Sunday, January 31, 2010

Please Vote for Me to Speak at Ignite Detroit

Note: You do not have to be from Detroit to vote.

I have submitted a speaking topic for the first ever Ignite Detroit event coming February 25, 2010.

If you don't know what Ignite is checkout the Ignite Detroit website or view one of the better Ignite speakers on what makes a good business meme. It's basically a educating the audience in quick, efficient way with only 5 minutes and 20 slides that automatically change every 15 seconds.

I would appreciate it if you can give me a vote on Ignite Detroit's website where you can vote for my topic "How changing your car’s oil will make you a better car enthusiast." If chosen to speak, I'll definitely post a link to the video here on the site at a later date.

Vote here.

Thanks for listening. Now back to the automotive industry.

Automotive Facebook Fans by Brand: January 2010

There is one clear leader in this month’s Automotive Facebook Fans by Brand report: Volvo. They ran some advertising campaigns developed for the Facebook platform. The first is one that’s been up a few months but was continuing to get some media dollars, Drive Around the World. The other is a lifestyle brand experience called Ice Camp that also has its own Facebook page.

The Drive Around the World has Facebook friends travel together as each friend takes over the drive like passing a baton in a race. Volvo will then donate 15,000 Euros to a charity that fights Global Warming. Obviously the game has broad appeal with the charity aspect and social enablement. Altogether Volvo saw a 421% increase in January fan numbers. Quite impressive though like many of the huge percentage changes we have seen they only started with 11,875 fans at the beginning of the month.

Most brands saw typical gains in January. GM brands saw a slowing down since backing off media spend on the platform, particularly Chevrolet and Cadillac (both had 50% gains in recent months), but this is typical and shows the difference between organic and media driven growth.

Zoom. Zoom.

Mazda saw a nice improvement this month. They also moved their Mazda North America page into the Mazda Facebook fan page which got rid of some confusion around how one follows the brand. The now retired Mazda North America fan page was more for Public Relations communications which seemed duplicative to the fan page.

Both MINI and Acura ran advertisements in Facebook that I caught during the month. The Acura one was for increasing fans of their ZDX vehicle page, not the primary brand fan page. Meanwhile MINI promoted their coming Countryman SUV. This shows that both brands are interested in further developing vehicle fan pages which to me seems odd since both are niche vehicles and it would be better to get consumers engaged more with the brand than an isolated product.

Toyota’s Public Relations Issue

Toyota is an interesting brand this month, not so much for its growth but it’s public relations fiasco with its faulty pedals on 8 vehicles. Currently, the Toyota fan page has a status update pointing fans to for information about the company’s response and updates. This shows that brand pages can act as another communication medium to keep consumers up to date on major announcements.

Brands be warned; one “fan” keeps posting a news video that discusses Toyota allegedly concealing and destroying information. That “fan” has posted the story five times with four posts having been deleted by the page administrators. He continues to post the story on the Toyota fan page wall. So, it works both ways and the brand should just let the post live since it is just a link to a news story and removing these posts might cause more of a PR issue.

Download the Excel file: Facebook Auto Fan File (January 2010)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Beauty of Advertising Emotional Benefit

I found this ad from the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership on AdGabber under Steve Hall's headline "This is The Most Beautiful Commercial I Have Ever Seen." It dramatically demonstrates the need for safety belts in a car crash in an emotional, relevant way. At a time when most product demonstrations show electronic diagrams of what a car does in an accident, this public service ad shows the consumer why an automotive feature is necessary.

It is a beautiful message because it shows consumer need in an emotional way. We all clearly understand why it is an important part of the car. Automotive advertisers can learn a lot from this ad. Mostly that it's not about the technology and gadgets; it's the why technology and gadgets provide us with a better and safer life that extends beyond just driving experience.

Friday, January 29, 2010

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dodge Challenger Pokes Fun at Jerry Seinfeld's European Carry-All

In an attempt to add some macho to the brand that brings us the Caliber and Avenger comes a new ad called “Man Bag” promoting the Dodge Challenger, created by Wieden & Kennedy, the agency that recently won the Dodge business from BBDO. The ad features one of my favorite TV show characters the actor Michael C. Hall who plays the lead on Showtime’s Dexter series (he also played the gay son on HBO’s “Six Feet Under”.)

So what about the ad’s name: “Man Bag”. Well at least someone has a sense of humor. I know it’s supposed to mock the femininity of the metro sexual male, but that seems like something that was more topical in 2008 than 2010. Plus the double entendre of the ad’s title is a bit ridiculous; though, not as ridiculous as W+K’s LaDainian Tomlinson Electric Glide for Nike.

So why this approach?

It is definitely on target for the Dodge Challenger consumer, assuming product research showed tough, rugged guys mocking girly-men is where it’s at for
an American muscle car crowd. A safe assumption I’m sure. It will probably resonate, but the lack of any cool imagery or a more confrontational, humorous storyline instead of just a voice-over might have helped the concept.

Also the voice-over choice fits what Ad Age reported today, that the “new tone and feel seems to be about trying to cast the automaker as a brand associated with celebrities and social causes (two things said to be a passion of Olivier Francois, Chrysler brand's president-CEO).”

If this is a precursor to the coming Super Bowl ad from Dodge, don’t bother. It’s just too forgettable to have any change in brand perception or product consideration.

Toyota's Recall Pain Mocked by Honda Dealer

One great thing about dealership marketing is how they can react to news immediately and get a response without all the production time and creative planning it takes to develop a campaign.

So with all of the news about Toyota’s decision to stop selling 8 of its vehicles, including the best selling car in America the Toyota Camry. It is no surprise that one dealer took the initiative and immediately poked fun at his main competitor.

The above dealership sign posted by @Edmunds is supposedly from a Dallas, Texas Honda dealership.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Is the Buick Regal a Departure or a Band-Aid?

Today I received the first email communication for Buick Regal handraisers. The vehicle just debuted two weeks ago at the Detroit Auto Show. Or is it still the North American International Auto Show? Either way, the Regal is the latest injection of sporty European car design coming to America via the Opel brand.

The Regal is an Opel Insignia re-badged and reconfigured to meet U.S. taste. It is definitely an interesting car and won the highly prestigious European Car of the Year award back in 2008.

What’s most compelling to Buick fans and others interested in GM products is how the Insignia, sorry Regal, is a sport worthy sedan. To some extent, it fills the enthusiast hole left when GM pulled the Pontiac brand and its G8 from the product portfolio.

The Regal’s “Its Arrival Will Be A Departure” message communicates the redefining of the brand that has been underway since the Buick Enclave and, more recently, Buick LaCrosse.

Regal is a more complete departure from the brand’s image of big cars with soft suspensions appealing to elderly American drivers. This new entry brings a more sport tuned suspension, European handling and Brembo brakes, at least on the car shown at the Detroit Auto Show.

In a way Buick is becoming what Saturn always wanted to be, a stylish European answer within the General Motors lineup. Is the Regal the first of many Opels on its way to the States? European products tend to have more upscale appeal to American taste and upscale premium is where GM wants to go with the Buick brand.

Is this a departure Buick will continue to take? Or is this just a quick one product injection to show consumers there is a "New GM" in 2010?

UPDATE: Seems I might be on to something here. Just a little after I posted this blog, GM Inside News (@REALGMI) just reported that the coming Buick compact car is a slightly reworked Opel Astra sedan.

Friday, January 22, 2010

I'd Rather Loop than Drift

Forget drifting, looping is where the real fun is at.

The newest long-form product video for the lust-worthy Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG is a nice way to increase interest in the brand for enthusiasts. The car doesn't just roar down a winding road, no it hugs the concave of a cement tunnel in a bit of computer generated magic.

The video appears to be developed primarily for online consumption where it was made available to various online publishers. It has yet to be added to Mercedes-Benz TV or the SLS-AMG site. Perhaps it will also be used for auto shows or other events. The video ends with a simple promotion for the http://www.mercedes-benz/sls-amg website. It's quick and type is small so you might miss it, but I doubt Mercedes really cares as long as you watch the video and see what the brand is capable of building.

This is more about lust and gaining interest in the Mercedes brand than irbid about selling SLS AMGs.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Someone Needs to Tell BMW Widgets are Passe

It’s no secret: I’m a BMW fan boy. However, I just don’t get what led to the development of the BMW 5-Series Desktop widget application.

As part of the 5-Series launch in the UK, BMW launched a website experience showcasing some early images and facts about the car. They also added a Desktop widget application people can download to stay up-to-date on 5-series news.

What bothers me about this whole execution is what rubbish it is. It's either a low-cost recycling of another BMW widget that's been around since 2006. Or someone obviously convinced BMW to invest in a widget to keep customers current with 5-Series news, but then someone realized what everyone on a widget advertising idea realizes, Wait, we don’t have enough content to keep things fresh and interesting. So what else can we put in the widget?

So like many they added the cliché clock, weather and news feeds to keep things updated. The news feeds are the funniest part as they are just topical feeds that have nothing to do with BMW. Users can change their preferences (see image at right) and the content is probably chosen because it is relevant to the target consumer.

The idea of featuring what is thought to be relevant content is nonsense, because people already have tons of places they already regularly go to get news and chances of your brand’s random news feed matching someone’s needs is pretty rare.

We can assume the news feeds match the target consumer profiles the marketing team came up with or what existing publisher relationships the BMW brand already has established. The news information is enlightening, as I never knew the BMW 5-Series segment was so enthralled with “Sexy Surfer-Girl Swimwear” (see image at left)? But then again who isn’t interested in Malibu’s latest swimwear styles.

The widget also doesn’t extend the website experience or include additional information about the new car that can’t be found elsewhere. There simply is no reason to use the widget if you’ve already been to the 5-Series reveal site, which you had to have visited to download the widget. With no new vehicle content or insight into the vehicle’s features, it lacks any value to people interested in the product.

It’s really disappointing that a car as cool and modern gets a lame 2007 widget to help launch it. Widgets were all the rage several years ago and some companies did get it right, like Acura’s Navigation widget that showcased their technology in a cool, useful way. Plus it has been successful with over 51,000 downloads from just Yahoo!'s widget site alone (BMW's 2006 widget mentioned earlier has 21,000 downloads.)

Unfortunately, the BMW 5-Series widget is a hobbled together mess that is trying hard to be valuable to its customers. I wonder how many will keep using it after seeing how little information it provides and how every link about the product, except images, opens a new browser window taking people to the BMW UK site. I’m guessing very few installs will survive post initial curiosity.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

This Guy Is Definitely Not Getting a Lexus LFA

I think it’s a pretty good guess that the guy who owns this Lexus SC400 won’t be eligible for the exclusive Lexus LFA super car. It’s not that I’m assuming the person can’t come up with $350,000. Even if he could, it’s highly doubtful Lexus would let this SC400 owner buy one.

In the case of the LFA, The Wall Street Journal is reporting that Lexus has come up with some non-financial criteria for those it will let buy the LFA. According to Paul Williamson, national manager at Lexus College, Toyota’s dealer training school, "We want it to be seen on the right roads, in front of the right restaurants and not just being enjoyed by one individual in their private garage."

To make that happen, the Lexus sales team is being very picky – oh sorry, exclusive – about who it doles out its 165 or so LFAs that will make it to the United States. “People selected to purchase the car will be based on factors such as the other cars they own, where they live, and how often and where they drive,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

This obsession with exclusivity is a tactic by Lexus to make the LFA one of the most hard to get products in the automotive world and put Lexus in the same breath as super car brands like Ferrari. In fact, this strategy from Lexus reminds me a lot of the difficulties of obtaining a new Ferrari.

Ferrari typically sells its car to existing Ferrari owners as it sells the few numbers of cars it produces to the Ferrari faithful. I’m not sure the brand asks where Ferrari owners will drive the cars or how often or restrict purchases by owner location, but who knows what selection criteria may go on behind the scenes.

So do these tactics help the Lexus brand increase its perceived exclusivity in the luxury marketplace? I doubt it. If anyone can go down the street and buy a Lexus IS-F or RX400h, the whole concept of hard to get is limited to just the LFA.

The LFA, however, is an amazing halo vehicle and is sure to get the Lexus faithful and aspirational more behind the accomplishments of the brand. The halo vehicle effect will provide some bragging rights for the owners of other Lexus products. Plus the LFA is an excellent embodiment of what the fairly new “F Performance” series of products represents and that should lead to some positive brand perception to products like the IS-F and future “F Performance” vehicles.

Volvo Tests Males Attention to Detail

Volvo has some fun in this European ad for the Volvo C70 hardtop convertible. The concept is well, a wife-swap idea, but it also pokes some fun at how clueless we men are when it comes to paying attention to the details in life. Or is that we are so self-absorbed that it really doesn't matter which attractive woman we are sharing our cars with?

Most interesting is how the ad gets away with a wife-swap theme without coming off creepy or offensive. Other than some brief shoulder nudity during the women swapping blouses, the ad is simply a great way to showcase the two unique variants of a hardtop convertible. As someone who ones a hardtop convertible, I get a lot of people who are surprised my car is a convertible and not just a coupe. It really is two cars in one and the Volvo ad plays off that idea in an interesting, creative way.

One has to wonder if this new idea runs counter to another Volvo C70 ad called "I Adore You"? In this ad, a couple share a mutual love for the C70 as they gaze into each others eyes. Perhaps this is the start of the relationship and months or years later we get the new wife-swap ad showing it really doesn't matter who you are with as long as you're in a Volvo.

Monday, January 18, 2010

MINI's Eloquent Trash

There’s a behind the scenes article in MarketingProfs today about the MINI Cooper cardboard box idea that was done in Amsterdam last December. It provides some insight around what the creative team went through, how much the effort cost (under 5,000 Euros), and how the team responded to a similar idea done a few weeks before by Heineken. You should read the article. It is definitely an unique look behind the scenes, one we rarely get in this industry.

So how was the idea? Was it really “cleaver”? At first, I was a bit – so what? Who really cares about empty cardboard boxes on a few street corners around Amsterdam? Sure it’s cutesy. Yes it is typical MINI brand whimsy, but does it really do anything for the client's business?

Spending under 5,000 Euros was money well spent. The idea was covered across the blogsphere and MarketingProfs had their initial MINI cardboard box article retweeted across Twitter. People really liked the concept. Sure most of those retweeting the article were probably ad industry people, but the idea also received a decent amount of attention – for a very low cost – on several automotive sites.

The ad also communicated a clear, concise message. An empty box after Christmas shows everyone what you got for Christmas and a car stands out. Plus it creates desire in a fun, unique way. There’s a spark of jealousy that someone received a new MINI Cooper when all the passerby may have received were some socks and fruitcake.

What’s interesting to ad people is how a simple idea like this can generate so much viral attention, especially when most viral ideas involve hundreds of thousands of dollars for some Facebook application or video web series. So, it’s refreshing to see a simple idea generate interest at such scale.

The only thing I wonder is could another automaker have done this with a similar response? Yes, but few could. Maybe BMW or even Lexus as a play on their big red bow advertising. Unfortunately, I doubt a Chrysler or GM could have pulled it off. Mainly because they would’ve received backlash for not recycling or comments asking who would want a Sebring? Or can I return this Aveo before 31 days?

The thing is this probably works best for MINI because their brand has a whimsy and cool image. The brand helps the idea immensely. Even so, there is a lesson here. A simple message really can breakthrough and what’s great is that the message isn’t about some complicated new technology or performance benefit. No, in this case, it’s just the simple message of desire wrapped up in a cultural behavior; everyone can see what a person receives for Christmas just by checking out the next day’s trash.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Lexus Superwoman Emerges, Sans Leather?

I received an email from Lexus promoting their all new GX SUV with a leather-clad urban shopping mall mom ready to do battle. Unfortunately, the website experience was disconnected from the campaign (learn more on this blog post.) Well fortunately Lexus has debuted a TV commercial that is connected to the GX campaign.

In the ad, a woman swerves heroically around an urban environment with her "precious cargo" in back - her two sons - "because every great action hero needs a vehicle." The ad ends with a Batman-like spotlight of the Lexus logo against a dark city skyline.

The TV commercial is at least aligned with the campaign idea, but what happened to the leather? In the commercial, we get an attractive brunette 40-year old who reminds me of Weeds star Mary-Louise Parker. Someone must have throttled the super hero image back a bit for the TV crowd. Lexus must have decided to look into the showroom and found heir customers wear a more sedate outfit.

At least the messaging is inline with the campaign concept and really the campaign is pretty decent for a shopping mall luxury SUV. What else are you going to say to make driving a big, fuel-guzzling SUV sexy and interesting? You definitely are not going to be climbing through mud or driving to the mountains. This is about making a trip to the kid's soccer game seem exciting and the soundtrack certainly helps.

Friday, January 15, 2010

North American International Auto Show Tweetup

Back in December we had several automotive journalists come to Detroit for some product events with Ford and General Motors. This provided a great opportunity to organize a Tweetup (learn all about what a Tweetup is here if you don't know.) During the planning, one of my followers on Twitter, @Muntz_Man, contacted me about joining the event and mentioned maybe there could be another event during the auto show where the Twitter community could come to see the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in a more exclusive way.

What I soon found out is that Max Muncey is an Associate with the John Bailey & Associates Public Relations firm working with NAIAS. Once auto show week arrived, Max reached out again and there was a tweet from the @NAIASDetroit Twitter account inviting people to an event. I joined in as did some local social media and automotive people who attended to the first ever NAIAS Tweetup on Wednesday January 13, 2009.

The event was held a few days before the public opening and fell on one of the Industry Days. Industry days are basically what it sounds like, a time for people in the car business - engineers, designers, marketing people - to get a look at the cars and displays usually for work related reasons.

Some of the people who also attended: @wweidendorf, @HajjFlemings, @becksdavis, @MaureenFrancis, @kayleehawkins, @redcrew, @darealchrisree, @richardsession, @AshleySFlintoff, @freeismylife, @jennilewis

The Show

The show itself is great. Far better than last year where GM and Chrysler were held up by a shoestring as Presidential administrations were changing and George W. Bush had only given the auto companies enough to survive day-to-day.

This year the displays are bigger and better with a strong presence by Ford Motor Company and a surprisingly elaborate display from the Chrysler Group; even though, Sergio Marchionne supposedly doesn't see much value in auto show marketing.

Of course, there are not the crazy, design exploration concept cars of years back. Today most manufacturers show "concepts" that are basically 90% completed production vehicles. The one concept that did impress and was a bit more of a study than reality is the Audi E-Tron concept. It is beautiful.

Product Specialists on Twitter

One interesting note to this year's auto show is a new thing Ford, Lincoln, Mercury is trying with giving product specialists their own Twitter accounts. You can view their accounts at Sam DeLaGarza's Twitter List; Sam is the Ford Fiesta Brand Manager.

Bringing product specialists from an auto show to Twitter is definitely something new. We'll have to see if it catches on and becomes an unique way to engage with the show online; though, I do worry it also becomes a platform to be "that guy."

If you want a less corporate perspective from the product specialists, checkout a new blog and Twitter account (@DYCWTC) from an anonymous GM auto show model. Her post on "Grandpas" is an interesting take on what it's like to be trapped by the Greatest Generation.

NAIAS opens to the public tomorrow and has its final day on January 24th. If you are in town, it is definitely worth checking out. I go 2 or 3 every year and will probably even head out again for a public day thanks to some free tickets Mercedes-Benz sent me.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lexus GX: Girl Power Promise Deflated

I received the above promotion for the All New Lexus GX in my email last night. It shows a Victoria Beckham / Grace Jones Super Woman who is identified as "The Driver: Trusted transporter of precious goods." It's raw girl power aged 20 years to fit the middle-aged target consumer. It's tough, stylish and strong.

Sure it's a bit funny coming from what most people consider the boring Luxury brand that builds quality vehicles, but this is marketing to the edgy luxury consumer and another example of luxury female focused marketing, similar to the recent BMW 5-Series GT.

Unlike the 5-Series GT marketing where the email marketing leads the interested to a site matching the email creative, Lexus brings the consumer to a brochure-ware site experience that leaves out all of the girl power messaging. Instead the consumer is showed a product demonstration overview video and provided several links to learn more about the car. Pretty stale stuff after the rock star promise.

So what happened to Victoria Beckham / Grace Jones Super Woman? She's gone and so is all of the "transporter of precious goods" messaging designed to appeal to the target consumer. What a shame because there was so much scrumptious fun that could have been if Lexus continued through with its creative idea.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Glimpse of How Automotive Brands are Engaging with Their Facebook Fans

I have done a couple months of analyzing brand fan counts and seeing how brands attract fans through different media buys and social outreach. What I haven’t done, until now, is examine how they engage fans once they have attracted a considerable audience.

I looked at five brands that have roughly the same number of fans (47,608 – 66,331.) I was expecting some similarities in how these brands engaged with fans, but instead found five very distinct forms of engagement. No one was applying the same communication strategy which makes this analysis more of a look at different approaches with only a single example of each approach.

It's also important to note that this analysis is only one month of data. There may be different levels of engagement from brands based on when they have more or less news to share. I figured the past month was interesting because of so many industry events giving brands lots to talk about. There was the public days of the Los Angeles Auto Show (media days happened 12/2-12/3), Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and the first day of the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) during the period analyzed.

The other thing to note is that the two measurements I use, Engagement Rate and Post Rate, may not be the goals of a brand's Facebook strategy. For example, communications may have more to do with communicating information from stories or videos instead of just fostering comments through open-ended status updates.

Tale of Two Measurements

The post rate looks at how many posts a brand made in a given month and divides that number by 31 days, since I only took a last month view of the post rate (12/11/09 – 01/11/10).

Post Rate: (brand posts / 31) x 100

The post rate could be higher than normal because of three big events and how brand’s promoted their news in the month.

Ford was by far the most active in communicating news and events around the three major events, especially considering how the Ford Fiesta made its U.S debut, MyFord/MyLincoln technology premiered, and the 2012 Ford Focus had its global reveal. A lot of communication happened during this one-month stretch for the brand. A total of 51 wall posts for Ford with Chevrolet coming in second in posts at 10 – a significant difference between the top two engaging brands that were reviewed in this analysis.

For Engagement Rate, I utilized a method applied by FrozenFrogs, a digital & emerging media agency. I modified their formula a bit to show how engaged the fan base is, on average, with content posted by the brand, but instead of dividing by days it divides by number of a fans a fan page has to get to a rate of engagement activity.

Engagement Rate: ((avg. comments + avg. likes) / fans) x 100
Is It Quality vs. Quantity?

Ford takes an approach of a lot of content, at least in the busy past month. Sometimes several wall posts were in the same day; though, this rarely happened, it did happen on big event days like the auto shows and CES where there was a lot to promote.

What the data shows is that heavy frequency may decrease engagement activities (i.e. comments and likes.) What the data does not show is do people get the message from the communication, for example click the links to read more if a communication is say a link to a story? Also, collective engagement in a single day may be greater from three stories than say just posting one story.

Chevrolet looks like it is either well balanced in engagement activities on a post or they keep getting the same people responding (I checked and it’s not the latter.) Like Ford, Chevrolet posted stories on its wall that linked out to articles or videos. Their highest engagement came from just wishing their fans a happy holidays, something Toyota and Lexus both learned too on their pages.

The stories from Ford and Chevrolet are not lacking in quality; rather, the difference in engagement activity may have more to do with frequency of posts. Ford at 51 posts and Chevrolet at 10. Ford’s quantity netted an overall 6,731 comments and links versus Chevrolet’s 1,791 total comments and links. So while per story engagement was low for Ford, the brand had 275% more activity than Chevrolet.

What Got Fans’ Attention?

It’s no surprise but vehicle stories performed the best. Chevrolet’s Camaro and Aveo RS posts did very well, as did the Ford Mustang 5.0 story which was the best performing wall post across the five brands analyzed with 674 engagement activities. MINI did very well too with their only post for the month on the Beachcomber concept with 571 activities.

As mentioned briefly above, wishing fans a happy holidays or New Year also lead to considerable engagement; though, here we have to wonder if the engagement has much value since it does little to get the fans informed and motivated about the brand’s products or services. It does do one positive thing and that’s get the community talking which will lead to activities done by a fan to show up on their news feed in Facebook which may attract their network to a brand’s fan page.

Story vs. Status

Toyota had 7 wall posts in the month reviewed and 5 of the posts were just text status updates asking fans what their holiday driving plans are to what their New Year’s resolution is.

Status updates do generate a lot of engagement activity, since the examples here used open-ended updates to spark conversation.

Other brands shared Public Relations stories or product stories on their pages. We’ve already discussed how product stories generate a high response, but it’s important to note that it didn’t really seem to matter if posts were stories or videos or if they were from the company itself or links to a trusted news source like the New York Times. Though to be clear, it didn’t matter as far as engagement on the Facebook page went. What we don’t know is if links were clicked on more or less if sourced from the company or a trusted news source.

MINI Where Are’t Thou?

MINI was the biggest surprise to me when pulling this analysis together. I expected the darling of consumer engagement and fun marketing to be a bit more charismatic on their fan page. Oddly enough there was just one post from the brand.

MINI promoted its concept that debuted at NAIAS. There was not even a Happy Holidays status message. Maybe it was a slow month for MINI, but they had a couple things I found on Google they could’ve shared with their fans like their box art ad that many bloggers discussed and liked. Or even more fun and consumer focused, someone posted on eHow an article on cleaning the interior of a MINI Cooper.

In Summary

There really isn't enough data to draw any major decisions or insights from this "glimpse" into one month of data. What it does show is how several major brands used their Facebook fan pages during a month of major automotive events and how their fans responded.

It is interesting to look at how brands are using the medium and what is resonating with fans. Topics, not medium of content, is what gets people talking. New vehicle information, especially about sports cars, and articles about fan favorites like a company leader fans resonate with (yes, I'm talking about Alan Mulally) do get people engaging with page content.

What I didn’t discuss here is the content fans posted to the pages. There was a ton of it from all brands. Maybe some other evening when my wife is out at dinner and shopping and I’m home alone with my laptop and nothing on but American Idol I’ll do some analysis of what fans are posting and how that fosters engagement. For now, I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of fan engagement in the automotive space.

Disclosure: I do work for the Agency of Record for Ford Motor Company. I am not directly involved with the Ford brand page's Facebook strategy. The data I looked at in this analysis is information anyone could have put together by just simply looking at fan pages - i.e. all data is publicly available. Also, this isn't a look at whether Ford's Facebook page is working or showcasing it as a model of success; rather, I'm just looking at 5 brands with roughly the same number of fans and how they engage their fan base.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I Join this Week's Panel Discussion on The BeanCast Marketing Podcast

I had the honor last night of joining the panel discussion on this week's The BeanCast. If you are not familiar with The BeanCast, it is a fantastic marketing Podcast hosted by Bob Knorpp who leads a weekly panel discussion on the top marketing topics every week. I was fortunate enough to join the discussion with fellow panelists Angela Natividad, Bret Bernhoft, and Al Gadbut.

You can see the topics and download the show: Episode 86: Worse Than Cancer - The BeanCast | The Best Marketing Podcast Anywhere.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Lexus Wants You to be an Advertising Innovator

Think you can do automotive advertising? Lexus has partnered up with Current to have video content creators develop an advertisement for a Lexus hybrid vehicle. The prize is $2,500 for the winning VCAM (Video Created Ad Message) selected by Lexus. Plus the winner’s commercial will air on Current TV in the U.S.

Current has been doing these VCAM contests for about four years and this is another innovative effort with their advertiser/sponsors. The VCAM program is a way to get novice, semi-professional video producers engaged with brands in a new and innovative way.

The marketing team is reaching out to film students and have held a couple chats on Current’s website to get people excited about the contest.

Last week Lexus and Team One, Lexus’ creative agency, held a chat session with those interested in participating. You can listen to the chat via a MP3 file. There were about ten people on the January 8th call.

I do love how the creative team and brand held open conversations with people who may be participating in the contest. It gives participants a chance to ask questions about what the brand is looking for and why the brand decided to do a unique approach like this.

The approach also allows the creative to get more “unexpected” as one of the agency leads pointed out in the goals of the program during last week’s chat. Producers can do something that isn’t the typical car ad. It will be interesting to see how those not in the automotive industry will interpret an automotive product. It will be interesting to see if that nets something beyond what we all normally see in automotive marketing.

Contest Requirements:
  • Your VCAM should start with a sentence relating ‘h’ to your subject: ‘h’ is _____________” (e.g. “h is building a better mousetrap”) You do not have to use the Lexus ‘h’ icon.

  • Incorporate the Lexus endtag below at the end of your VCAM.

  • 60 second maximum (including endtag). Remember, longer is not necessarily better.

  • Showing a Lexus Hybrid vehicle is not required.

  • Upload deadline: Monday, February 1st at 12pm (noon) Pacific Time.
More details here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cradle To Cradle Marketing: Recycling Fiat Work to Become "New" Chrysler Work

There's a methodology used in environmental design called "cradle to cradle" that approaches product design with the goal of little to no waste. It is a very compelling approach to waste reduction in manufacturing systems. It's a great idea; though, I never thought I'd see it applied to marketing. Yet, Chrysler seems to have implemented the approach in their last two brand ads.

The first example was the Chrysler political prison commercial that was recycled from a prior Lancia ad launched in late 2008.

Now Chrysler has done it again by reducing creative waste using the same concept done in a recent Fiat brand spot and applying it to the "Coming Home" brand ad produced for Chrysler by their new Agency of Record Fallon.

The good news is that the dull "Coming Home" ad is not a product of Fallon, but rather is a product of Fiat's marketing team leading the Pentagram's advertising decisions.

So what's next? A recycled Alfa Romeo commercial? If yes, I recommend this one:

CREDIT: Thanks to automotive journalist Brian Driggs for finding the Fiat commercial and showcasing it on the CarChat Blog.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

In Defense of the Automotive Industry: How a Fast Company Blogger Misses Years of Engagement

This post is in response to a Fast Company blog post “Why Going Social Can Make or Break the Automotive Industry”, please read it first to gain some context: Read This First

"The automotive industry has lagged behind" in adopting social media, according to a blog by Fast Company community contributor JD Rucker. Really? Slow compared to what other industries? Tech? Well of course the tech industry is going to be the first to adopt social media, because they create the tools that make up social media. But hasn’t the clothing industry been slow to adopt social? Or the airline industry? Or the restaurant industry? I’m just not sure why this author is so quick to slam automotive for being slow to adopt, when in fact the auto industry has been very active in the space for some time.

The Industry is an Early Adopter, Not Slow to Start

Auto companies have been engaged with blogs and forums for quite a long time. One of the earliest successes of corporate blogging is General Motors with their Fastlane Blog. In fact, back in 2006 when one of the first corporate blogging books came out from author Debbie Weil, GM was prominently featured where Bob Lutz shared, "I just love getting the direct, unflitered feedback. But I also love radiating my personal opinion." Back then, GM had over 10,000 customer comments a major feat for any brand back then.

Jeep is a brand that has been at the forefront of engaging in user forums, communities and blogs. I remember back in early 2000 how Jeep was regularly working with bloggers and forum administrators on getting them to Jeep events and firing up the brand’s owners through social outreach long before any of us called this stuff “social media.” Jeep engineers did chats with forum members through round table discussions and paved the way for demonstrating social outreach, now many brands host consumer chats giving access to people inside OEMs.

Engagement from brands on Twitter has been very strong from companies like Ford, as the Fast Company post mentions, but the article overlooks Honda who has Alicia at Honda who is often cited an early example in the space mentioned along side Comcast, Dell, JetBlue, Zappos and others who were early to showcase some strong PR case studies that got other brands interested. In fact, over the past year just about every automotive brand has a presence on the site (see my automotive PR list on Twitter.)

And what about social community sites? Facebook has been a hot bed of innovation from automotive brands as Ford launched a widget for Sync back in 2007, Saturn had their I am Saturn widget in 2007, and Scion had a widget in 2008. Now there are Facebook applications across several brands in the social space over the past couple years from the Ford Fusion Speak Green app, Everybody Loves a Honda app, and Meet the Volkswagens. These are just a few and there are many, many more. Sure these are marketing efforts but they engage brand loyalists and others to attract them to brand fan pages.

Automotive fan pages do engage fans through interaction with the brand via communication of news, events and other forms of outreach. As someone who regularly watches this space, I see examples every day of brands talking to consumers on fan pages and facilitating discussions. Automotive has been engaged and continues to learn, like many industries, how to make this space more effective for consumer opinion, customer service and influence to sale.

Some brands have even taken very active steps to establish their own social communities. Here is an article I did highlighting several examples from Saturn, Mercedes and Hyundai.

The Fast Company blogger overlooks how a lot of brands, across many industries, have been slow to adopt Social Media. In fact, I’d argue most industries, outside of those in the technology field, have been much slower than automotive in this space.

What’s strange about Rucker’s article is that he should know better. He is currently the Chief Marketing Officer for TK Carsites, a company that helps dealerships with search engine optimization (SEO) among other things.

Perhaps his knowledge of OEMs and purchase cycles is not as strong has his involvement with dealer marketing? Unfortunately, his article misses how pervasive the industry has been in the social media space.

Sure not every brand instantly created a Facebook fan page, started a Twitter account on day one, talked to bloggers five or ten years ago, but neither has any other industry and just like other industries, various brands have been engaging in social media in a multitude of ways through the years. I’d argue the automotive industry has been a leader that many industries have followed, not the other way around.

So, Is the Article Right About Dealers?

As I just demonstrated, the brands have made a strong play in social media over the years, but what about Rucker’s argument about the more customer facing segment of the industry – dealers?
“Still, the one thing that every manufacturer is missing is engagement at the level that bridges the corporations with their customers -- the dealers themselves. Nobody has demonstrated an understanding of how to help their customer facing, front-line stores capable and equipped to engage with customers through social media.”
Purchase cycle from consideration, research, and purchasing is much longer than most purchases. Cars are considered purchases and take around 6-9 months on average, according to CNW, a leader in automotive marketing purchase behavior research.

Social media is designated as an awareness play by the manufacturers because it’s a great way to get people talking about your products early and may lead to interest through word of mouth in online communities and social communication.

For dealers, the question is more convoluted. Many dealers I’ve talked to are concerned about the amount of time it takes to turn engagement into a sale and feel other methods like email marketing and SEO have better Return on Investment results. Plus as Rucker should know, Internet Managers at dealerships are quite busy already handling email leads and other activities that make being regularly engaged on Twitter and Facebook hard to find time for.

Many brands I have worked with have made recommendations to dealers about social media engagement. Manufacturers can’t force dealers to do social media, but they can educate and it’s promising as social media gains notoriety that brands and dealers are actively talking about what works. Could they talk more? Of course, but it is happening with many brands.

It does sound like the new partnership TK Carsites is part of should help dealers get better in the social space and I’m sure Rucker’s expertise in this area is very valuable for those dealers willing to invest. And like a lot of industries, the investment will lead to some solid examples others are sure to notice.

The Recommendations

The article makes a few recommendations at the article’s end. Let’s take each one-by-one.

Social Networks and Blogs: The author makes a typical assumption here, but I’d argue, as would most experts on corporate blogging, that not every company should do a blog. What you have to do is determine if your company’s culture and leaders are right for engagement and if it is best for your brand to start a blog or instead engage with bloggers (of course many do both.) But there are lots of corporate blogs around from companies like Subaru, GM, Chrysler, just to name a few.

Social Network Engagement: Just about every automotive brand is on Twitter and Facebook in various capacities. Just like any industry, some companies are doing better than others. Ford, Toyota, Honda, Hyundai and GM really stand out on Twitter. Jeep, Ford, GM, Honda, and BMW stand out on Facebook. Of course, engagement is key here and all brands are figuring it out still. Automotive is definitely not behind as an industry and brands are very actively engaging with consumers, advocates, and critics.

Videos: Auto manufacturers have long been producing videos online that share how products work, showcase new technologies and educate consumers on many levels. I’m not sure what Rucker searched for when browsing the web or YouTube but much of his recommendation is already massively available online and growing every day.

Search for Customers on Social Media: This is happening too, but like other examples I’ve shared above, it is happening in pockets. Of course, everyone could be much better at this; however, there have been significant changes already showcasing some great examples. One of my favorites is the @VolvoXC60 Twitter account that regularly engages with Volvo considers and owners. They are not doing customer service online but they are reaching out in the car-shopping experience, as are other brands like Ford and GM.

In Summary

I think JD Rucker probably knows most of what I’ve laid out here as he has a pretty decent blog called Soshable covering automotive and social marketing. I’m sure his article had more to do with lighting a fire under a few companies or dealers who are slow to adopt and hopefully drum up more business for the partnership he mentions.

My issue is that articles like Rucker’s do a disservice to the industry and further propagate the illusion that the automotive industry is not active or innovative in social media. Hopefully, I have demonstrated here a defense for an industry that is very engaged in social and will continue to show other industries how to do it.

Ram: I Am... Back to Normal

It was refreshing to see some new marketing from the Chrysler Group's newest brand Ram that wasn't so polarizing and confusing. The new TV ad features the Ram Ram doing truck things, like driving in mud and splashing water, but more importantly promotes the Motor Trend Truck of the Year award, a coveted industry award.

Some will dismiss this Ram spot as forgettable, typical automotive advertising. I suppose that's a valid criticism but I would argue the spot quickly conveys the strengths of the product and promotes the Motor Trend award in an effective way that works with the target truck consumer. Can it be improved? Sure, but what can't?

The good thing is that heavily criticized "I am Ram" tag line may have only entered the initial brand advertising spot and nothing else. According to an article in today's Detroit News, Chrysler's head of marketing Olivier Francois states "all ads going forward are totally product oriented." Perhaps the "I Am" ads are gone and things are back to normal?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Automotive Facebook Fans by Brand: December 2009

This month’s Facebook Fans by Brand analysis shows some brands continued their efforts from November, one brand made a significant increase in fans over a weekend, and a new brand entered the automotive world with their own fan page.

Jeep Polls for Fans

Jeep did a "reach block" to US Adults on Sunday December 6th where it served a significant number of impressions using “Become a Fan” and poll ads. In the end, they netted around 80k fans from this one effort. The increase, plus some additional fans in the month, brought Jeep pass VW and Honda to become the fourth highest ranked major US automotive brand on Facebook. I’ve provided an example of one of the polling ad units Jeep did.

I do know the ad impressions Jeep ran to obtain the fans and the numbers are pretty close to the response rate one would get for a standard homepage banner ad on a major website; in other words, nothing any other brand couldn’t expect doing the same effort.

A Few Brands Keep at It

Chevrolet and Cadillac continued fairly strong fan increases like they did last November. Both brands are still running “Become a Fan” units.

Hummer and Kia also experienced double-digit growth, but that is mostly due to small starting numbers and modest fan increases result in significant percentage increases. Though it is important to note that Kia was running some “Become a Fan” ad units, but they all pointed to Kia’s Sorento vehicle fan page.

A Couple Brands Get Branded URLs

This month Saab changed from to just While the Chrysler brand went to a clean link. Neither change was followed by any marketing, at least as far as I could tell, looking at their email marketing or other online efforts.

A New Brand Joins the List

Chrysler separated their trucks from the Dodge brand back in October to create a new brand: Ram. As part of the change, Ram has been actively making several efforts across social media to get the word out. Part of the strategy included establishing a presence on Facebook in December and also a presence on Twitter too. So far they have 198 fans to start, but I will not be surprised if the Ram team will include some Facebook efforts in their online marketing plan for 2010.

Download the Excel file: Facebook Auto Fan File (Dec 2009)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Auto Marketing Blog To Giveaway Free Car if @auto Becomes #1 Account on Twitter

Mahalo CEO Jason Calacanis is trying to make his Twitter account @auto become the account on Twitter with the most followers on the site, that position is currently held by Aston Kutcher (@aplusk). To get people interested in following @auto, Calacanis is offering to giveaway a real Tesla S model to one of his followers if @auto reaches the #1 Twitter spot.
, a site that calculates Twitter follower growth trajectory, predicts it will take over 4 years (1542 days) to reach a number slightly above the current amount of followers held by the current Twitter follow count champion @aplusk. Of course this estimation assumes @auto continues to grow at the same rate it has in the past 6 days from 0 to 5.497 followers. It also assumes that Kutcher or some other account won’t add any more followers above the current 4.2 million Kutcher currently has.

Jason Calacanis is an interesting person. He once tried to get Wikipedia to put ads on its site. He also offered Twitter $250,000 to have his @questions Twitter account become a “suggested user” on the site. Jason also had an issue with Apple’s App Store review policy and publicly criticized Apple for their process.

Nothing is wrong with any of these past efforts; rather, they illustrate that Calacanis is an interesting person who loves to test the boundaries and status quo of the web. His free car giveaway seems like an attempt at inexpensive buzz, which this blog article is now contributing too. So it is working to some extent.

But why bother with all this? Is it just an attempt at some PR for Jason or creating "reach" for the @auto account without any marketing spend or hard work? It's probably a bit of both, plus it's also got to be a fun game watching people get all excited about a free car.

Besides the game/contest factor, it really has very little business value. It reminds me of sweepstakes companies run. What you learn is that you get tremendous unqualified response. By unqualified, I mean people who could care less about your brand or products; they simply just want to win something.

@auto essentially becomes an account with a bunch of followers whose interest is only free stuff and that is a tough audience to engage with unless you continue to offer free stuff. Beyond that the audience is untargeted and untargeted marketing is very, very low in its effectiveness.

I personally have significant doubt Calacanis will ever have to part with a Tesla S. In fact, I’m willing to giveaway a car too if Calacanis is able to obtain the #1 position on Twitter. Now I don’t have a Tesla S to give, but I do have a slightly-used beautiful car I’m willing to giveaway.

So here is the prize, I’m willing to give one of my Twitter followers a free Porsche GT Carrera remote controlled 1:18 scale model car if @auto becomes the #1 account on Twitter. In the meantime, we can follow @auto, not to win a free car, but to see if anything worthwhile will be done with the @auto account beyond a cheap contest follower grab.

UPDATE: Looks like I probably will keep my car as the @auto account is sputtering out in its follower mission to become #1 on Twitter. With 10,383 follows as of 1/6/2010, it will take about 4,600 days to catch up to Ashton's current total or roughly 12 1/2 years. So good luck!

UPDATE 1/21/2010: Oh well, it looks like the free car giveaway has sputtered to a halt. There ended up being only 10,730 followers that actually believed they could win a car that has yet to be built. Funny thing is the last Twitter post from @auto is this one about how well the contest is going that Jason Calacanis felt he would start a new contest for a free Nexus One cellphone.

Chrysler's New Brand Campaign Looks Back Not Forward

Chrysler launched a new brand campaign called “Coming Home” that will be featured across several College Bowl games January 1-4. The campaign is “in response to requests from Chrysler Group dealers and research conducted which found that consumers do not realize that Chrysler Group has emerged from bankruptcy and is now a different company with a new alliance partner and a healthy product plan.“

The first ad features a driver carrying a leather bag in a full range of Chrysler products through different times in history ending with the 2010 Chrysler 300 sedan. It shows no future products and is a nod to the fine products Chrysler has built in its long history. It also marks the first ad from Chrysler’s new agency Fallon.

There are two dominant approaches to brand campaigns: focus on the nostalgia of the past or go forward thinking by focusing on the future. Chrysler chose the former, which is interesting considering how survival – its biggest issue in the media and consumer minds -- has more to do with the future of the brand. Talking about great products built decades ago to recent cars with no glimpse to future product is a miss.

At minimum, Chrysler could’ve brought the coming Jeep Grand Cherokee or Fiat 500; though, the 500 may not be sold by Chrysler dealers so that's why it may not have shown up. To be forward thinking, the whole concept would have had to change or at least end with a progressive message instead of the stale “Coming Home” line.

The good news is it's at least not talking about releasing political prisoners which was way out of left field.