Showing posts with label Brand. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brand. Show all posts

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Buick Goes for an Emotional Brand Campaign for NCAA

Buick is sponsoring the NCAA and as part of that effort they launched a new series of inspirational videos featuring several athletes who have overcome adversity. The campaign is called the Human Highlight Reel and as part of the launch Buick bought the homepage ad unit on YouTube last Monday.

This is all part of Buick's transformation or is it reclamation as the brand moves upmarket as a premium brand. This is the segment brands like Lincoln, Acura, Infiniti and to some extent Cadillac has played in for the past couple decades. Some people also call them segment affordable luxury. It's that awkward place between general consumer and luxury consumer vehicles, essentially the brands that cannot directly compete with the likes of Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Lexus; although, Lexus is a primary target of all these brands. Lexus breaks convention as they have beaten the Germans in some vehicle segments.

Buick wants to own the Premium space and as Cadillac continues to evolve and yes become a direct competitor with German luxury brands, now is the time for General Motors to show keeping the Buick brand, after closing several others, was a good decision. Fortunately, the products are getting better but the brand itself still has a major way to go as it assumes a more lofty aspirational brand identity.

The Human Highlight Reel campaign is a fairly typical attempt at facilitating the brand change. I'm sure the consumer research came back showing that Buick considers or the aspirational customers Buick wants to attract are free thinking (think brand agnostic), self motivated people who don't want to follow the herd. As a way to attract these consumers, the brand is trying to appeal to that person through inspirational content that shows the spirit the brand wants to embody or at least thinks its desired customers embody.

I'll admit it is personally difficult for me to see Buick as anything other than my mom's car. She had a nice, yellowish 1976 Buick Skylark coupe. It was mom's car from 1976 until the late 1980s when she finally sold it. Amazingly, it looked just as good the day she let go of it as when she bought it off the car lot. I definitely get my cleanliness when it comes to cars from my mom (my dad's Nissan Sentra had several weeks old McDonalds bags and various trash all over the floor. No wonder they got divorced.)

Fortunately, others may be more open to the Buick brand than I am and fortunately too they are making some solid products to back up the marketing change, because it doesn't matter how bad you want to attract new customers - you have to have the right products to meet the desired change.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Brief Life of Twitter Campaign Accounts

Well-known social media author/blogger Brian Solis once wrote, “Social Media is about breaking down barriers to engage in conversations.” Unfortunately, a lot of marketing teams forget that a social networking site like Twitter is all about conversation and to truly establish meaningful conversation you have to build a relationship with those who discuss your brand, product, or marketing effort.

Twitter accounts established solely for marketing campaigns are pointless and essentially demonstrate a marketing team that doesn’t really get what Twitter or even conversational marketing is all about – relationships.

I have been following several automotive marketing campaign Twitter accounts created to extend a campaign into the popular social media site. After watching many of these efforts, it became quite clear that the “conversation” only lasts until that campaign’s marketing team is reassigned and budget is exhausted.

This chart shows several Twitter accounts created solely for a marketing campaign or event marketing purpose. Here you can see how the accounts died a quick death, how many people followed, and how much engagement happened from the account's marketing team. One striking fact is that the average automotive marketing Twitter account is only active for 74 days (barely 2 months.)

Conversationally Challenged

Communications average 263 tweets during the limited time the accounts are active with most producing only around 100 tweets. Two campaigns here showed significantly higher engagement levels. The Hyundai @roadtrip149 account was giving away free iPods last August and this created a lot of Retweets and promotional communications for the iPod giveaways. Kia’s @KiaCollective account promoted several free concert events on its microsite that were part of its campaign which led to a lot of communications out to followers about new concert announcements.

The only account I could find that was decent at establishing relationships with their followers was the Volkswagen @SluggyPatterson campaign. The Punch Dub campaign the Twitter account references is personified by a grumpy old man named Sluggy Patterson who supposedly invented the Punch Dub game, where one punches someone the minute they see a VW. Engagement happens by interacting with this fictional character who seemed to mimic the popular Twitter identity @ShitMyDadSays. The account did enhance the marketing experience and really did work well to promote the campaign’s concept. Unfortunately, the team doing it only participated for 67 days.

All seven of the examples here are dormant Twitter accounts since they have been inactive for months. Of the seven only one account actually told its followers to follow the primary Twitter account for the brand. The @ThisisiQ account from the UK directs its followers to move to the @ToyotaGB account to continue engaging with the iQ and its blog.

Relationships Take Time Campaigns Don't Have

One thing is very clear when it comes to marketing campaign Twitter accounts, they don’t last long enough to provide any relationship with its followers and since there is no significant engagement there is no significant value. Brands really need consider if accounts like these are worth the effort? I’m sure some resources had to be funded to support the Twitter accounts and by the look of things the benefit to the brand and campaign is minuscule at best.

If marketing teams really want to bring their campaigns under the social media umbrella, they should do so using an established brand Twitter account that can be used to continue the relationship keeping it fresh and, most important, long-term.

An example of this strategic approach is what @Jeep is doing with its Tiki Hunt marketing effort. They did not establish a Tiki Hunt Twitter account to engage with people; instead, they are directing people to the @Jeep account and building followers and fostering engagement through their brand account which will continue to engage their followers long after the Tiki Hunt campaign is over.


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!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Punchy Campaign from VW Complete with Foul-Mouthed Senior Citizen

Volkswagen’s new advertising agency Deutsch is proving it can be as irreverent as Crispin Porter & Bogusky with their first ad campaign for the VW brand featuring a foul-mouthed senior citizen named “Sluggy.”

What's this all about? It's derived from the game of "Punch Buggy." Punch Buggy supposedly started in the 1960s and according to Wikipedia is "a car game generally played by young children in which participants lightly punch each other in the shoulder upon first sight of a Volkswagen Beetle while calling out 'Slug bug!' or 'Punch buggy!' in reference to the Beetle's nickname, the Bug."

Sluggy is fabricated as the person who started the game of slugging a person every time a VW passes by. It goes something like this: If a VW car, of any model or year, drives by you get to punch a person. Hopefully, the person being punched understands what you are doing and no one loses a tooth.

Sluggy's Videos, Tweets and Blog Posts

The videos are definitely entertaining. The concept reminds me of a popular cultural icon on Twitter called @ShitMyDadSays that features quotes from a curse ridden old man who makes outlandish comments about life.

The game comes with some rules developed by Sluggy with a companion blog and Twitter account (@SluggyPatterson) to assist people who want to learn the game. Rules include where to hit a person, three hits when seeing a VW with Hawaii license plates and many other tips for extending interest in the game.

Making the game real with evolving rules and the ability to ask questions that may spawn more rules is an excellent way to extend the online experience. First of all, it brings life to the game for people who want to play. So watch out if someone slugs you as a VW Jetta drives by.

The use of social media to ask questions, clarify rules and interact with the personality of the concept is interesting and better than most of the social media campaign outreach we usually see in the automotive industry. Here VW can have conversations with fans of the campaign instead of just simply pimping the website or YouTube video links. There is a natural conversation that exists with this idea and it lends itself well to platforms like Twitter and Posterous.

Obtuse Online Media

One area that could use some work is in the online media marketing of the campaign. I found the campaign from a banner ad on Yahoo! mail. The ad had the confusing message of "PunchDubDays" with a circle and a fist next to the text and copy saying "We're taking a hit for you."

The campaign’s message is a bit difficult to comprehend. Perhaps it's designed to be obtuse as a way to get people to learn more about PunchDubDays, but this seems weak compared to doing something a bit more playful in the ad placement. Creating some visual interest instead of the logo and campaign headline might be more compelling to draw people into the fun of the concept.

Other than the minor messaging issue, the campaign is well executed in the social space, it taps a cultural trend of listening to old men with no filter, and the writing in the videos is stronger than VW’s sister brand Audi’s Green Police campaign.

Campaign website:

Twitter account:


Friday, January 1, 2010

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.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Fallon to the Rescue, Stat!

It's already been called the "worst car ad ever" by Jalopnik's Ray Wert. Auto Extremist Peter De Lorenzo is quoted in Ad Age saying it is "patently absurd." Chrysler was forced to make a public statement it didn't hire an Italian ad agency the day the new ad was launched.

I don't even know what to say. I can only hope Chrysler gets things straightened out and starts to realize you can't change a somewhat premium brand into a highfalutin snob brand with one cause marketing effort. Mercedes didn't become Mercedes overnight.

Also, don't even get me started on how they turned the homepage of their shopping site into a giant TV commercial with the ad as the main image taking over the main body of It's just shocking and not good shocking.

The strangest thing is that the ad is a rehashed version of the same idea (and in some cases same images) as this Lancia spot that ran last year. I've heard of platform sharing across brands from a manufacturing benefit, but never as a cost saving technique for marketing.

On the very same day the ad started running on television, Chrysler announced it has selected Publicis Groupe's Fallon agency to handle the creative work previously led by BBDO. One can only hope that Chrysler gets some better marketing direction with Fallon. I'm not sure Lancia has enough good advertising to recycle to make the brand desirable again; though, I do really like this print advertisement from Lancia:

So Fallon you have your work cutout for you. I really wish you the best of luck as a lot of us want to see Chrysler succeed. Unfortunately, it's getting harder and harder to believe success is in the brand's future.

Automotive Facebook Fans by Brand: November 2009

Each month I plan on posting where automotive companies are with their fan love on the popular social networking site Facebook. This is the first of what will be monthly reports that will be posted to this blog within the first few days of each new month.

I have been tracking data since September 14, 2009 but have been doing it in no particular regularity until November. The data here looks at fans as of December 01. Any percentages of change in the graphs are comparing fan changes from 11/3/09 to 12/1/09, basically a month’s change in fans.

The leader board may tell us something about changes in brand perception over time, but that remains to be seen as data collected builds. If anything, much of what we see today with fans on Facebook are a few isolated large-scale marketing campaigns designed to get people to fan (e.g. Honda’s recent Everybody Loves a Honda campaign) and mostly it shows brands with very high socially acceptable brand association. What I mean by the latter is that people are likely to fan brands like Porsche, Aston Martin, Audi and Mercedes-Benz because they are highly aspirational brands that people want to align themselves with in their social network. It’s very socially acceptable to say I’m a fan of Porsche than say a Kia.

Fan Counts: Marketing or Organic Social Acceptance

Current fan counts tell us more about social braggadocios behavior and big campaign pushes to get fans. The largest fanned brand on Facebook is Ferrari at 681,329 fans as of 12/1/09. Lamborghini used to have 823,776 fans back on 9/14/09, but they have since revived their brand page and are rebuilding at a new count of 241,257. I decided not to include the super car brands because they skew the data too much when looking against the main automotive brands and finding correlations with sales. What the Ferrari, Lamborghini and, yes even, Porsche brands tell us about fanning on Facebook is that highly aspirational products will grow organically.

Audi and Mercedes both show a high count of fans. They too are aspirational brands. Three brands that are not as aspirational are Jeep, VW, and Honda all of which have very high fan counts.

VW recently ran the first ever Facebook fan campaign when they launched their “Meet the VWs” effort last May. Honda followed their lead with the “Everybody Loves a Honda” campaign that ran TV ads, online media (in and out of Facebook) and email marketing communications promoting the idea of going to Honda’s Facebook page. The Honda effort began last August and went full speed in September and October. They went from 22,806 fans in 9/14/09 to 262,435 fans by about the time the media ended, resulting in 1,050% increase in fans!

I wish I had more historical data on Jeep. I know they did a lot of early Facebook applications like Boostin’ Nuts and did a lot of outreach to their online communities. They were also one of the best-organized automotive brands on Facebook. Facebook used to give brands much more customization of the brand pages and before that changed this year, Jeep was one of the best examples of Facebook marketing on a brand page. I’m guessing most of their growth came when they were early adopters of the platform, but that is a guess as I don’t have the numbers.

The remaining brands are all over the place. Some brands advertise a lot on Facebook – Lexus, Cadillac, Chevy, Infiniti and Acura to name a few. Most brands also advertise nameplates like Ford with Mustang and Fusion. Chevy has done a lot promoting the Camaro and Cadillac SRX. One of the biggest jumps in fans comes from Volvo this past month with a 57% increase, attributable to their What Drives Edward campaign aligned with the Twilight: New Moon film.

Fan numbers for non-aspirational sports car or luxury brands have more to do with advertising on Facebook to attract fans to their pages on the site. I’ve seen this happen a few times in watching this closely since early September. For example Chevy and Cadillac have been running several ads on Facebook this past month and have seen nice jumps of 50% and 84% since the prior month. Kia also saw a major gain of 111%, attributed most likely to their latest campaign for the new Forte.

HUMMER is the most intriguing here. The brand has basically no marketing presence and was recently bought by the Chinese firm Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Corp. back in October. Fortunately they did have some events that helped their social visibility, like Rod Hall Racing winning with a H3 at Baja 1000 last month.

Nick Richards, HUMMER Manager of Public Relations, shared,"The HUMMER Facebook fan page, which was only started 8 weeks ago, has likely benefited from recent promotions and active outreach on the part of the HUMMER social media team to existing global HUMMER Club members."

MINI is a special case too as they just recently switched from promoting their MINI USA Facebook fan page to a global MINI fan page. The brand has been building up their fan base on the new page since the move a couple months ago.

I’ve noticed whenever there are double-digit jumps in a brand’s fans it is because of marketing and I wish I could see spend to fan increase, but no one will give me their marketing budget numbers; though, to be fair, I really haven’t asked…

In Summary

So I’ll post this data on a monthly interval for all to see. Consider it my blog’s version of Autoblog’s “By the Numbers”. Hope you find it useful and please let me know what you’d like to know from these numbers?

I do plan on comparing fans to changes in market share, how product launches may affect fans, major brand advertising campaigns, or other similar comparisons to see if any correlation exists or to see how a particular campaign is impacting fan trend.

Thanks for reading and I hope this becomes a useful exercise worth reading and tracking.

Download the Excel file: Facebook Auto Fan File

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Beyond Mud: Jeep Spreads Its Brand Wings

After seeing the “I am Ram” commercial the day of Chrysler’s grueling 8-hour media event, I thought maybe Chrysler was done – time to stick a fork in it. Fortunately, the Jeep brand’s version of “I am…” is remarkably impressive and really hits the mark.

Three spots have debuted for the “I am Jeep” campaign. The first is a nod to people who don’t just passively watch life happen in front a TV set, like I am right now as I type this and watch Always Sunny In Philadelphia. “I live. I ride. I am.” mocks the social behavior of non-Jeep people by demonstrating how passive a lot of lives are as TV screens show active lifestyles while no one is in the room, a subtle way to show Jeep owners are out doing the adventurous not watching it. It's a bit different than the atypical muddy trail ride expected from Jeep's marketing team.

“It’s Only Hair” is a more whimsical extension of Jeep’s brand identity. With women as roughly 40% of Jeep buyers, it certainly reaches a significant demographic. In the ad, several women are getting extensive salon styling work done only to hop into their Jeeps and let the open air destroy the hairstylists' work. The appeal is of interest for either gender as it knocks the vanity of our society, something that has a greater appeal than just catering to off-road drivers. The ad is "rugged", but not in the stereotypical dirt and trail way yet still hits a core brand attribute - carefree living.

The only strange part about the “It’s Only Hair” commercial is the 1970’s sitcom music track that is a bit trite; even though, it is an obvious nod at the ridiculous score of most salon product ads. Unfortunately, it’s a bit too distracting and causes the spot to lose some of its punch by being too cutesy in its execution.

Some may argue the spots lack product communication and may be too much of an emotional, lifestyle message. However, it is important to note that, at this time, product is Jeep’s weakness. They are in a product lull and need to rebuild the image while attracting more than just their hardcore enthusiasts to the brand. Reminding people what Jeep stands for is a great way to generate interest while not doing the expected tearing up of sand dunes. The brand is obviously hoping this less-rugged approach will broaden appeal.

According to Automotive News, "Jeep research found that only 30 percent of consumers are interested in true off-roading, so the brand aims to appeal to both its traditional 'adventurers' and 'dreamers', a larger group of people who are time-constrained by family and work, who want authentic gear with the hope that one day they'll be able to do more and dream less.'"

In attempt to appeal to the time-constrained Jeep consumer, “Clocks” is the other commercial that unfortunately is a bit weak when compared to the other two spots. It does encapsulate the same message and is connected to the campaign idea; however, it just lacks a bit of the charm of “It’s Only Hair” or the pulse of “I live. I ride. I am.”

The enthusiasts are not fans of the new spots, but it's really not for them. This is about extending the brand, not entrenching it. Most enthusiast forum members had things like this to say, "The concept is good, but instead of showing coffee makers, clocks, TV's it should have shown the Jeep out in nature while saying those things and then it would be perfect. Without knowing this was a Jeep commercial I was expecting it will end up with an insurance ad or about a new high tech cell phone."

Overall the campaign is interesting and while it may not appeal much to the trail seeking Jeep owner, it has another agenda to extend the joie de vivre Jeep ownership brings to those who may be intrigued to join the club. With not a lot to talk about product-wise until the new Jeep Grand Cherokee arrives in Summer 2010, this campaign is a good strategic move as the brand repairs some scars after a brutal 2009.

UPDATE from Bloomberg News 12/4/2009
: Seems the Jeep dealers are not too happy about the brand's direction and are calling for "the company to pull new television ads and restore regional marketing budgets."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Toyota's Latest Social Efforts Absent of Cars

I was doing my typical evening browsing of the New York Times website, catching up on Paul Krugman’s latest rant about the financial crisis when I noticed a large Toyota ad telling me, “We See Ways to Enrich the Community.” So I did what apparently only 16% of the online population does, I clicked through the advertisement.

The ad led to Toyota’s Beyond Cars website which features a new brand campaign showcasing how Toyota is a company not only interested in building customers bland, reliable cars. No Toyota is all about making a positive difference in the environment, economy, and communities we all live in.

Site visitors are asked to share how they “see beyond today to a better tomorrow” after being told that Toyota has built over 1 million hybrid vehicles.

The “Beyond Cars” campaign commercials talk about urban gardening and about Toyota’s program to educate teens to be safer drivers. It’s your typical good corporate citizenship videos that could’ve been done by any Fortune 500 company. Some additional posts by the company mention other charitable activities by the company.

All of this is typical corporate responsibility marketing. There is nothing really that compelling or memorable about it. Nor is there any communication about Toyota products so it is true to its message; it’s definitely beyond talking cars.

User engagement is typical when there is little to no consumer benefit to share. Visitors to the site shared 29 photos, 2 videos and 22 written comments when I looked a week after finding the site. Since there is no incentive to share content, the content submission numbers are inline with similar examples I’ve seen.

It’s also quite clear from reading most of the comments from visitors, assuming most are not from Toyota employees or the marketing agency staff, that people are sharing ways to impact the environment. Perhaps most of the media buy is targeting green-minded consumers. Of course all of the content is monitored by Toyota so perhaps they are keeping comments from visitors to the intent of the site.

The odd thing is that the interface borrows from the Facebook interface, allowing visitors to “Like” ideas or submit a post to the wall. I wonder why they didn’t bring this implementation into a social community like Facebook instead of creating a custom website. Seems to me the ideas could’ve spread more easily through an interface that provides the behaviors the Toyota site is trying to replicate.

Meanwhile, Toyota is promoting a Prius Facebook application asking people to “Tag your friends on a picture of an animal herd.” Huh? Yeah, that’s what I wondered after installing the latest Prius social media app called “Random Acts of Prius.”

People earn points by accepting and passing on a random act. Acts include “skip once today instead of walking”; “refrain from sad emoticons today, use only smileys”; and “write a poem and put it on the fridge.” I wonder if I can earn my points if I just post William Carlos Williams “This is just to say” to my fridge?

The real question is who came up with these acts and more importantly why would I share it in my social network? Plus I’m not sure how any of this relates back to the Prius.

The one thing that is well done on the application is that it does attempt to be conversational and give Facebook users a way to engage within their network in a method that is natural to the community. And while I may not get the humor in the acts, some others may find the odd acts as a fun way to pass on unusual content.

The application does miss on communicating out to one’s news feed on Facebook. It never asks me to “Publish” anything I do. So that leaves all communications limited to whoever the user selects to send an act to, meanwhile no other friends see the activity and the application loses exposure to the rest of that person's network.

It’s unclear whether the Prius Facebook application and the Beyond Cars site are related. It is clear that both implementations have nothing to do with cars.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Testimonial Advertising: Let Your Customer Sing Your Praises

Customer testimonials are all the rage right now. From Ford to Porsche, it seems every segment is featuring real customers sharing their experiences with their cars. There is a long history of this approach in automotive advertising, in fact all advertising. Why? Because it is seen as authentic and a way for people to see real people express their happiness with a purchase they made, so that if potential customers see this enthusiasm, they too will want to share in a similar exuberance and make the same purchase.

I see nothing really wrong with this approach. It is a bit more interesting than watching a grey-haired executive meander through an office building saying why he believes in the company that is paying him.

Customer testimonials ads are kind of like the traditional media example of user generated content. Sure it’s not exactly the same, but the concept is similar. You are letting real people share their real story about your brand. There is no corporate speak and the opinions are honest.

The biggest argument against this approach is that the brand has obviously cherry-picked their customer testimonials, unlike true user generated content online where you can find the good, the bad and the so-so. Naturally, campaigns using real customer experiences always focus on the good ones and consumers know this.

It’s all about the selection. I’m sure I can find a good number of people who are happy about buying the car with the worst quality rating in the industry that will speak to their flawless vehicle or the most hideous styled car owners who are willing to say it looks great. That’s the best part of controlling the conversation; you can edit your choices. It’s essentially the TV ad equivalent of moderating online conversation.

Everyone is doing it right now, even the company with the grey-haired executive. GM launched the Faces of GM this summer that features real owners and employees who give a “face” to GM. One extended video that was advertised on Facebook, has a new owner who sold her previous BMW 5-series and bought a Cadillac CTS.

Ford (our primary client at Team Detroit, the company I work for) recently launched a brand campaign for Drive One that features ads with real owners sharing their favorite features of Ford cars. An article from Business Week explains the concept best, “the people in the ads are real. They were drafted to be in focus groups. They were not asked until after all the video was shot if they would be willing to have the footage used in ads.”

Another example is one from Porsche that seeks Porsche Stories from real owners. This effort for the Porsche Panamera launch site, asks visitors to share their Porsche Story. But this effort isn’t so much about new product experiences; rather, it is about the passion Porsche enthusiasts and owners have for the brand. Porsche is doing this to show the Panamera is just another “branch on the family tree.” Essentially it showcases the community Porsche owners become a part of, even the ones who may show up to a Porsche event in a ridiculed 4-door monstrosity.

So if you own a car don’t be surprised if someone from the marketing department wants you to share your story online or maybe even invites you to star in a commercial. Testimonial advertising is making a strong comeback and is becoming a way for traditional media to play in the social media sharing that is going on today. Sure it’s not true social media sharing, but it is using the premise of consumers talking about your brand in an open and honest way, even if it is edited.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chrysler Joins the Up-market Movement

Here we go again… Chrysler wants to become a luxury brand. Fiat is seeing the Chrysler brand “competing in the luxury space,” according to a recent article in US News & World Report.

This isn’t the first time, nor the last time, that a non-luxury brand will try to move into the luxury segment. Volkswagen was the most recent example of a brand that wanted to move up-market by bringing products like the VW Phaeton to dealerships that also served the needs of Beatle and Golf owners. VW’s former CEO Ferdinand Piech wanted to bring VW into the luxury segment with the Phaeton. The Phaeton, a $70-$100k boat of a sedan, left the States after two years of dismal sales; though, there are some rumors VW is going to try it again.

One of the big lessons VW gave the industry is that luxury isn’t about wood grain trim and chrome rings around every dial. No, luxury is about cache and service two things VW lacked. Sure a Jetta has some cache for a recent college graduate, but when you are 40 years old and still driving a Jetta it doesn’t exactly scream you are a successful business tycoon.

Please don’t get me wrong the Jetta is an excellent car and what you drive has little do with your success, for example Jeff Bezos CEO of Amazon drives an old Honda Accord. My point is more about the perceived lift a luxury brand gives its consumer and while pulling up in VW is nothing to be ashamed of it doesn’t carry the same social obnoxiousness of pulling up in a Mercedes, an obnoxiousness people will pay a premium for.

The problem brands like VW and Chrysler have with trying to become a luxury brand is that they see their products as having similar attributes of luxury cars: wood grain, premium leather, and advanced technologies all the things that a BMW or Mercedes is doing with their products. And while the gap of what makes a luxury car luxury is certainly diminished today, the whole perception issue has more to do with luxury than a car’s materials or wiring.

Part of the confusion is how far mass market cars have come in only a few short years. Take for instance the photo at right showing the 2002 Lexus GS and 2010 Ford Taurus interiors. Which one is the luxury car and which isn’t? The Taurus looks far more upscale than the Lexus from only a few years ago, but no one would consider Ford a luxury brand.

Whether a brand deserves to be luxury or not is irrelevant. Exclusivity is a big part of being a luxury brand and a lot of that has to do with higher pricing which by definition excludes others from purchase. But you just can’t slap a $5,000 increase on the sticker and say you’re luxury. If it only it were that simple.

“Perceived value—through quality of design, materials, and manufacture—is another key component of the luxury goods equation,” writes Harvard Business School’s Julia Hanna whose article “Luxury Isn’t What It Used to Be” describes luxury’s changing landscape. The key word here is “perceived” and changing people’s minds to perceive your brand as luxury can waste a considerable amount of marketing dollars, product ideas and time. Chrysler might have an easier time convincing Boston Red Sox fans to root for the Yankees, than trying to take their brand "a notch above Lincoln, a notch above Cadillac.”

It will be interesting to see how Chrysler goes about pulling this off. Another mass-market brand, Hyundai, will be trying the same thing at the same time as they introduce a $60k plus car, the Equus in 2010.

Hyundai, which is becoming a formidable competitor to Toyota (read the Auto Extremist for more on that), has definitely improved its product line with the recent Genesis sedan and coupe, but the Equus will be the ultimate test at redefining the Hyundai brand.

One issue Hyundai and Chrysler will both have to consider is the importance service has on luxury automotive branding. VW had a big issue meeting the needs of Phaeton consumers who had to share service bays with lower end consumers and a VW service staff that wasn’t used to meeting the expectations of luxury owners.

As a personal anecdote, I used to own a Chrysler and can attest it will take a large investment to bring my local Chrysler dealership up to the same standards as the Lexus and BMW dealerships I now frequent. Service waiting area, dealership showroom and most importantly the service employees’ customer attention all need addressing. All of this is part of becoming a luxury brand and before any brand perception can change, customer service needs to be a cornerstone of the transition, more than body panel fit and finish.

Chrysler may be sourcing some products from the European Lancia brand as part of their relationship with Fiat. Lancia is a virtually unknown brand in the States and not a luxury brand in Europe, but the Lancias are seen as a more premium line in the Fiat family. Perhaps Chrysler can convince U.S. consumers that these new European products are luxury models that deserve luxury cache and hopefully luxury price tags.

We shall learn more come November 4 when Chrysler will announce its Five-Year Business Plan. Until then, Chrysler will continue to be a mass-market brand ready to leap into the challenges of brand reconstruction. Good luck.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Saab Seeks New Perspective but Misses Defining It


One of the things I love about following the automotive marketing industry is all of the odd things that end up on automotive websites. The latest unusual creative execution comes from Saab who launched the “Change Your Perspective” brand site that incorporates a lonely moose on the side of road where you can alternate the seasons. The best part is that the moose just stands there and wiggles its ears. I wish I had thought of incorporating a wiggling ear moose into one of my projects; though it’s still nowhere near as weird as Kia’s Turtlecock creative execution.

I found this site through the design site The FWA: Favourite Website Awards. The site features all kinds of interesting, creative sites that may or may not be the best way to communicate a product or company; rather, sites are recognized for being the best in “cutting edge web site design.”

The Saab site is an interesting one in that it isn’t selling a car; it is selling a brand. Brand marketing is all about communicating the feeling a brand is supposed to encapsulate when people think about the brand,. Think of it as defining a brand. Often this is done in a few memorable words. Think “The Pursuit of Perfection” for Lexus, “The Ulitmate Driving Machine” for BMW, or even “Zoom Zoom” for Mazda.

So how is Saab defining its emotional connection to customers with this brand site?

Change Perspective is the key message here. It’s sort of a variation on Apple’s “Think Different” and designed to get people to think of Saab as unique. Since Saab is undergoing a separation from General Motors and is returning to its Swedish roots, with the brand’s acquisition by Koenigsegg, perhaps the concept is to get people to think of Saab again as the quirky Swedish automobile maker the brand was before GM came in and started sharing platforms and taking away some of the oddness of Saab’s products. This is just a guess on my part, but it seems likely that Saab wants to be seen again as an unusual alternative in a crowded automotive marketplace and their history has some brand equity to do such a thing.

So how is the site communicating the uniqueness of Saab? I already mentioned the incorporation of a wiggling ear moose, isn’t that enough? Seriously, the site focuses on a few messages: Driving, Safety, Fuel, Heritage and Power and then talks to each message as Past, Present and Future.

Let’s look at the Driving section. There is some mention of the racing heritage and Saab’s declaration that they improve the how of getting to point A to B in the Past messaging. Present mentions the addition of the all-wheel drive system that was recently added to the 9-3 (9-3x was released in March 2008) and 9-5 models, while the Future talks about a new 3D-graphics display that brings all of the information to driver in a better method.

Feedback is presented under each Future page’s descriptive text asking, “What do you think?” Clicking on the link brings the visitor to various quizzes asking what you want Saab to focus on or what kind of technology you find most useful in a car. Results are returned with quantity of those who voted and how they voted.

None of the information communicates any sort of “changed perspective” and falls flat on effectively communicating the uniqueness and special ness Saab--the brand--brings to its products. In fact, the fun of owning a Saab has more to do with the ignition switch in the center console, the turbo engine, and the rarity of them producing a 5-door hatchback in the luxury segment. Unfortunately, the only unique thing that remains now is the ignition switch in the center console. A lot of companies now produce turbo engines and GM Saab recently ditched the hatchback design.

Unfortunately, none of the content areas of the site show anything you wouldn’t expect General Motors, Volkswagen, or Toyota to be talking about. There is no Think Different or originality probably because the products are still from the General Motors days and the impact of Koenigsegg is years away.

Still Beautiful

Meanwhile the site is quite beautiful with some amazing graphics and gorgeous animations. The text though is a bit difficult to read in its grey color and small type. Navigation is simple, yet some elements seem out of place.

For example the site isn’t about low-funnel shopping (see purchase funnel image at right), yet somehow expects its visitors to jump from upper-funnel brand communications to “Book a Test Drive”, the highest priority link in the global navigation.

You can also “Tell a Friend” about the site but there is nothing that establishes a relationship with you and the brand. The absence of a Stay Connected/Get Updates or something similar is missing. Seems a brand would want to reconnect with people who experience this site, even if they are not in-market for a car. Plus why not build your CRM database to communicate the new Saab when the Koenigsegg impact is felt in the products?


I do like the look of the site a lot. I think it is warm and quite beautiful. Unfortunately, the warmth isn’t enough to get people to change their perspective about Saab. In fact, it’s unclear what feeling is being changed and what it is supposed to change to. So while the graphics are nicely done, the messaging and upper-funnel awareness behaviors are lacking and leave this to be another FWA site that is a showcase for the creatives, but not much else.

Friday, September 25, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 7, 2009

"New Chrysler" Equals More Brands

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

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

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

Dodge Ram is what defines Dodge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Toyota Prius Undefined

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Chrysler Rebuilds in Its Rubble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Chevy Debuts New Site with Some Unthought-Out Clutter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Honda’s Brand Image Campaign Begins with Failure

Scientists talking about teleportation and magnetic levitation -- is there still room for such lofty brand building campaigns in a depressed automotive market? This is what the New York Times asks about a new marketing push from Honda.

Honda: Dream The Impossible

Honda says it is a campaign “focused on [their] values as a company.” The intro video talks about how it takes failure to get to success. Seems if this worked we wouldn’t need automotive industry bailouts and GM would be the most successful company ever.

Company engineers, designers, and executives share their optimism and enthusiasm for Honda as a company. To keep interest from waning, the film producers also found it best to include some celebrities like Danica Patrick, Christopher Guest and science fiction writer Orson Scott Card., not exactly people that generate a lot of buzz, but still better than an engineer talking.

The whole effort is an attempt to raise brand favorability. What seems odd about this is that Honda is a very successful brand that obviously put this work together in late 2008 before anyone expected a big drop off in industry sales. In fact, Honda was having a pretty successful sales lead when people started dumping SUVs and looking for fuel-efficient cars as an alternative lifting sales of the Civic without any need for brand marketing.

Perhaps this is Honda’s attempt to be positive and show how struggle can lead to positive things, a much better approach than Dunkin Donuts trying to communicate a “Kin Do” attitude.

I really don’t think much about these brand-lifting campaigns (see the Lexus L/Studio blog entry,) especially when they are more about the company talking to itself than its customers and this series by Honda suffers this issue. There is very little about product or expanding my knowledge about Honda’s products. Instead I’m left listening to some pretty boring diatribes on inner self and trying things over and over again, you know the kind of stuff that makes you feel good about buying a Honda lawnmower or $35,000 SUV.

The web site must be at an early stage as it allows users to browse the content. Today that content is three documentary videos: Mobility 2008, Kick Out the Ladder, and Failure: The Secret to Success. You can filter content using 12 content filter types and by most popular (I’m guessing that would be what ever video plays as the intro) and recently updated. That’s it. There is no other content on the site other than Subscribe and Share links in the top navigation.