Touch Me, Drive Me

Auto advertisers have been trying to figure out what to do with the iPad in recent months. The default modes seem to be either to mimic a magazine or mimic a video site. I am sure there are already (or coming soon) branded car racing games of the sort that made the VW GTI launch last year famous. But so far, the auto-zines on the iPad I have seen only hint at ways to do what should be a no-brainer: engage a touch interface to sell a car.  

In most cases so far the branded iPad car efforts target brand enthusiasts rather than in-market buyers. The BMW "magazine" is exactly that, a digitized version of a custom publishing effort with too few multimedia or touch enhancements to wake me out of an iPad swiping stupor. The text-heavy affair alternates between lifestyle articles aimed at the high-end aspiring reader and pieces about BMW cars. Whatever multimedia elements are in the book are so poorly cued visually it is easy to miss all of them. This is the kind of thing you only read when trapped in a 737 after the laptop battery died, you've finished the bestselling novel, you've napped twice -- and San Francisco is still two hours away.  



BMW's sister brand Mini is equally unimaginative in its MiniTV app, which merely aggregates the latest videos associated with the line. This is not a wholly bad idea, since Mini has novel TV spots, especially in the European market, with interesting event sponsorships and brand celebrations worldwide to chronicle. But it is a barren app with little explanatory material.

The missed opportunity here is that Mini already has a branding effort around "Mini Space" that celebrates efficient use of space in all aspects of design. Just imagine how that idea could translate to a creative execution on a large touch-platform like the iPad. I don't need a focus group or demographic study to know that Mini owners must map well against iPad owners. Because they are me: middle-aged males who covet offbeat design, likely gadgeteers with early adopter written all over them. I say this as a devoted Mini owner: Someone over there, get with the program and make a touch app worthy of the brand!  

As a branding vehicle (pun intended), VW's early iPad magazine "Das" comes closer to engaging both existing VW customers and potential ones. I have seen little mention of it in the mobile marketing coverage, and VW itself has not followed up with a second issue.

'Tis a pity. There are good ideas here. The "magazine" actually opens with a compelling video perspective of people circling around looking toward you. You come to see that you are the car and the object of their gaze. The user can change views on the activity and ultimately see what everyone is looking at. Talk about a creative way of anthropomorphizing an object. It extends the fun TV campaign of the talking VW, but in an enormously effective way.

The entire production also communicates the brand's legacy of creativity. We get an archive of great VW ads. Each page assembles itself on screen and has very clean but clear visual cues about what to do to activate sound and video. The text is kept sparse or elective, so the user chooses when to dip in for greater depth while the surface of the app is kept simple and clean. The "Das" app is not trying to recreate a test drive or a feature by feature product walkthrough, but it is making the auto brand fun and friendly and intriguing.  

It is the touch aspect, or lack thereof, that puzzles me about the auto apps I have seen. What do most of us do in a car showroom but check the fit of a potential car? You walk around it, touch the upholstery, grab the steering wheel, sit in the seat, check visibility -- try it on. Granted, these are tactile experiences that can't translate exactly to a smart phone or tablet app. But touch is one of the key senses any auto buyer activates. Someone should be putting it front and center in the branded app experience.

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