Ford Canada ups online efforts

Ford Canada has turned to the Internet to help it stand apart from its competitors in the automotive industry. Its latest campaign, touting its F-Series vehicles, employed a unique, attention-grabbing Voken (Flash or animated gif) that did just that.

Ford Canada has turned to the Internet to help it stand apart from its competitors in the automotive industry. Its latest campaign, touting its F-Series vehicles, employed a unique, attention-grabbing Voken (Flash or animated gif) that did just that.

‘When we made the decision last year to go forward with this initiative, I really wanted to get noticed, to be set apart from the crowd,’ says Ford’s truck advertising manager, Terry Spyropoulos. ‘I was all over this technology. It really fit with our brand and what we wanted to do – make an impact, while being fun and engaging.’

The Voken is that of a Ford truck driving out of a Web page – engine roaring and mud splattering on the screen. The wipers come on to reveal the Ford ‘Built Tough’ logo, which then recedes to the side of the screen. The ad, which directed people to a site (www.ford.ca/builtfordtough) where they could sign up to receive a new fulfillment package direct mail, was cookie-activated so surfers only saw the ad twice. Launched in December on sites like the Weather Network, TSN, faceoff.com, car sections of canoe, Canada.com and AutoTrader.ca among others, it was designed to hit home with 35- to 50-year-old males mostly with a slightly rural skew.

Ford’s aim was to deliver prospects to its dealer networks and build its own database. The lead generation effort garnered a click-through rate of roughly 5% – well above its 2% objective.

‘We’ve had the capability to do this for a long time, and only now has it gained some traction in Canada. We’ve been waiting for people to say ‘You know what? Let’s do something really cool online,” says Renee Hill, director of sales and marketing at Toronto-based eyeReturn, the interactive shop that created the Ford Voken, as well as a Voken for Canada Post’s ePost last year.

It’s not the first time Ford has launched an online campaign. It experimented with a targeted pop-up superstitial and Net radio ad (through its streaming media property ExpectMore radio) for the Ford Focus. The Internet allows Ford to test innovative, targeted formats – and it’s cheaper, says Mark Berardo, Ford’s account manager at ad agency Young & Rubicam – responsible for the F-series campaign strategy.

‘They want to be champions of the Internet. They’ll use banners and buttons to complement a campaign and to get the national reach, but they definitely want to see the innovative ideas, the aggressive ad formats, the sponsorships, the really interactive advertising that we can now do,’ he says.

And they are not the only ones aggressively cyber-marketing cars. The auto industry will spend 6.3% of its ad budgets, or $312 million, in online efforts this year in the U.S., according to Jupiter Media Metrix of New York. And that number is expected to jump to 15%, or $2 billion, by 2006.

‘The car companies are coming into the Internet space and they aren’t coming in with banners ads. They’re getting more serious about promotions and trying cooler things,’ says eyeReturn’s Hill. The interactive shop is working with another car manufacturer to develop a unique online Olympic promotion, but no details have been released yet.

BMW in the U.S. created some of the biggest online car news last year, with its short marketing films (by famous directors) posted only at its Web site, and many other U.S. auto-marketers have also jumped into the game with novel online executions (See sidebar opposite). But in Canada, it’s a mixed bag. There are enhanced corporate Web sites, but little in the way of online-only advertising campaigns – be it banner ads or buttons or contests or Vokens.

‘I wonder sometimes about Ford’s competitors – some have big budgets, but I only see banner ads. You really have to experiment a bit,’ says Berardo.

Other than channeling marketing communications through its corporate Web site, Honda Canada has never advertised online, says Honda’s VP of advertising, Jerry Chenkin. While he does not dismiss the thought, he says there is nothing currently in the works in Canada – though there may be plenty happening in the U.S. or abroad: each country subsidiary is responsible for its own marketing and advertising, he says.

Other companies, however, have placed more marketing emphasis online. In November, DaimlerChrysler Canada began to roll out the next phase in its e-business initiative, which integrates its Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge brand Web sites with those of its top dealers. Among other things, the strategy includes enhancing its customer relationship management capabilities. And for its part, Lexus Canada recently hired Envoy Communications of Toronto to handle the strategy, content and design of its new Web site.

Whitby, Ont.-based BMW Canada incorporated the Internet and permission-based marketing into its imminent Mini launch. When they announced the plans back in the fall of 2000, BMW officials said the Internet was an ideal way to reach the tiny car’s target audience – classic Mini enthusiasts, as well as ‘people who try to make a statement with the car they drive.’

For its part, Ford is also using its online efforts to further its CRM and database capabilities, by capturing the valuable data on car buyers. With the F-Series campaign, they will track right through to acquisition, he says – down the road, cross-referencing new F-series owners with the database generated from this campaign to see how many names are duplicated. ‘It’ll help us determine what helped in the acquisition stage, and see what consumers really want to see,’ he says.

But in order to push toward customer acquisition and increase click-through rates, you have to get more aggressive and experiment with new online ad formats, says Berardo, adding that Ford is now looking at doing some incentive-based programs, in part to drive its CRM program.

Promotions, interactive sites, games and contests are the way to go, says Alan Buterbaugh, general manager of Windsor-based Mosaic Digital solutions (formerly called McGill), the interactive arm of Toronto-based Mosaic. Banners, for example, get all of about one second of viewing time. Getting noticed, he says, is all about using interactivity.

Mosaic Digital has worked on several interactive projects with DaimlerChrysler for its Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands, including a current Canadian PT Cruiser campaign, whereby thousands of CD-ROM’s were used to drive interested consumers to enter a PT Cruiser contest online. The campaign was intended to re-energize the car’s brand and alert consumers to its new colours, for instance, as well as build the company’s database of interested consumers. U.S. online auto news:
* Ford Motor Company used Flash and Dreamweaver to launch the 2002 SVT Focus site targeting younger drivers, by putting them behind the wheel of a Focus and providing them with a 360-degree view of the exterior.
* Looking to build up its post-purchase relationships, General Motors recently launched a service whereby GM vehicle owners can sign up to get e-mail service reminders, access information about GM vehicles, and receive special promotions.
* Last fall, Honda debuted an interactive game called ‘Scavenger Hunt’ on its CR-V micro site, that allows players to acquire points by collecting randomly-placed Honda logos. The game includes a player chat room, instant text messaging and e-mail challenges.
* Volvo recently unveiled a concept car Web site, that caters to car enthusiasts who might want to see concept cars evolve into real life products. A ‘Forum’ section allows people to submit opinions and questions – enabling Volvo to gauge consumer reaction to new ideas.
* Targeting outdoor enthusiasts, Subaru of America recently added an outdoor life section to its Web site, organized by area of interest. The site will serve as a platform for co-marketing and promotional programs.