Focus on ad:tech: Online Game Sells Ford's 'Green' SUV

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Targeting the environmentally conscious in an online ad campaign won more than 1,000 Internet orders for Ford Motor Co.'s 2006 Mercury Mariner Hybrid SUV.


The Dearborn, MI, automaker reached the milestone after running ads on highly trafficked venues like Yahoo, Google, MSN, Edmunds.com, CBSNews.com and the sites of environment-friendly organizations like the Sierra Club and National Geographic.


Ford's ads ran in July and August, supported by online newsletters, CD handouts at auto shows and a debut at the Sierra Club National Environmental Convention and Expo Sept. 9 in San Francisco. Production of the Mariner Hybrid began in October.


The marketing pointed to www.marinerhybrid.com and the site's Mercury Mariner MyDrive Game. The game shows the many ways drivers can maximize fuel efficiency from a hybrid vehicle by altering their driving behavior and patterns.


"We wanted to give a fun way of explaining the features of the Hybrid," said Tom Bentley, vice president and digital account director at Lincoln Mercury agency Wunderman Detroit. "It's just an engaging way. We know that our hybrid consumers are looking to the Web not only for information, but also for entertainment."


The interactive game shows the Mercury Mariner Hybrid, costing $30,000 and up, in urban and suburban settings with three levels of play to unearth eco-driving tips.


For example, the player is taught to keep plenty of distance to slow the vehicle to a stop. Hybrid vehicles can recapture energy during braking, which is known as regenerative braking. Extending the period of deceleration by cutting the rate in which a vehicle slows will store more energy in the high-voltage battery.


The player also learns that aggressive driving lowers fuel efficiency because of quick acceleration and deceleration. Driving at a constant speed also helps. So does driving at a reasonable speed: Traveling at 60 mph uses 20 percent less fuel than driving at 70 mph.


Other tips imparted while playing include keeping the wheels aligned, using a recommended engine oil, regular maintenance, properly inflating tires and storing hybrid vehicles in a garage to curb the fluctuation on storage temperature. These pointers are offered to the player by enacting online three day-to-day activities: mailing a letter at the post office, picking up dry cleaning and getting takeout at a restaurant.


The game serves an important purpose because the Mercury Mariner Hybrid - the automaker's second after the Ford Escape Hybrid - is unlike most cars. For one, the vehicle uses both gas and electricity.


"Our hybrid gets you better gas mileage in the city, theoretically, than on the highway," Bentley said. "Normally, with the technology [inside], when you're coming to a stop, the regenerative brakes charge up your battery. There's more start and stop in the city and less on the highway."


Preliminary data show that the Mercury Mariner Hybrid offers 33 miles per gallon in the city and 29 on the highway. But Ford notes that mileage varies based on the consumer's driving habits.


Those details are listed on the same Web page showing a shot of the SUV sandwiched between clear, blue skies and a lush green expanse. The accompanying headline states: "Say goodbye to frequent fill-ups. Say hello to a greener earth."


Consumers then can click on a button that invites them to design and reserve their Mariner Hybrid. Once in that microsite, they can choose from the listed packages, equipment options and interior and exterior colors.


Once this exercise is complete, the vehicle's final price is shown, after which consumers enter their ZIP code and select a dealer. A Mercury personal consultant promises to call within eight business hours to complete the pre-order process and reserve the vehicle. Some dealers may require a deposit.


Consumers who wish to receive product information and special offers from Lincoln Mercury can sign up for e-mail updates on the same contact details page.


Bentley is convinced this online-focused launch was a right fit for Ford's answer to rising gas prices and a growing demand for green vehicles.


"We know the hybrid audience," he said. "This individual is highly educated, but it's a tech-savvy audience and they're ecologically motivated. We're asking ourselves: Would a regular TV commercial satisfy these individuals? Where do they search for information? Online."


Mickey Alam Khan covers Internet marketing campaigns and e-commerce, agency news as well as circulation for DM News and DMNews.com. To keep up with the latest developments in these areas, subscribe to our daily and weekly e-mail newsletters by visiting www.dmnews.com/newsletters


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