Mayer Hawthorne might seem like a sweet-faced young crooner weaned on the soul-drenched ballads of early Motown. But for Mazda, the friendly and food-fixated singer is a social media content machine.
Early this year, the team behind the subcompact 2011 Mazda2 went prowling for riveting content for their social media marketing campaign. Their target: Gen Y car buyers with an independent streak. "It had to fit some need, some passion," says Chris Bretschger, the company's North America social media manager. "We don't believe in content for its own sake."
Research showed the passion was music - in particular, emerging artists perveived as being on the verge of greatness. Working with youth-marketing expert Josh Levine and his agency, Rebel Industries, Mazda organized a 32-stop national concert tour and companion social media program with Hawthorne and his band, The County. It's one of the brand's most ambitious online efforts to date and, along with TV, is the main thrust of the 2011 Mazda2 launch. It also casts the brand as the patron of an emerging artist.
"That role is very powerful to fans," says Levine. "These consumers don't care about a sponsor that just puts up a banner at a concert by an A-list artist." Indeed, some see Madison Avenue as becoming the new record label. Sneaker maker Converse, for instance, is building a recording studio in Brooklyn for struggling bands and letting them record for free.
Mazda picked Hawthorne more for his charisma and boyish charm then his retro-style music. "We were looking for someone with a positive attitude and easy way of interacting with both sexes," says Bretschger. The artist had to have a personality that embodied "what the brand wants to be."
In late September, social media promos for the tour started, anchored by a Mayer Hawthorne YouTube music video. The concerts - in venues holding 750 to 1,500 people - ran from Oct. 3 to Nov. 12. Branded highlights at the events included pre-show meet-and-greets with Hawthorne, custom T-shirts that fans created onsite, and photo booths for taking and uploading pictures. Mazda also commissioned visual artist Cole Gerst to create a branded animated music video, which was posted on YouTube and projected at all the shows. Overall, organizers tried to keep the branding subtle. "Mazda Presents" is in the official name of the tour, and a car in bright green is displayed at the entrance to the concerts and is shown in the video at the shows. "We didn't want the brand to overpower the connection and experience of the events," says Levine.
The Mazda brand came through loud and clear on the tour's social channels. The company decided to include concert-related chatter on the main Mazda USAA page. Mazda also tweeted about the concert on its main Mazda USA Twitter account. The tour's Web site included Mazda promos and a blog with video, photos and other content from the shows. The site also ran a feed of Hawthorne's robust Twitter account (20,800 followers, three to six posts a day.)
As the tour unfolded, the shows were "mostly packed," says Levine. The San Francisco show, for instance, was sold out 19 days in advance. In some cities, such as Dallas, the audience consisted of Hawthorne fans who happily sang along with his songs. In others, like Toronto, half the crowd said they had never heard of the crooner.
Traffic on the company's social channels ebbed and flowed throughout the campaign. In late September, during the pre-concert promo phase, growth of new Facebook friends and YouTube views increased every day, says Bretschger. When the concerts began in early October, the brand's Facebook following and YouTube views kept growing, but more slowly. YouTube views experienced a fresh burst of growth when the animated video by Gerst was posted later in the month.
In comparison, Twitter didn't grow quickly at the beginning of the program, but its rate of growth was steady as the concerts took place, Bretschger says.
In raw numbers, by Oct. 10 Mazda USA's Facebook page had nearly 100,000 fans; 10 days later it had more than 103,000 fans. On YouTube, the tour's music video snagged about 22,000 views in one month. Gerst's animated tour video grabbed more than 23,000 views in half that time.
On Oct. 20, the Mazda USA Twitter feed had 45,000 followers. Because concertgoers were sharing "thousands" of photos from the shows via Twitter, Mazda created a second Twitter account specifically for them to use for photo distribution, says Bretschger.
Online Mazda brand mentions increased seven-fold as the tour was kicked off, and have maintained about a four-fold increase compared to mentions prior to the concert, says Bretschger.
An unexpected boon to the social media program was Hawthorne's enormous appetite. His posts about food were so popular that Mazda started filming videos of him eating at local restaurants for a weekly "Mayer vs. Food" series on YouTube and the tour's Web site. Social media tied to group events can be powerful marketing with a twist, say experts. Dan Hill, author of About Face and an expert in facial coding and emotional advertising, explains: "Going to the concert, being there with friends, having a link-in to Mazda, makes it a memorable event. There are the sounds of the music, of other concertgoers' voices, the smell of the food, the booze, and [the] tactile sensation of being on the dance floor." The tweets, online video and photos let the audience relive the branded experience and, most importantly, bring the brand and the experience to a much wider group of non-concertgoers. And that's the twist: Social media isn't there to promote events; rather, the events are there to feed social media.