Communicating the revolution: Examining the new wave of auto campaigns


Marketing is changing. It is becoming more multi-layered, and its influence is more far-reaching across all elements of a business. Car companies are moving into a new era of communications ideas, ones that offer depth and a richness of experience to prospective customers.

So far in this report we have considered the changing ways in which consumers are buying vehicles, and how they use their cars once they become owners. Yet, before it reaches this point, the marketing director or CMO of a motor manufacturer must devise a plan to ensure his or her brand is even considered for purchase.

This is by no means easy. Despite government bailouts and takeovers galore in the past decade, the number of motor brands on offer to consumers has grown rather than shrunk. And the shift to online communications has seen no great reduction in advertising spend: eMarketer predicts the US auto industry alone will spend over $7bn on digital media this year, rising to $12bn by 2019.

The level of market noise has grown deafening. Only by a smart blend of interactive communications can companies successfully deliver awareness and engagement.

Lessons can be learned from advances in shopper marketing, where brands are using digital technology to enhance their effectiveness in the ‘last three feet’ – the final few moments in which a customer makes a decision about which brand to purchase. From touch screens to useful apps, engaging digital content is vital to securing success in a bricks and mortar environment.

Similarly, there are some fantastic examples of how auto brands are using a more integrated approach to cut through and engage with drivers.

Take Toyota. Back in 2012, in the wake of damaging headlines about car recalls and post-tsunami supply chain problems, it was struggling to create excitement around the launch of its latest Camry model. The car is a popular one, with 6.8 million owners in the US. Toyota decided that the best way to change the tone of the debate was to harness the positivity of those Camry owners towards their vehicles.

The Japanese manufacturer created a social network exclusively for Camry drivers, allowing them to share their very own ‘Camry stories’ and play online games. As well as reinforcing the fondness many drivers had for their cars, that enthusiasm was amplified through an interactive Super Bowl TV spot.

The campaign generated some pretty exciting numbers for Toyota. It delivered over 460 million unpaid media impressions, prompted 80,000 ‘Camry stories’ to be submitted, provided an 800% spike in “real-world Camry interest”, and led to a 19% increase in sales leads.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, Land Rover spotted an opportunity to use consumers’ willingness to share on social media as a means of crystallising its intrinsic product strengths.

Land Rover has long focused its marketing around the all-weather and all-terrain capabilities of its vehicles. However, a couple of years ago it found a way of amplifying this fondness of the grim British winter, as well as simultaneously re-discovering the “charm and character” of its brand.

Targeting those consumers who enjoy maintaining an active lifestyle despite the cold weather, and opt against ‘hibernating’ through the winter, Land Rover launched a campaign based around the hashtag ‘#Hibernot’. Drivers were encouraged to share content displaying their resolute ‘hibernot’ attitude, with the resulting interactions shaping subsequent above-the-line marketing investment.

After only a fortnight, nearly five million people had been reached on Facebook and Instagram, while the content was fed into a digital hub where drivers could seek out tips and ideas for winter activities.

Our final example is one of the most impressive case studies to date in its use of modern, digital communications: Nissan and Sony PlayStation’s ‘GT Academy’ partnership.

The competition, launched to mark the release of PlayStation’s latest Gran Turismo game in 2008, invited video games fans to live the dream and become professional racing drivers. Gamers were called on to participate in trials across international markets, with the strongest applicants put through to a final. Two winners were rewarded with a place on Nissan’s Driver Development Programme.

GT Academy is a brilliant example of using the multitude of digital and social communications channels to fuel a single idea. It is, at heart, a truly social concept, with entrants using their social media presence to drive awareness. And the competition provided high-quality video content, which has even been sold to traditional broadcasters.

Now entering its seventh year, more than five million gamers have entered GT Academy, and the concept boasts an enduring popularity – over 280,000 Facebook users continue to follow the campaign, for example.

What links these three very different campaigns is an appreciation of how digital communications can bring life to a fundamental brand truth – be it the connection between Toyota Camry and ordinary American drivers, the role of Land Rover in keeping Britons moving during winter, or the way in which Nissan is bringing racing to everyday motorists.

They show how the interactivity and depth of modern marketing channels can be combined to create campaigns that drive more interest, brand consideration and engagement. Marketing is changing; those brands able to keep up stand to benefit enormously.

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