When the world’s largest car manufacturer, General Motors, decided to ‘unlike’ Facebook advertising recently industry pundits began to wonder aloud whether this spelt the end of the car industry’s love affair with social media. The truth, as ever, is far from what the headlines may suggest. With reports placing car brands as the third most discussed category on social media websites the industry simply cannot afford to ignore it. Car brands account for 17% of all postings and trail only behind consumer electronics (30%) and fashion/retail (20%).
Social media is already a significant driver of car sales. There are many innovative campaigns that have already created buzz, sparked interest, converted sceptics and delivered customers to new car dealers UK and international forecourts.
GM pulled the plug on its $10m annual advertising account with Facebook just days before the first public offering of shares in the social media site. Whilst significant in terms of revenue to Facebook ($10m), and in terms of a poorly timed loss of face, it looks like GM’s social media advertising revenue will be ploughed back into content creation and promotion for the company’s Facebook presence. It is estimated that the annual budget allocated by GM to Facebook alone is in the region of $30m. The company’s commitment to social media content was clarified at the time when a source explained that
“In terms of Facebook specifically, while we currently do not plan to continue with advertising, we remain committed to an aggressive content strategy through all of our products and brands, as it continues to be a very effective tool for engaging with our customers.”
Indeed it does. In its engagement with the social media audience the car industry has had some significant successes and produced some creative triumphs. Here are some highlights from recent campaigns.
Ford Fiesta’s Movement
Ford created a real sense of anticipation for the arrival of its Fiesta to the US market by simply placing it in the hands of 100 young adult ‘agents’ and letting them ‘lifestream’ their experiences whilst setting them Big Brother-esque monthly missions to blog about. The Movement campaign resulted in 500,000 YouTube views, 70,000 Flickr views and 10.7 million Twitter impressions are one measure of the success of a campaign that also garnered local and national media coverage.
Ford have also used the drip-drip capabilities of social media to keep older fans in the loop and involved in the development of new models. Hatchback fans were treated to continual sneak peeks, lavished with test drive videos and kept informed of step-by-step developments during the production phase of the Focus ST. The result saw more than Ford’s Facebook page reach over 300,000 registered Likes.
Nissan’s most innovative year ever
Erich Marx, a Marketing Director for Nissan, is ensuring that social media will be a significant component of Nissan North America’s five car launches this year. He comments that in the company’s self-proclaimed most innovative year ever
“social media has to be a responsible part of [the] media package. You have to be there. It’s not about ROI, it’s about COI– cost of ignoring. It’s too big to ignore. The expectation of owners and fans of being able to interact with the brand is set in stone.”
Zuum, an internet venture that tracks Facebook engagement for the leisure and car industries suggests that Nissan currently secure the highest consumer-engagement percentage on its brand page of any car manufacturer. And, with the social media marketing engine still in low gear the brand page is already registering nearly one million likes.
The coming year will see the launch of Innovation Garage as an interactive space on the Altima Facebook brand page. Here consumers can offer up their own car concepts for possible development by Nissan and discuss them with other enthusiasts. Other campaigns will leverage the appeal of football and comedy to drive viral take-up and the now industry standard test drive video competitions will try to emulate Ford’s success.
From modern game app sponsorship to old-school nostalgic pastiche car campaigns have used gaming as a fertile ground for their campaigns. Honda supported the launch of its hybrid CR-Z sports car through sponsorship and advertising that featured in the actual gameplay of Facebook app Car Town. Other companies have looked backwards rather than forwards. The Smart car’s hilarious real life Pong game with cars is designed to showcase the vehicle’s quick manoeuvrability and does so in a memorable and quirky way.
Meanwhile Ford wryly demonstrates the benefits of its Active Park Assist through a Parisian-parking-as-pinball-game video.
Money where the mouth is
In terms of share of spend Mitsubishi are the only car manufacturer to so far match the level of talk about the importance of social media with an equivalent spend. The i electric car has been launched this year with fifty per cent of its budget ring fenced for digital and online marketing, compared to the usual ten to fifteen per cent.
Home is where the car is
In the UAE recent reports suggest that over a quarter of all car sales are directly influenced by opinions appearing on blogs, forums and other social media. Expats arriving in the Gulf region have two big purchases to make on arrival: a house and a car. Nissan in Dubai linked up with the biggest hose selling site to integrate smart ads that delivered the most suitable Nissan model according to someone’s house search and offered a free pick-up and test drive to view the house of their dreams at a time of their choice.
A driving force
With more spend, more creativity and more attention given to its importance, social media is already a driving force behind product launches, brand identity and relationship forming campaigns for car manufacturers globally. As the car marketeers would have it the Cost of Ignoring it is just too high.
About the author
Matthew Fidge works on behalf of WLMG, who own a chain of Nissan, Peugeot, Hyundai, Mazda, Fiat and Kia car dealerships near London. He writes regularly about the things he loves: cars, travel, all things green and all things social.