision by the Honda Corporation.

The wall comments started off with some good and some bad views on the design, but it later picked up in the day, as word spread across social media,that Honda was openly seeking feedback on this new, rather fuggly looking SUC. At some point the comments became outright rude and worse offensive. People started to use the Facebook wall as a fame play showcasing how witty and obnoxious they could be, very much like the Skittles fiasco.

All of this begs the question: Should automotive companies launch and promote products using social media platforms instead of more traditional marketing websites?

Sure the upside is real-time feedback but the downside is real-time feedback. With the Skittles and now Honda example, the underbelly side is the high jinks of everyone who wants their moment of fame at your brand’s expense.

What's sad with this implementation is that it fails on so many content levels. I think the marketing people are caught up in the social media aspect talking about how great it will be to engage conversation that they forget the herd mentality and worse forget about what content serious consumers or automotive enthusiasts want.

The Crosstour team is using a staggered reveal approach where small bits of information are shared at timed intervals. Unfortunately, for those who come to the experience early they get very little information and, in this case, get a wall to voice their frustration or simply are bored with the minimal content that they start trashing the destination.

Today's reveal featured a few renderings of the vehicle and almost no information on the Facebook site: No information on product features, no specifications, not even an interior photo was shown. So anyone seriously interested about learning more ended up on a Facebook site with some lunatic exclaiming, "Congrats Honda! You made the Ugliest Honda EVER!" Cool. Just what I wanted to know. Now can someone tell me if it gets 230 MPG?

UPDATES:

Honda's Official Response to all of this.

Honda removes comments from Eddie Okubo, product manager at Honda, who made some "unofficial" statements on the Facebook page.
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GM Re-Ignites Image with More Future Product


The mantra for real estate is "location, location, location!" For automotive it is "product, product, product!" When GM launched their branding campaign RE:Invention the day it exited bankruptcy it was highly controversial and easily criticized debut for the 100 year old brand.

Now with Bob Lutz, the seminal car guy of the industry, in charge of marketing it is no surprise that the newest GM Re:Invention ad is call Re-Ignition and does what all the critics, myself included, said GM should do and that is focus on the products the company is building that showcase what the New GM is all about.

"Re-Ignition" leads with Cadillac's highly-successful CTS sedan and transitions to show off two new production vehicles, the SRX and CTS Sport Wagon. What's surprising about the spot is the new CTS coupe is literally launched in the ad. It's surprising because the car is about a year away from arriving on dealer lots, but launching new vehicles a year or even years ahead of having them for sale is starting to become a trend with GM.

This early marketing of the CTS coupe begs the question: Does it make sense to launch a car a year or more ahead of supply? For GM, it makes a lot of sense since they are mainly trying to rebuild their brands after accepting significant government bailout money.

The whole push to promote new models and even early CAD renderings of possible concepts is a way for GM to show they are new, fresh and capable of building cars people want. The Chevy Volt is showcased over and over again since it is the darling of what an American 'green' vehicle can become. It truly reinvents the industry (just don't tell anyone that every automaker from Fiat, Toyota, Ford, Chrysler, Nissan, etc are also building Electric Vehicle products launching around the same time as the Volt.) But this is marketing and GM is making a strong bid to show it is building the future of the American auto industry.

It is rare for an automaker to start promoting a vehicle before the production version gets its official reveal at a major auto show. The auto show is a place where the media can see the car, get inside, and share their thoughts on the design and space of the vehicle before early production models head out for media drive events. The reveal starts the buzz for a new vehicle.

The Converj Concept, that the CTS coupe gets its body from, debuted at this year's Detroit Auto Show but that was an early concept model and not the production reveal. Plus the Conjerv was all about making a Cadillac version of the Chevy Volt. By debuting a new model months before it shows up in an auto show as a production debut, Cadillac is trying to generate some early buzz for the product and the Cadillac brand.

Unfortunately, the coupe isn't that revolutionary. It's just a coupe which is something the CTS needs to be competitive against its German rivals the Mercedes C-Class, BMW 3-series, and Audi A5. Lincoln doesn't make a coupe MKZ and Lexus should have an IS coupe soon. Having an entry luxury coupe isn't as exciting as reinventing electric vehicle technology so maintaining any buzz will be difficult.

Regardless GM is actively reinventing itself and it is a great thing to do that reinvention by showcasing future products instead of using cliche Americana imagery that many rolled their eyes at when GM ran their "New GM" spot. My guess is that with Lutz at the helm we'll continue to see early product marketing efforts and fewer brand anthems. It's all about the product.
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