The MediaPost Marketing Automotive Awards honor agencies and advertisers who are excelling in today's myriad forms of communication and rewriting the handbook on automotive marketing. Last year was a fantastic year for the auto market, with shoppers buying an astonishing 17.47 million cars, trucks and crossovers. It was also a banner year for automotive marketing, with some powerful, moving, and sometimes hilarious advertisements, integrated campaigns, and smart social digital and social media strategies. MediaPost and a panel of industry observers, experts and marketers have done the arduous work of finding the best of the bunch. You get to enjoy the results: MediaPost’s Marketing Automotive Awards. We congratulate our honorees. Awards will be presented at our inaugural automotive conference at Jacob Javits Convention Center on March 24.
Automotive Marketer Of The Year
Thomas J. Doll, President and COO, Subaru of America
Sometimes, numbers speak for themselves. How about “seven.” Seven consecutive years of sales records for Subaru of America. And it didn’t have to wait until the end of the year to tally those numbers. It broke it in 11 months. How about “five.” Subaru’s U.S. sales rose 5% last year, putting it just about five years ahead of its sales volume schedule. January was its 50th straight month of growth. It has a good problem: production capacity can barely meet demand. Two-thirds of buyers are new to the brand. Tom Doll, CEO of Subaru of America, Inc., is the rare U.S. auto executive who has risen up through the ranks the old-fashioned way.
Doll, who came to the company in the early ‘80s, isn’t a hired gun. He’s an accountant by training, actually, but he has the long view, and he enjoys the benefit of knowing, really knowing, what Subaru stands for, and he understands Subaru owners. Maybe that has given the automaker the rare confidence to do things no other automaker can do when it comes to advertising and marketing. It was Doll, after all, who a decade ago suggested a new way of branding: the love Subaru owners feel for their cars. With a lot of other brands, especially Japanese brands, that might be a stretch, but Subaru really has the kind of meaning for its owners to make into that a legitimate claim.
In late 2006, Doll hired a new creative agency, Minneapolis-based Carmichael Lynch, a unit of Interpublic Group. The first change was simple: The tag line — "It's what makes a Subaru, a Subaru" — was prefaced by "Love." A slate of emotionally charged ads followed. Kids and dogs were everywhere. The only features the company lingered on were safety-related. Instead of buying a Super Bowl slot, the company sponsored Animal Planet's “Puppy Bowl.”
And the “Love” idea is infused into every aspect of Subaru’s business, including the retail side with its “Love Promise,” a community-benefit program centering on local dealers. And every year, in the fourth quarter, Subaru runs a charity campaign, in which a percentage of every sale goes to one of several charities from a list the automaker lets new buyers choose from. That list includes the ASPCA, and pets are a big part of the Love mantra for Subaru.
With “The Barkley’s,” Subaru takes the pet friendliness to its logical conclusion. The campaign, which the automaker launched in 2013, takes the idea of pet friendliness to this end: A family of golden retrievers lives in a suburban house, and drives around in a Subaru. What’s not to love about that?
Best Integrated Campaign
Ford “By Design”
Until last year, Ford had never developed a unifying brand idea for its cars the way it had with “Built Ford Tough” for its trucks. Now, with “Ford by Design,” there’s a unifying idea for Ford’s car line. To be honest, there had been no need for such a thing back when a Taurus was its own brand and Mustang wouldn’t go near it. But now, after several years of serious product-development work, including a concerted effort to develop a design language across all products, it was clearly time to tie it all together. And the automaker did so with a campaign that presented the implicit idea that Ford cars make a statement beyond what’s under the hood, a statement about fashion, color, style and aesthetics.
The “By Design” effort, by agency group Team Detroit, included a new look to the iconic Ford script as part of a digital-centric campaign featuring short-form videos and ads that could be mixed and matched like color tiles. And colorful they are, in a minimalist Bauhaus way, with each car — Focus Electric and RS, Fusion and Mustang — getting a distinct tagline and color scheme, wrapped up with the ribbon of the Ford script. Even the TV ads had a stackable feel; they came in 15-second bites meant to be played back to back.
The overriding visual idea was quick, easy to grasp and assertive: A spot for the Focus Electric compact showed an electric car-charging kiosk, alone in the desert, with a red Focus electric car zooming up and fishtailing right up to the obelisk-like facility. The driver gets out, removes the plug-in dispenser, and inserts it into the Focus. Cut to the stylized Ford script and voiceover: “Charged Up, By Design.”
The ad for Mustang, in collaboration with Ford’s African-American agency of record, UniWorld Group, shows a model strolling past a yellow Mustang with a mike stand. She drops it behind the car and positions the old-school mike just behind the exhaust. The car revs up, and the camera pulls back so we see the car is in front of a wall of speakers amplifying the engine sound. “Powerful, By Design,” says the V.O. Another unique aspect is that the 15-second ads were designed to run back to back in a single, 30-second, ad pod. Plus, the automaker let consumers get in the game, using social media to encourage people to submit their take on custom-designed billboards featuring Ford cars. Ford picked the winners and hoisted their designs onto billboards in their cities.
Visuals are great for a consumer-facing automotive site, and brands like Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and BMW already have that going on in spades. But none of that stacks up if you don’t provide a one-click, intuitive, function-driven shopping experience of the kind consumers demand. Their experiences are informed, after all, by the kinds of digital commerce they now are doing every day on channels like Amazon, and a hundred other places where they order products. Jeep understands that what consumers want most from the manufacturer’s web site is the ability to price and build a vehicle to the specifications they demand. And they want to do it without having to multi-click down rabbit holes.
Jeep.com has a clear pricing and options journey that is anything but Rubicon. Drop-down menus show base MSRP right up front. No searching around for pricing. Pricing tools are dynamic, with slide-bar type controls that automatically expand or contract the number of choices a shopper has available based on price range and desired towing-capacity. A tracking bar at the top of the page gives you a sense of where you are in the process, and wh,en you click on various options you aren’t clicking away to a new page, forcing you to find your way back to the trunk of the fulfillment tree.
But Jeep doesn’t ignore the passion points, which for obvious reasons are critical, given Jeep enjoys the clearest sense of self in the business. While every single SUV brand gives some degree of lip service to the idea that, yes, you can go off the road, if you must (but watch the ruts), Jeep expects you to go off-road. Jeep owners go to Jeep camp. They go to Jeep gatherings. They go off-roading even if it’s only in their minds.
And the brand adheres to a non-negotiable: every 4x4 Jeep has to be able to navigate the Rubicon Trail in California. Okay, nowadays it’s “Trail Rated” which may or may not get you over that famed wrangle. So, besides a great practical side, the site has a strong emotional vector. The “Capability” page loads with a photo from the Rubicon and features several icons arranged like apps that take you to specifics on traction, water fording, maneuverability, articulation and ground clearance. There’s also one that takes you to an exploration of the Rubicon Trail, and one that gets into what Trail Rated actually means. If a great brand site is one that appeals both to people who are shopping for its products and want to do it painlessly, and those who are just browsing and want a taste of the brand experience, Jeep.com delivers power to every wheel.
Jaguar, "Art of Performance Tour"
Automakers do test-drive events for some very good reasons, principal among them being that people go in consumers and come out customers. But how does one get them to put you on their busy calendar? Some car companies entice them with food, some with performances and lifestyle events, and some with a promotional offer for getting their butts in seats. Jaguar dangled something different, combining the test-drive experience with an acting gig in an action movie.
The automaker has spent the last couple of years establishing itself, with the help of dedicated agency Spark44, as a dark challenger to the luxury norm with a “British Villains” motif to introduce the F-Type coupe. Now it is touting its new Jaguar XE compact luxury sedan through “The Art of Performance Tour.” While the multi-city, six-month tour lets consumers in different cities drive the car way before its late-Spring sale date, the program also puts them in a very short action film, and promotes the event through Facebook and Instagram to let people share the experience.
The effort, which also shows off the brand’s new F-PACE SUV, is all about the movies. Probably not a coincidence that it launched in Los Angeles at the auto show last fall. Jaguar had a vehicle or two in the recent Bond film, Spectre, and its original campaign for the F-Type featured a few A-list Brits in a narrative about a sinister cartel whose members cruise along in helicopters and F-Types, while extolling the virtues of villainy, without spilling a drop of English Breakfast.
People who take part in the “Art of Performance” program get to be in “The Audition” without an actual audition, which never happens in real life unless you’re a star. The setup puts participants in a film starring actor Graham McTavish. Invitees show up to the test-drive location, but before hopping into the XE, they are ushered into a studio (the event in Los Angeles was at Raleigh Studios) for an acting gig, where they do several different takes that insert them into a chase narrative, beginning with their stepping through the door into McTavish’s cryptic warehouse for a “conversation” with the actor, who asks him or her to do an espionage task involving performance driving.
Cut to the chase, so to speak: Participants jump behind the wheel of a mockup XE, where they are filmed in critical moments, reacting to quick turns, exploding vehicles in the rear-view, and ultimate success at making the getaway. All told, participants are in seven scenes inserted into the story narrative, with the completed video delivered to their phone in real time via VideoBridge. Also, Facebook video functionality allows participants to upload clips as profile video. Who wouldn’t? After doing that, people get to go through other cool experiential stations with social-media extensions, leading up to a high-performance test drive of the XE on the street and on a closed autocross course.
Best Transcultural Campaign
Dodge “Te Pondrá A Prueba”/”It’ll Test You” Campaign
We love villains. We love Danny Trejo. Yes, his head ended up on top of an exploding turtle in “Breaking Bad,” but don’t count that against Machete. He’s still someone you wouldn’t want to cross. In other words, a perfect car dealer.
FCA’s Dodge division, perhaps playing on the idea that the visit to the dealership is about as anxiety-producing as double-crossing a cartel, crafted a Spanish-language campaign that everyone will relate to, and will go out of their way to translate, even as they go out of their way to avoid the antagonist.
Dodge needs the mojo. The Hispanic market is growing along with the population, bi-lingual or otherwise, and most automakers' sector marketing spend against that population is tracking its growth. Hispanic consumers are now over 18% of the U.S. population. The brand is challenging Honda and Toyota, two favorites among Hispanic consumers, and the automaker’s work with Trejo shows it is taking a unique tack that aligns well with the bad-boy image it has cultivated for itself. The Dodge Brothers it ain’t.
The effort, via Lopez Negrete Communications, puts the heavy from “Machete” (as well as “From Dusk Till Dawn,” and “Once Upon a Time in Mexico”) in three Spanish-language commercials for the Dodge Challenger, Dodge Charger and Dodge Dart: Trejo as car dealer, with a twist: he’s a twisted car dealer.
Packing a “Te Pondrá A Prueba” (“It’ll Test You”) message, the 60-second launch spot had a nice young guy facing Trejo, who is in his best snakeskin-clad killer get-up, intimidation factor turned up to 11. They sit at a negotiating table in what could be a dank back room, no light save for the red, blinking signals from a nearby cherry-top, siren whining.
It could be a drug deal, as Trejo argues terms with the guy and the lights flicker. We think it is, in fact, a nefarious transfer of funds, until we pull back to see a repair guy on a ladder, fixing a fluorescent ballast. Up come the lights and….it’s a dealership! Dodge vehicles sparkle under the lights and the guy — a potential customer — mulls the features of the 2015 Dodge Dart, and signs the contract. Probably a good idea, since Trejo, reaching for a pen, opens the wrong side of his jacket by accident, revealing an assortment of knives. Heh, heh.
In another spot, Trejo lets someone test drive the 2015 Dodge Charger. He wants to tout the sunroof, but the customer ignores him. He finally tells the customer to stop the car in front of a warehouse. Trejo goes in, then exits by defenestration, through a second-floor window. Good thing the sunroof was open.
The third spot touts the trunk space in the Dodge Challenger, and also the BeatsAudio system. The thing being put in the trunk? Yeah, you got it. The test-drive customer wonders what the thumping noise is and Trejo responds by raising the volume of the BeatsAudio sound system. The customer loves the package, says “yes” to the deal, and we ultimately learn that, no, Trejo wasn't trying to whack someone. He just likes golfing and bowling. There was so much room in the trunk that even all that gear had space to slide around.