Sunday, February 28, 2010

Scion tC RS 6.0 Series Site an Epic Fail

Site Reviewed: Scion tC Release Series

Most online consumer experiences market a combination of style and attitude about a product while showcasing why the product relates to the target consumer and imparts information on the strengths of the product.

Rarely does style overtake substance so much as it does in the latest effort from Scion. “Get Inside the tC Release Series” website experience, developed by marketing agency ..and company, is an extreme example showcasing all things not to do in a social media, Facebook-enabled automotive marketing experience.

The site invites the user to immediately “start” an inner exploration by first asking to share Facebook content back and forth with the Scion tC site. If one doesn’t “connect” the site doesn’t let the user through the home page. Users who are fine with letting Scion publish and take anything from their Facebook content are allowed to continue. (Fail #1: Not allowing an experience to those who don’t accept the Facebook Connect prompt.)

If one is fine with allowing access, they are immediately presented a 30 second or so video that shows all kinds of Vegas lights, concert marquees, and other cliché nightlife imagery. While the imagery plays, the user’s Facebook images and even names of their friends encapsulated in fake text messages that show up on screen. It’s content integration to give the illusion of personalization. (Fail #2: Facebook content is used not to enhance the experience but to simply repurpose it into a confusing video message. The site took users from my friends that I barely connect with and the images all looked out of place in the video content. For example, my twin boys and I on a concert poster looks really odd.)

Another Dumb Step

After the video plays the user is prompted to setup Dumb Step 360; I mean DUBSTEP 360. Once you setup DUBSTEP 360, whatever that is, it shows you a video of a dark nightclub with barely visual images of people dancing and hanging out. This goes on for about two minutes. It eventually stops prompting the user to share DUBSTEP 360. Oh yeah that was worth sharing? Is this the creative team a bit too in love with their idea? I’m starting to think so.

After publishing the share of DUBSTEP 360, the link showed up on my Facebook profile and when clicking on it the homepage of the Scion tC RS 6.0 site shows up with no information about what DUBSTEP 360 is. Now my friends have to go through the Facebook Connect Allow and navigate through the site probably forgetting all about DUBSTEP provided they actually moved beyond the home page which is seriously doubtful.

It's all very confusing especially considering the Facebook link on my account shows a DJ and nothing about Scion tC RS vehicle. It does say “Scion DUBSTEP 360” but that is still very confusing considering what a Facebook friend has to go through to get to see what the DJ was all about. (Fail #3: Facebook publish post takes long time to get to content that was shared thus causing confusion.)

No car. No idea what DUBSTEP 360 is (for those who don't know like me - yes I Googled it - it’s a style of electric dance music with roots in the early 2000s from the UK)? Hopefully people stay engaged. While the music video plays a hotspot takes the user to, which is no longer connected to anything about the tC RS 6.0. A hotspot to the Scion page makes no sense when experiencing a music video that’s part of the communication for the tC RS 6.0 vehicle, yet two minutes into the experience there is zero about the car and when clicking in the dance scene one gets taken to a completely disconnected jump to Scion’s main consumer site.

I’ve seen some pretty dumb stuff and have been involved with some poor user experiences, but the Scion tC RS 6.0 site is now the poster child of awful usability, an utter disconnect from product, and a design team completely in control of the experience rendering it virtually useless.

The team here must have been so in love with their idea to integrate Facebook Connect for reusing gallery images, profile pics, and friend’s names through Facebook’s API that the team forgot this was about showcasing a car, not how cool you can be at recycling all of the content on a person’s social site. (Fail #4: Lacks meaningful content about the product after several minutes of the site experience.)

If a user ever wants to learn anything about the tC RS 6.0 they must click an 8-point size text link in the bottom left center of the navigation menu labeled “Features+Gallery” that takes one to a completely different site! That’s right, if you want to learn anything about the car you have to go to a different experience, continuing to demonstrate how epic of a failure the tC Release Series 6.0 site is. (Fail #5: To view vehicle content, one must entirely leave the site to learn about the car.)

Building a Niche Fan Base While Ignoring the Brand

So the site is a usability disaster of epic proportions and lacks vehicle content. It must get something right, right? No. The other part of the experience is clicking the “Becoming a Fan on Facebook” link that takes one to the fan page, but not a Scion fan page; instead, the user is brought to a vehicle fan page for the Release Series. Sure there is nothing wrong with that connection or is there?

Scion lacks a real fan page. There is an unofficial one, but no brand fan page. Also the Release Series is a niche product line with a very limited production run of 1,100 units for the tC and few other units from past and future models.

Why not instead establish a brand presence on Facebook for all Scion fans and roll that out with the tC RS 6.0? This way the brand could expand it’s fan base to other vehicle fans and build an official Scion fan page with the release of this hot vehicle.

Seems like the brand is missing an opportunity to attract fans to the brand and start a decent following. Looking at the Release Series Facebook Wall one sees a lot of fans are there talking about all things Scion, not just the tC RS. (Fail #6: Builds fans on Facebook with one limited appeal vehicle while still lacking a brand Facebook fan page for all brand consumers and aspirationals.)

In Closing

This is an example of what not to do with one’s online site experience. I rarely am this rough with a site and apologize to the team involved, but I am pretty sure this site never went through usability testing with real users, the team was entirely led by creative whims not business goals, and the execution totally lost sight of the vehicle to instead focus on UK dance music.

Talk about trying to be cool and not even coming close.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hyundai Appeals to Lipstick Lesbians

I’ve been enjoying a lot of the coverage and beauty of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia. When I was growing up, we lived in Portland, Oregon for many years and would visit Vancouver quite often on family vacations. I always imagined that’s where I would live when I was on my own. It was of course gorgeous, clean, and a lot of fun with suspension bridges, totem poles and the charm of English ancestry throughout the city. What I didn’t realize is that Canada is far more liberal than the United States.

With a much smaller population than the United States and a more laid back society (they even have legalized same sex marriage), running homosexual-themed automotive ads would be unthinkable in our country but not in Canada. It’s refreshing seeing the latest ad from Hyundai where two women find a common bond with a car in a very flirtatious, subtle way.

The lesbian-themed ad played on daytime TV, not the middle of the night. It shows a more open society, something we will likely not see here in the States for many more years even decades.

One thing I do wonder is how accepting would a gay male ad be, even in Canada? Apparently, Hyundai tested those waters in Sweden back in the 1980s with this hilarious ad. Maybe we'll see an updated male version for the Canadian market next?

Thanks to Auto North for a good article about the ad and other gay-themed advertisements.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Volvo and Chevy Take Very Different Roads

Volvo just wrapped up their very successful virtual road trip where online teams were to “drive” a C30 DRIVe from Sweden to Egypt. Each team member would “pass” the car on to the next participant who lived as close to 1,333 kilometers as possible, the number being the distance the car can drive on one tank. Friends were competing to be first to complete the virtual journey around the world in 80 days.

It was another example of six degrees of separation where teams were formed virtually using a network that extended beyond just the team member’s friends, but further to their friends’ friends. The teams competed to win to have 15,000 Euros donated by Volvo in their name to a wind farm project in Turkey. Not exactly the most exciting prize, however, it is a positive prize for those interested in more altruistic Facebook activities, which are very popular on the site.

A Success

"To be number 17 on the list of most installed Facebook applications and number one among branded is great and more than we ever expected", says Lukas Dohle, Live Communication and Social Media at Volvo Car Corporation in Gothenburg, Sweden. They had over 63,000 teams play the game. Of course, a team could’ve been just one person installing the application and doing nothing with it after the initial install. Even so, the application definitely reached a very broad global audience and lead to some great press coverage too.

What I really like about this example is that it found a way to integrate well within the Facebook community and by doing so it reached a lot of people who might have otherwise never become familiar with Volvo’s C30 product. The charitable element also works very well in the community and I’m sure led to participation from those not really interested in anything about a new car.

Real Butts In Seats Road Trip

"Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car in the night?"
- Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Another marketing road trip idea was announced a couple weeks ago from Chevrolet. It isn’t a virtual road trip; instead, Chevy put together 8 teams throughout the U.S. to compete in road trip scavenger hunts as teams travel to the popular South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film and social media event in Austin, Texas.

Named the “See the USA in a Chevrolet: A SXSW Road Trip” -- I’m hoping for a challenge to include Dina Shore or Pat Boone somewhere in the trip -- the teams will compete for social media views through Twitter tweets or other social media comments and views. Chevy has even setup a Posterous website to house the content developed along the way. They’ll also showcase the road trip using a feed on GM’s well-known Fastlane Blog.

This social outreach concept is developed around the idea that if you get enough influencers your marketing idea will develop a buzz around it that will extend beyond just the people participating in the road trip.

GM’s example is reaching out to social media influencers; mostly Public Relations and marketing professionals who have some decent connections on social media sites. Since the participants have significant social followings, the brand is counting on the buzz to build across the participants’ network and further to other networks that will follow along or participate (one form of participation right now is having people suggest what activities the teams should do on the trip.)

The Real Challenge: Relevance Beyond Participants

It will be interesting to see how the Chevy SXSW event develops. The hardest part is creating interest for those not participating in the event. There will be a lot of buzz shared by trash talking and co-promotion across teams, but will those not on the road trip care to share in the conversation?

The connection with the SXSW event should help extend the buzz beyond the teams, since the SXSW event attracts most of the social media elite who might help promote the Chevy road trip and this goodwill should increase interest just because some social media expert is talking about it.

It definitely is a strong event tie-in for a road trip that is meant to gain interest using social media tools and behaviors. Everyone can follow the teams using the hashtag #chevysxsw on Twitter and at the Posterous website Chevy is setting up for when it kicks off the week of March 8. I’ll definitely be following to see if it extends reach beyond just the participating teams.


It would be great to know how much Volvo spent or Chevrolet will spend promoting and implementing these road trips. Reach is definitely an important aspect of the road trip marketing idea. Getting people interested in participating on virtual teams or promoting real teams all add to the word of mouth of the projects and hopefully reach consumers who might never pay attention to a TV ad or online banner.

The important ingredient is making the events relevant to consumers. Volvo did that through a contest where a charitable donation was tied to the goal. The Chevy event will have a more difficult time extending the interest beyond those participating.

Here’s to viral magic whether it’s virtual or real.
“We had finally found the magic land at the end of the road and we never dreamed the extent of the magic."
- Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Friday, February 19, 2010

Help BMW Save Their Brand

Stop whatever you are doing today and go read Peter M. De Lorenzo's article on BMW's latest campaign Joy.

De Lorenzo is absolutely correct that you can cut the new Joy commercials and put a Chevy, Hyundai, Toyota, whatever in the ad and it will still work. It's an ad campaign for any car company and that's the big issue with it.

I don't have much to add to it, since it is perfect. As a BMW owner for many years and an emphatic fan of the brand, Peter's article expresses what is so wrong with the current, supposedly temporary, move away from BMW's Ultimate Driving Machine message.

Go visit Autoextremist then print out De Lorenzo's article and mail it to:

BMW of North America, LLC
300 Chestnut Ridge Road
Woodcliff Lake, NJ 07677-7731

Quick before they make any more vanilla Joy commercials!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

GM's Social Media Team Shows How Brand Experience Online Can Remedy a Bad Situation

When someone complains in social media they simply want be heard. They want to voice issues to their social network so that their friends can know what company or product to avoid; they may want resolution; or they may simply just want others to provide moral support.

Sometimes companies are listening and may even actively respond to a complaint. The past two days I witnessed a very public version of this when one of the people I have come to know in the automotive twitosphere (I swore I’d never use that dumb word, but just did) had an issue with a Chevrolet Equinox he ordered a couple weeks ago.

Dalibor Dimovski (@kewlrats on Twitter, Dali for short) explains his situation on Facebook better than I ever could:

"The vehicle was paid for in full on Feb 2nd as we were told this as needed to lock in the incentives. We were also asked to hand over our trade-in at that time. This past Monday we paid our first loan payment to our financial institution.

And all of this without receiving the car. (Still have not received it yet.)"

Obviously this was an issue at the dealer level, probably with a lot of promises and the buyer will get the car very soon from the already paid car salesperson and now we have a very frustrated customer who is unsatisfied with a brand; though, fortunately Dali is not Kevin Smith and kept his cool, but he was definitely upset.

Dali told me, "I was upset at the dealership buying process and excruciatingly long wait and faults, I found it extremely difficult to get an answer to my questions. This both stressed me out further and made me second-guess my purchase." Fortunately someone was listening.

Early in the process, Dali received some support from his network of fellow automotive enthusiasts.

The situation was spreading about Dali’s issue and spreading through a community of well-connected automotive friends. Fortunately, General Motors’ Social Media Team, led by Chris Barger (@cbarger), noticed there was a problem, as did some other employees GM has on Twitter. One very active GM employee Borger (@GMEmployee) caught this situation early and tried to correct the idyllic expectation created by Dali’s salesperson.

It didn’t end there. GM’s Social Media team continued to work on the problem reassuring him that they were actively working to remedy the situation as quickly as possible. The team also made sure Dali engaged with the proper channels like GM’s Customer Care team (@GMCustomerSvc).

Chris Barger further stressed that GM was committed, as a whole company, to make sure its customers needs are met. The actions taken online today demonstrated that care not only to Dali, but to everyone listening too.

Fortunately the vehicle was in at the dealership and the problem was remedied even if it did create some angst for Dali and his family, whom by the way recently had their first child, a beautiful baby daughter born last November.

The online experience extended into the dealership experience too. Dali shares, "upon walking into the dealership, I was floored by the response from my salesperson. He mentioned that he had heard about my updates on Twitter and was glad to have been contacted by the GM Customer Service team. The dealership did not realize I was that frustrated as I had always been patient and cordial in communication with them. They respectfully corrected the situation, making me an incredibly happy buyer in the end."

The resolution shows how effective social media can be in rapidly turning a bad situation around. What I personally like most about this example is that everyone was considerate to Dali’s issue and there was no grandstanding or over promising going on.

After a week of hearing about how much of a blowhard Kevin Smith is when he isn't happy with a company, it was great knowing not everyone is a jerk on Twitter when things go south.

One of Dali’s final tweets came late yesterday after he had finished picking up the car from the dealership and ending on a positive note. I’m sure it felt like a great day for the GM team, as a side effect it gave everyone in social media a positive example of how this social stuff works.


Toyota Launches Whimsical Campaign
At Its Most Serious Time in History

It’s refreshing talking about Toyota without mentioning their recall nightmare. Okay, that was one mention. The new Sienna minivan campaign just launched and it is providing some decent ways for a brand to leverage their online properties to further promote an attempt at a viral video campaign.

The videos are cutesy comical takes on parenting and mocking the “look at me” parents who are all about style and self-congratulatory recognition. Actors Brian Huskey and Rachel Drummond play the part well. The ads are well done for what they are; though, some wonder if the timing of this campaign couldn’t be worse. Toyota is trying really hard to get people to think of Toyota beyond just the recall as they heavily market their brand and the Sienna during the Olympics.

Bill Green, who writes one of my favorite ad blogs Make the Logger Bigger and co-hosts the AdVerve Podcast, writes “After seeing mommy get a timeout, Toyota’s getting too cute for its own good, especially given their recent troubles. All brands on deck means they should be focused on rebuilding rep across the board, not glossing over a recall problem by pushing happy minivan families.”

I’m not sure I agree. Toyota still has to promote its new products even with a major recall. Sure the Sienna stuff is tongue-and-cheek at a time when the company needs to be very stiff and serious, but the Sienna campaign was in development long before the recent recall news and the work does fit well in the minivan segment.

Let’s face it anyone buying a minivan has already given up on being cool and probably feels smart choosing a minivan over pricier, less practical SUVs and CUVs that dominate the driveways of most families. So what better way to endear yourself to your buyers by making fun of the superiority of style conscious sport utility parents by applying that attitude to minivan drivers? Also, taking a few liberties with the “fun” of parenting is not a bad thing either.

This is not a new concept for the Toyota Sienna. Sienna’s last effort in 2007 included ads that ran on a similar theme, but slightly reversed. Instead of the parents mocking the kids, the kids mock the parents as in this commercial featuring some ungrateful kids whose new playhouse doesn’t feature leather seating surfaces like their comfy new minivan.

What I like best about the campaign is not the witty writing of the commercials; rather, the digital connection of various web properties is well executed by the online team. The campaign is made available through a branded YouTube channel that also promotes connecting to the vehicle’s Facebook fan page and links out to more information at the Toyota website.

Unlike most auto manufacturer shopping sites, the Sienna vehicle page clearly connects to the campaign and promotes the accompanying social websites; though, the call to action to “watch more Sienna commercials” on YouTube is less than exciting on a vehicle’s landing page. It’s a bit we really love our ads now go watch them and see how smart we are.

Even so, the vehicle-landing page communicates clearly and connects with the campaign in an uncluttered way while promoting a connection with the brand in social media. I really like how the communication happens across Toyota’s site, their Facebook fan page, and the YouTube channel. It is all nicely integrated and finds a way to bring the whole effort together even if it is distributed across the web.

The online flow isn’t revolutionary. It’s simple, not overdone like Sienna's “Making It Rain” ad.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

AutoBird Podcast – Esp15: “A Better Tomorrow?”

I had the pleasure last Sunday to be the first guest on the Autobird Podcast. The Podcast is hosted by automotive bloggers Colin Bird (@Auto_Bird) and Joel Feder (@joelfeder) both of whom I've got to know through Twitter and when they have visited Detroit for various automotive events. Autobird covers automotive industry news, car reviews, and this last weekend we even talked about marketing.

This week covered the following topics:

* Chevrolet Malibu is a great car but sales disappoint?
* American Top Gear still Lives?
* Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring may get new names?

We then proceed to the clip of the week segment. This week we featured the Super Bowl commercial from Dodge – Man’s Last Stand

Last but certainly not least, we discuss our main topics. This week those topics included the Chicago Auto Show and Toyota’s a better tomorrow.

One last comment: The show image was done by Colin. He gets some sort of sick pleasure inserting people into ridiculous scenes. If you find the Photoshopped Caravaggio painting disturbing, you're not alone. The only saving grace is that Colin didn't put me in Muppet outfit like he has done to his co-host Joel.

Please checkout Joel and Colin's blogs too. They bring their own unique perspectives to the industry that are definitely worth a read.

Autobird Blog

Accelerate Minneapolis

You can listen to the show (I had a horrible Skype connection that was eventually fixed at around 33 minutes):

Download this episode (right click and save)


Monday, February 15, 2010

BMW Spreads Its Olympic Joy, Audi Tries Squashing It

BMW is marketing its largest ever brand awareness campaign during this year’s Winter Olympics. The “Story of Joy” campaign is built off the early foundation first started with the launch of the BMW Z4 campaign.

The ads focus on new products, drivers and one TV spot showcases the compelling BMW Vision EfficientDynamics concept car that debuted last August at the Frankfurt Auto Show. From BMW’s Press Release about the campaign, “Story of Joy” introduces a new creative aesthetic characterized by strong, colorful images often conveying people and their experiences with the subtlest of references to BMW products.”

Brand messages encompass everything from emotional responses about the product line making drivers feel youthful and inspired. The campaign also dips heavily into BMW’s heritage of driver events. It’s the second time in the past two years BMW has highlighted the Southern California Bimmerfest event, which is one of the largest gathering of BMW owners and fans. The last time was in a spot for the last 3-series sedan.

Audi Begins Its Latest Brand Campaign Too

The new brand campaign comes at a time when BMW’s most aggressive competitor Audi is launching its own brand campaign mocking BMW for falling behind Audi in “three straight Car & Driver comparisons.” The Audi spot is entertaining, but the BMW brand ads appeal to those who are advocates and satisfied owners of BMW products.

Showing images of happy owners, enjoying their vehicles is nice feel good marketing, but is it effective? This is a difficult question to answer and depends on what BMW is trying to gain from the spots; sales of course, but I’m sure some positive brand awareness is in the mix of campaign goals too.

The issue is that the ads are forgettable and barely interesting enough to share from a brand enthusiast perspective. Unlike the 3-Series ad from 2008 that brought together a strong emotive response from many BMW brand advocates and fans, the new Olympic spots fall flat giving people little reason to talk about the ads or promote them to their social network.

The Audi ads have a more interesting message; though, I’m personally not much of a fan of mentioning your top competitor in your marketing, since you’re just giving your key competitor free advertising. That said the Audi ads are at least memorable and interesting enough to share. They're definitely not forgettable.

The BMW Joy campaign is pleasant and aligns well with an Olympic games feel good message. It’s just that the ads will probably be lost in the marketing clutter.

BMW Olympic Ads:

BMW's 2008 Summer Olympic Games 3-Series Ad:

Audi's Brand Ads:


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dodge Super Bowl Spoof: Woman's Last Stand

The Dodge ad "Man's Last Stand" was just begging to be mocked and mocked it has. McKenzie Fegan, a New York producer, created "Woman's Last Stand" in response to the Dodge Super Bowl spot.

Unfortunately there is no car featured in a woman's last stand though plenty of snarky lines are featured in the video spoof. A few lines from McKenzie's spoof include, "I will assert myself and will get called a bitch... I will assure you that size doesn't matter... I will see Paul Blart: Mall Cop twice."

I do hope I get credit for spoofing the Dodge ad first. In my Super Bowl ad review I made the following suggestion:
Personally, I felt the ad followed a common theme of Super Bowl marketing: It’s okay to make fun of boring middle-aged men. It’s the last segment of the population that is fair game to mock. Can you imagine the uproar if this concept were reversed?

Women staring blankly at the camera with voiceover by Weed’s star Mary-Louise Parker saying, “I will get the kids ready for school, kiss you goodbye and rush to get ready for my job. I will pretend to understand why you care if a team wins a game. I will fake an orgasm this weekend.” Oh wait, maybe this concept does work. Now what car would go roaring down the highway in the female gender version? BMW Z4 sDrive 35i with a manual transmission to beat the pants off that automatic only offered Dodge Charger.

Others Weigh In

Creative Officer and Chief Social Media Officer for Mullen, Edward Broches (@edwardboches), comments on the spoof and original Dodge Super Bowl ad in his blog Creativity Unbound:
"In fact you could argue that based on the type of guy Dodge appears to be “targeting” whatever attention this video generates is a good thing, reinforcing the brand’s desired image. You could even go a step further and argue that Dodge and its agency Weiden and Kennedy would have been smart to inspire the creation of this and similar opposing messages in order to generate buzz and call further attention to the original spot. Alas it turns out they’re not quite that clever or surreptitious."
I guess Edward doesn't read my blog on a daily basis. Big shock I know. But Dodge and Weiden+Kennedy were smart enough to create an opposing message ad. Sure it's not exactly what Mr. Broches alludes to, something in a similar vain of a Woman's Last Stand; instead, Dodge decided to give women their own sense of attitude in the "We Make Getaway Cars" spot featuring a fed up woman who does a burnout off into the night, leaving her sniveling man behind in the smoke of burnt rubber.

Whatever the response, the Dodge Super Bowl ad definitely made its mark on popular culture and is starting to separate itself from many of the forgetable ads from a week ago. Perhaps Dodge and Weiden+Kennedy actually know what they are doing and are creating ads with some attitude and differentiation that demand attention and, yes, even mockery.

Toyota Postpones a "Better Tomorrow"

It’s no secret that Toyota is dealing with a major company issue as they respond to unprecedented criticism for their accelerator pedal, hybrid braking and floor mat recalls. One unexpected fallout from the recalls is the end or momentary suspension of Toyota’s brand campaign “Beyond Cars.”

The Beyond Cars website was taken down last week as the company responds to all things recall. When asked why the Beyond Cars was no longer available, I was told it was done “in an effort to make sure the recall info is present, we are currently driving all traffic to the recall site,” according to a representative from the @Toyota Twitter account.

What's interesting is the site's URL: doesn't redirect to the Toyota Recall site; instead, it brings people to Toyota's Corporate Values page; though, there is a link for the Recall Update on the Values page.

According to Toyota’s press release, the Beyond Cars website invited “visitors to share their ideas for working together to create a better tomorrow.” Visitors could freely input their own ideas, but all entries were moderated and approved before posting.

One wonders if the concept lost internal support with the recall fiasco causing so much negative press for the company. With site moderation Toyota was able to control what would be published to the site, but would site coverage by blogs and other social media conversation mock the concept of talking about a better tomorrow, one that might include Toyotas that were not accelerating beyond the driver’s control?

With any user-generated site, the big question for clients is how thick is your skin when it comes to hearing what your customers, advocates or anyone stopping by has to say. Apparently for Toyota their skin is thin, very, very thin. With site moderation, they controlled what was posted. Even so, once the recall came the brand decided to take down the site entirely probably to avoid any possible negative connotation with the idea of a better tomorrow or negative reaction to Toyota moderating comments.

As an outsider, this shows there really isn’t much of an appetite for user-generated commentary at Toyota. Recalls are definitely a difficult time for any company. Would it be any different with other automotive companies going through this kind of public scrutiny? I’m not so sure it would be any different.

Beyond Cars may return after the recall dust has settled. When asked if it would return the Toyota representative told me “we're going to re-evaluate our plans for the site at a later date.” In the meantime, Toyota is working on its own “better tomorrow.” The world will have to wait.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

You Can Create Your Own Honda Groove
Just Don't Expect to Share It

“In September of 2008 we carved grooves into a quarter mile stretch of asphalt on the outskirts of Lancaster, CA. The goal was to create an experience that embodied the connection Civic drivers feel with the road.”
Honda’s creative musical road idea was an interesting, fun way to express the connection a car has with its road and what its drivers experience as road, car and driver connect in one simultaneous beautiful experience. To bring that experience to life, Honda cut grooves into a road in southern California and create a YouTube channel featuring the original TV commercial and several documentary short films explaining how it was done.

A new online experience on Honda’s Civic shopping website extends the idea in a new way. Website users can now create their own virtual musical road where they can plot different notes on a road and playback the version they made on the “Grooves Game” website.

The experience is an interesting way to bring new life to the original idea and bring an user generated, interactive experience to make the idea more personal. Of course, to make your own song, that’s worth listening to, it helps to have some musical experience. My ability to create a musical road sounded as muddled as the thuds I hear on my daily “musical” expression on the pothole-ridden roads of Michigan each morning.

Supposing you can actually create a new tune that’s worth listening to it is a shame the Honda Grooves Game doesn’t let one share their creation. The only share that can be done is an email sharing form that sends the website link for friends to create their own song.

In an age where most sites share through social media properties, it seems odd that Honda didn’t allow for an easy way to make that happen or a simple way to share a person’s own musical road. This would have made the experience more interesting. Perhaps budget or timing prevented such expression.

Overall, the idea is great way to extend a real-world idea to a digital idea. Unfortunately, without some stronger social sharing or allowing people to express their own musical roads, the site loses its power to be more compelling.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Toyota's Digital Communications During
Recall are Well-Executed

A few of my thoughts Toyota's handling of its recall online is yeserday's ClickZ: News and Expert Advice for the Digital Marketer. The article "Toyota Goes Digital to Communicate Recalls" touches on a few points I made in my discussion with journalist Jack Marshall. He did an excellent job highlighting the key points.

Here is the ad Toyota is using in their news network media buy. The messages are very clean and simple without a lot of branding or visual pizazz, which of course is very appropriate in these situations.

A new Toyota sponsored ad unit bringing in top rated articles on the social linking site Digg is also being used by the brand to direct consumers to Toyota recall information.

Also, the Toyota Recall landing page is clean and simple to understand, especially the prominence of what vehicles are recalled. The question of what vehicles are affected is always the first question of any owner. So, it is great seeing the clarity of that message come through on the Toyota recall landing page.

Overall I think Toyota is doing the right thing in the online space. Their messages are clear and the ads are showing up on just about every online news story I read about the recall.

I will add one last thing that is briefly mentioned in the ClickZ article. Toyota UK has some excellent video communications they have posted on YouTube to let consumers know how the company is responding to the seriousness of the situation. The videos come across in a genuine way that removes the hysteria that might of ensued.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dodge Challenger Good for Getting Away,
If Your Man is Having His Last Stand

Dodge has answered back after receiving probably what they expected, some backlash for portraying men as wusses who can't make their own decisions and treating the Dodge Challenge as a "Man's Last Stand" car. The female gender answer is a commercial that's on Dodge's YouTube channel called "We Make Getaway Cars."

The ad features a woman who resembles actress Maggie Gyllenhaal. She is having her belongings thrown from a second story window by her boyfriend/husband/brother/dad??? It's not really clear what is going on, but the flannel shirt wearing woman gets into her Challenger SRT8 and roars away with onscreen copy reading "We make getaway cars."

I love the attitude of this ad, but it's not clear what she is getting away from not that it really matters. Making a fast U-Turn looks cool and the idea of getting away is also a positive.

I do love how the Dodge brand is having fun with their identity and trying to create a certain attitude that has disappeared in an industry where everything's gone green. There is just something refreshing and different with this latest effort from Dodge's new agency Wieden+Kennedy. This shouldn't be surprising to those who know automotive marketing history. Wieden+Kennedy was the firm featured in the book Where the Suckers Moon about the marketing efforts of Subaru in the early 1990s.

I don't think we are witnessing a similar story as Where the Suckers Moon, but I do believe we are experiencing some solid marketing from a marketing firm that creates some distinction for a brand and the latest from Dodge is doing just that. Now if only Dodge had competitive products to market, it would be even more interesting.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Super Bowl Automotive Ads: She Said, He Said Analysis with Melanie Batenchuk

Social media is all about extending one's network and I am fortunate enough to have met Melanie Batenchuk (@BeCarChic) who has her own blog and also writes for The two of us decided a couple weeks ago to work together on a Super Bowl article covering the automotive ads. Here is the result.

Volkswagen “PunchDub”

SHE SAID: Having a brother six years my senior, my upper arm could never forget the pain it endured from the “Punch Bug” game of my childhood. There was a “Punch Bug” graveyard on the way to our Aunt and Uncle’s lake house that housed hundreds of broken down and beat up VW Bugs. My brother and I played the game every time we went to their place, both of us anxiously awaiting that lot. Whoever spotted it first not only won the game but also had the pleasure of endlessly punching his opponent in the arm.

The VW “Punch Dub” ad appealed to anyone old enough to remember the original VW Bug. It successfully spanned demographics both through the characters in the commercial and in its appeal. While memorable, I don’t think this commercial ignited a new game of “Punch Dub” in America. I doubt kids riding in their mom’s Routan today are looking for other VW’s so they can punch each other and shout a color.

HE SAID: This ad was an early favorite at the party I attended. People really enjoyed the end with Stevie Wonder and Tracy Morgan. In the beginning, it was a bit confusing to those who may not be familiar with the ‘punch bug’ game the concept is developed from, but it is effectively communicated in the 60 seconds.

Most surprising about the campaign is how VW extended the idea online with a video called “How did he play PunchDub?” where Stevie Wonder educates the viewer about a device that helps the blind “see” colors. It is a nice extension of the Super Bowl ad.

It was also nice to see VW not bring in the online personality of “Sluggy Patterson” who is currently leading the campaign through social media (see my blog post for more information.) VW realized the difference between online and TV and showcased PunchDub in a way that was more accessible to the large audience of the Super Bowl while maintaining the integrity of the campaign. This was by far my favorite ad from the industry Sunday night. It was simple, memorable and effective in communicating a passion for the brand. Plus I believe VW will build on the success of the ad as it continues to evolve the campaign.

Audi “Green Police”

SHE SAID: Audi’s commercial was much better than the PSA previews the company aired ahead of Super Bowl XLIV. I liked the rock n’ roll tune and the way Audi brought all of it together to highlight the product. Personally, I love the Audi A3 TDI – and it won Green Car Journal’s 2010 Green Car of the Year Award – so it wasn’t a tough sell from that perspective.

The German automaker was targeted greenies and car enthusiasts alike by wittily excusing the A3 TDI from a “Green Police” Eco Check Point. Car enthusiasts like me also enjoyed hearing the TDI’s exhaust and power as it navigated its way out of the checkpoint, dodging green traffic cones and speeding off into an enviro-conscious sunset.

HE SAID: In a world of Eco-Guilt, Audi decides to mock the ridiculousness of it all with a crew of police patrolmen busting yuppies and teens for all kinds of environmental mistakes. Eco-Guilt is a developing trend where people feel they are not doing enough for the environment. Even Oprah Winfrey’s “O” magazine covered the topic demonstrating there is a cultural awareness about the behavior.

Audi received some early criticism around using “Green Police” which was a phrase used to describe Nazi Germany’s police force. Very few know about the history and it became a minor issue for the brand online, but soon dissipated after most acknowledged the “Green Police” name was about environmental “policing” for those not in environmental compliance and was simply a poor naming choice by the marketing team.

Cheap Trick did the soundtrack for the ad and the situations busting people for wrong light bulbs, using plastic bottles, and choosing plastic bags at the supermarket. The ad ends on a couple high notes with the “Eco Check” police checkpoint that lets the Audi A3 TDI go ahead and with cops stopping cops for using Styrofoam coffee cups. The ad received predominantly positive buzz online, which tells me it did get its message across effectively. Overall it’s another win for the Volkswagen Group.

Dodge “Man’s Last Stand”

SHE SAID: My first thought was, “Is this the man version of ‘I am woman, hear me roar?’” From a woman’s perspective, there wasn’t much positive to say about Dodge’s commercial. Sure the music was cool and they had some great camera shots at the end, but Dodge seemed to go a little overboard with its man-centric, “women force us to suppress our true feelings and deny us the ability to have our own thoughts” theme. Unlike the man-bashing FloTV ads, the humor injected was not funny to both male and female viewers.

In fact, I was surprised that so many Super Bowl ads were focused only on the male buyer when women continue to be the bigger spenders. This is what I want to know from Dodge. I’m a woman; I like fast cars with horsepower and a sleek design. Why does he deserve to drive a Dodge Charger R/T with the 5.7L V8 and I don’t?

HE SAID: I feel like almost disqualifying myself for providing any commentary on a Dodge ad. I just feel so subjective whenever I review the latest from Auburn Hills, Michigan, but I’ll give it a try.

Of all the automotive ads on this list, this was by far the most polarizing from what I can gather across YouTube comments and Twitter conversations. People either loved some of the swipes at the elimination of manliness like the “I will carry your lip balm. I will watch your vampire TV shows with you.” Or they hated it for the ad’s attempt to insult all requests from a wife or girlfriend as if it was being anti-female.

Personally, I felt the ad followed a common theme of Super Bowl marketing: It’s okay to make fun of boring middle-aged men. It’s the last segment of the population that is fair game to mock. Can you imagine the uproar if this concept were reversed?

Women staring blankly at the camera with voiceover by Weed’s star Mary-Louise Parker saying, “I will get the kids ready for school, kiss you goodbye and rush to get ready for my job. I will pretend to understand why you care if a team wins a game. I will fake an orgasm this weekend.” Oh wait, maybe this concept does work. Now what car would go roaring down the highway in the female gender version? BMW Z4 sDrive 35i with a manual transmission to beat the pants off that automatic only offered Dodge Charger.

Honda “Crosstour Squirrel”

SHE SAID: I had to watch this ad a second time to get the gist. Sadly, the featured squirrel was a hoarder. Thankfully the Honda Crosstour’s space helped him store and organize items like an acorn, a pineapple, and a bowling trophy. I think kids and their parents probably enjoyed the commercial, but the general population may not have found this ad memorable.

The most clever aspect of this commercial was how the camera panned through the interior of the car before they showed you the exterior. So many automakers focus on the exterior design elements and expect customers to visit the dealership to see what’s inside. Honda was smart to take this approach because the Crosstour’s exterior is specific to certain tastes, but the interior’s style likely will make up for it.

HE SAID: For what it had to market, the RPA Agency did an excellent job with this ad concept. I can just imagine the creative brief: It’s an inside story. Communicate the versatility and beauty of the vehicle using its interior amenities.

The squirrel filling what appears to be a tree and ends up being the inside of a Honda Crosstour with all kinds of items is an interesting way to showcase the CUV’s space. I also really like the art direction with the sharp edges and strong use of shadows throughout the commercial.

My only negative is that it didn’t really standout for a Super Bowl ad and was forgettable when people tried to recall what they watched. I probably would’ve saved the media buy dollars and went more niche targeted since the vehicle is desirable to a very distinct customer segment.

Hyundai “10 Years Strong Featuring Brett Favre”

SHE SAID: The Hyundai Brett Favre commercial was a fantastic play on his situation and with impeccable timing. It was clear that Hyundai was comparing the certainty of their 10 year/100,000 mile warranty to Favre’s NFL retirement uncertainty. I believe their audience, although it could be perceived as just for men and football fans, was actually larger. Anyone who’s watched mainstream news on a regular basis could have picked up on the joke. The commercial was funny in a relevant, rated G, way – unlike random men walking through a field in their undies.

HE SAID: You can rarely knock relevant, ‘rarely’ because you can screw it up. Here Hyundai delivers with a play on their 10-year warranty and the longevity of football’s aging quarterback Brett Favre. The message highlights the term of the warranty in an interesting, compelling way that is also appealing to the football faithful and who doesn’t know who Brett Favre is, especially after “There’s Something About Mary.”

Hyundai “Sonata Built-by-Hand”

SHE SAID: In its crowd-surfing ad, Hyundai stressed quality and American craftsmanship by highlighting the 3,300 employees who work at its Montgomery, Ala. manufacturing facility. The ad persuaded potential buyers to consider the care and attention to detail Hyundai’s employees give to each car that comes down the assembly line, and it showed that this Korean-based automaker employees Americans to build their cars right here on our home turf.

HE SAID: Hyundai used the Super Bowl to help launch its all-new Sonata. This is one of two ads promoting the new car. Unlike the Brett Favre ad, the two Sonata ads showcase the car as part of Hyundai sponsorship of the NFL Pre-Game Show. The ad is fine as far as a vehicle launch commercial is concerned, but it is forgettable. Though that’s fine since the Sonata ads played heavily during the Pre-Game spots and were really about getting people familiar with the new sedan.

Hyundai “Painted Hyundai Sonata”

SHE SAID: This advertisement was elegant, classy, and it struck a chord with my pianist and violinist background. It was a refined way to appeal to upper class buyers by comparing the paint job process to that of the Mercedes-Benz CLS550, while indicating a much lower price tag. The audience in the room did mention that it may have been more effective had the Mercedes comparison line run on the screen for longer.

HE SAID: Of the two Sonata spots this one has a bit more appeal than the one with office workers carrying an empty body frame of the all-new car. The ad communicates a technical process in a way that is more interesting and elegant than what might have been expected when talking about paint. So it’s a well-executed product feature commercial to compliment the launch of the Sonata.

Kia “Sorento”

SHE SAID: Kia’s ad also struck a childhood note with me. The commercial reminded me of when I was a kid and believed that my stuffed animals came to life at night. Kia used the reverse logic – the stuffed creatures daydreaming of a more exciting nightlife – to appeal to its audience of busy parents and their kids.

The music was catchy and fresh; I watched the commercial again just to hear it. While Kia alluded to these children’s characters coming alive and having a good time in its teaser ads, they left you totally clueless as to how the company would incorporate them into a worthwhile Super Bowl commercial. This ad was a definite win because Kia connected its teasers with its Super Bowl debut as seamlessly as a sock monkey.

HE SAID: As a father of twin 3-year-old boys, I actually know all the characters in the whimsical, odd Kia Sorento ad. The ad played late in the game after many football fans were probably a few beers into the festivities which I’m sure made the more inebriated wonder out loud, “is that a sock monkey riding an electric bull and a robot toying doing the robot dance? Or is it time for me to put the beer down?”

The ad’s campaign line of “A Departure from the Unexpected” works well with the commercial’s concept while the music “How You Like Me Now” by The Heavy added an extra oomph in energy. It was definitely my second favorite ad from the automotive industry and the best music score for the night. It also marked the first time in over a year that I didn’t think about the Kia Hamster, which further added to the success of the ad. The Kia Soul hamsters are cute, but the brand needed to not be defined by them and this Super Bowl spot helped with that issue. “Timothy Richman”

SHE SAID: The “Timothy Richman” ad aired by incorporated a more sublte vibe into the mix. The storyline was slightly far-fetched, and the ad didn’t believably link the character’s Doogie Howser intelligence to his inability to make a decision on a car. wanted to assure everyone that, regardless of their IQ, they could feel comfortable buying a car simply by visiting their website and consulting a professional. In that sense, the commercial was a hit. I personally missed the “Timothy Richman is a life-long genius but can’t figure out how to buy a car” theme. Perhaps that is merely a reflection of my own aptitude.

HE SAID: A calming, storytelling advertisement that isn’t about being outrageous or insulting male behaviors should be a refreshing departure from most of what was shown Sunday evening. For the most part, it was a nicely executed exception to the silliness.

The ad follows all of the intelligent decisions and deep knowledge of a growing young man who finally is baffled by the process of buying a car for the first time. Fortunately, he is bright enough to turn to for expert advice. It is a well-written commercial. The issue is that it just falls flat in the circus that is Super Bowl advertising; though, I do have to give kudos to the buy because the ad would probably be ignored on any other given day so at least it does drum up some buzz for a rather sedate brand.

I like it for its charm, but also fault it for its charm. Charm is simply lost when everyone else is going with absurd.

CarMax “Dramatic Chipmunk”

SHE SAID: The first “Dramatically Smart” ad run by CarMax was my favorite “funny” auto commercial. These ads made me want to watch the furry creatures, all with the same action line, perform again and again. My guests and I actually rewound the DVR so we could watch the prairie dog repeatedly nail his cue to glare intensely into the camera. Those beady eyes are ingrained in my memory. The commercial may not be the best representation of CarMax, but it was hilarious nonetheless.

HE SAID: When you have nothing smart to say attach your brand to a popular YouTube viral video that has over 18 million views. To me it is a dull ad that does nothing for the brand with its cheap desire to be interesting and funny of which it is neither. This was by far the worse ad from the automotive industry. Yawn.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

GM's Tweet Reach and Social Experiences

I was having a conversation the other day with someone about how effective it is to have everyone in your company Tweeting or if it made more sense to have one branded Twitter account. The discussion immediately made me think about a presentation I saw last November at the Social Media Club of Detroit from General Motor’s Director of Global Social Media Chris Barger (Chris' presentation is available here in its entirety.)

What I heard was GM’s strategy of getting many people from across the company involved in social media. “I would much rather have 400 people from General Motors out there in the organization with 150 followers each than ever want me with 40,000” stated Mr. Barger.

The made me wonder: Does that approach make sense? Isn’t it a bit inefficient to have 400 people on social media platforms communicating for the company?

Mass Twitter

Is there a benefit to having a mass of employees on a social networking platform like Twitter?

I’m not talking about people on Twitter for their own personal benefit. I’m talking about a corporate strategy to get people engaged online for the company’s benefit. There are two primary benefits to GM’s approach:

1.) Reach: Reach is the idea of extending your audience of listeners and participants. Some believe having many brand representatives extends the network of communications.

2.) Relationships: Each person from the company is a contact and that contact will create personal relationships that extend beyond a corporate branded Twitter ID like a @GMBlogs or @Chevrolet. A person personalizes the company.


Do you really need 10s or 100s of people representing a brand? This is not so clear.

Let’s look at GM’s common relationships across its many Twitter accounts. The graph below shows several of the company representatives of GM on Twitter and the percentage of common Followers with the @GMBlogs corporate branded Twitter account. A high percentage shows the personal account has little additional reach over the brand and is unnecessary if the purpose is reach, since followers are already engaged with the company.

What is also apparent is when someone has a relatively low percentage of overlapping followers. There are a few people this applies to.

Chris Barger (@cbarger): As the lead social media person for the company, Chris does a lot of outreach with bloggers, media, and social experts at many events across the country and those relationships extend his reach beyond someone who just wants to know the latest from GM.

George Saratlic (@George_S): George is the Canadian version of Chris Barger (I know I’ll get corrected on that oversimplification.) With a different country in scope, he naturally appeals to a somewhat different audience and like Chris Barger, is involved in a lot of events that extend his Twitter network.

Patrick Reyes (@patrickreyes): Patrick is not part of the Public Relations team. He does marketing for the Buick and GMC brands. His reach is a bit more broad probably due to his interest in social media discussions and personal connections in his interests less than the Twitter account being all about work. His profile also doesn’t talk so much about what he does for GM or if he even works for the company (he does) so that may be a reason for less overlap with the brand account.

Adam Denison (@AdamDenison) & Lesley Hettinger (@lesleyhettinger): Adam is the product communications lead for the hit Chevrolet Camaro and Lesley does the same job but for the Chevrolet Cruze. With two big product launches demanding a lot of attention these two brand representatives will appeal to the product followings possibly more so than the primary brand’s following.

"Immerse and Disperse"

Personalizing relationships is a very important aspect of social media. Many debates on this topic have led to supporting the idea that names behind a brand betters the connection, since there is a real sole person behind the brand instead of just a logo. Knowing a real person also presents a personal touch with a real face and common voice. Keeping it personal helps a lot with brand image on a platform like Twitter.

A lot of companies build a team of experts and go to them for all social needs in an organization. The approach of isolating your social media people to a dedicated group does “lessen the likelihood of really dumb mistakes,” according to GM’s Chris Barger. The problem: It also makes any learnings come from the social media expert and not from another engineer or marketing person. So the social media expert becomes a conduit for third-party feedback that may not be heard by non-peers.

GM is giving people a one-year assignment to get them engaged in social media, go to events, conferences and simply live social media. This expands the knowledge and increases the expertise across the organization. Chris’s approach is “about building a capability instead of just building up one or two people.”


I do find GM’s approach of getting many participating in social media a great way to expand the knowledge and understanding of this new communication method impressive. I have also seen first-hand how influencers in the automotive industry gravitate to different GM representatives which increases engagement and a relationship with the brand.

There is some inefficiency, especially with accounts where there is a lot of overlap in what is being said, like said image at left, and not a lot of additional information is getting out about the brand. That said, the benefit of having your fans and influencers establish personal relationships with representatives they develop an affinity for is strong enough to not be concerned with the redundancy. Just understand there is some inefficiency with the GM approach if the people do not have a clear distinction from the general corporate account.