Editor's note: This column originally appeared Oct. 8, 2014, in Marketing:Automotive.
Just as we are approaching a moment where the term “digital media” is pleonastic, we may also be arriving at a place where social media is just as redundant. And we’re certainly at the point where second screen is an archaism. Most people most of the time are online on their phones, and the experience of the Internet is through the little portals: apps that also have social capability. I was using Waze recently to find out about a horrific traffic jam (wasn't driving) and was able to "speak" with drivers also on Waze in my relative vicinity.
Thus an advertiser has the chance to add a new word to the owned, earned, paid list: free. Or earned lite, maybe, based on how buzzable your content is. If it is, you can get social suffusion through a potentially huge population of Millennials. Don't even bother if it's not entertaining, doesn't involve actors, kids or dogs doing hilarious things.
Audi has run several marketing campaigns this year supporting the A3 car and Q3 compact crossover — both of which give the brand a pair of new gateway vehicles to appeal to younger buyers. The campaigns, no surprise given the consumer demo, have been heavy on digital and especially social media. Audi hitched up with the Emmys on Aug. 25, and ABC Family's "Pretty Little Liars" (or "Pliars" for parents who have heard the title too many times) and with FX's “Tyrant” and “Fargo” (not in that order).
Audi has hitched the A3 and Q3 to hit TV content probably because it gives guaranteed awareness and/or because it guarantees social buzz. If the KPI's are about buzz, Audi has won apparently. It helps that some shows have huge social activity to start with. Like "Liars." Audi's head of U.S. marketing told me that for the episode Audi sponsored, the automaker set records on Twitter and Snapchat.
Here's a problem and a question: how many of those tweets had to do with Audi's A3, versus solely show-related content? I'm sure the company can tease that out by following the cookie crumbs to its own site. The marketer told me the gambit added 25,000 new consumers to its fan base.
But that is the real key because it isn't enough to just hitch the car to the entertainment juggernaut. It has to be done in a way that is basically a paradox, a contradiction. Featuring entertainment content is a great way to grab people's attention from what they are online to do or see in the first place. It's a great way to get them to take the first step over to the branded content they didn't know they wanted to see. But the second step, equally critical, is to get them away from that very content to another rabbit hole: the OEM site or a microsite or pop-up about the car. Is it harder to do that or, since they have taken the first step, easier?
Without the second taken, the exercise is a complete waste of time unless the goal is to merely create some form of awareness, subliminally, and hope some aspect of it sticks to the cerebral cortex so the next time the consumer is in market for a car, a mental image will present itself. One way to do that is to keep it simple: talk about one vehicle attribute at a time and write it large: 40 mpg in 40-foot virtual letters. If you can tie that news flash to the infotainment, so much the better. The good news is that anyone who is distracted enough to check out branded content is probably fairly willing to go elsewhere. Or maybe all of us are, as the Internet conditions us to be less focused.