3 Key Moments in Automotive’s Drive Toward Digital

Perhaps because of the high-consideration purchase aspect of the automotive business, carmakers are traditional mass marketers who’ve increased their digital media investments in noticeable fashion. This week’s news produced two indications that their digital  pedals remain fixed to the metal. Toyota Corolla was one of four global brands riding along with the launch of the Google+Post social ad service, and Adconion Direct announced it was launching a new practice focused on the automotive sector. Adconion presently creates cross-channel campaigns for Mercedes, Chrysler, Fiat, and Porsche.

Named to head Adconion’s auto unit was agency veteran Raj Gill, who has helped launch some 20 new car models for Ford and Chevy over the past 10 years, the last five of them with WPP’s Team Detroit unit. Gill estimates that anywhere from 20% to 40% of auto manufacturer marketing budgets are currently devoted to digital media, and predicts it will continue to rise.

“The difference in automotive marketing over the past few years is that digital is part of the conversation in everything we do,” Gill says.  “All executions are created with digital in mind, because from a marketing perspective we have to be concerned with being on the right screen at the right time. The change is being driven by consumer consumption of media.”

Here are three key events in the automotive industry’s drive to digital marketing methods, according to Gill:

The Ford Fiesta Movement.  Automotive marketers today, among them Toyota USA Director of Social Media Monica Peterson, are apt to say they are desirous of talking with consumers and not at them. This 2010 campaign had a car manufacturer out embracing brand ambassadors and telling their stories to the world. Ford called them “agents” and gave Fiestas to 100 of them across the nation to use for six months. To create content for consumers to follow, Ford gave the agents missions to complete in their vehicles. “The Ford Fiesta Movement took into consideration the cross-channel impact of TV, mobile, video, display, and social elements. It exemplified the shift towards digital as a keystone,” Gill says. “It also proved that people are consuming content in different social spaces.”

The 2011 Ford Explorer reveal on Facebook. This broke the age-old mold of pulling a sheet off a new model at an auto show or other physical event. “What was special about this particular campaign was it drove the engagement of an important audience segment for this particular automaker in a new way,” Gill notes. “It recognized the growing movement in social media and the need to be in the middle of the conversation online.”

Chevy Sonic dropped from an airplane. Combining  both mass and digital media, this 2011 campaign–which also dropped the entry-level compact from a platform–went viral and generated online and offline buzz among young, action-loving target customers. “It was bold and huge, lively and daring. It helped break the barrier to entry in the market for the existing and new Chevy audiences,“ Gill says. “It was important because it was one of the first examples of an automotive company creating sharable, viral type of content which in turn helped drive more views  to reach Millennials.”

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