Each year, automakers spend about $10 billion in advertising to change Americans' attitudes about the new cars they wish to buy.
"Rising above the clutter is a big challenge," says Tom Peyton, national advertising manager for American Honda. "Today there are 345 models of cars in the market. Fifteen years ago the number was half of that."
Key to success in this voracious marketplace is branding, Peyton says. His company spends over $433 million in advertising Honda cars across multiple media and he says, "Our product and our brand must win the admiration of our consumer."
Eric Johnston, director of marketing at Mazda, points to another dimension of clutter: media fragmentation. Mazda spends over $230 million here in the United States (according to TNS Media data quoted in Automotive News) and was an early fan of the online medium. "In the beginning we used online primarily as a measurable way to deliver leads to our dealers, but over time, the medium has become more mature. We participate in the upfront buys for online media (on automotive Web sites). We have also advertised on enthusiast sites as well as on Maxim for the Mazda 3 launch."
Johnston likes the lifestyle aspects of cable television and often runs advertising on ESPN channels. "When we run commercials with them, we will often negotiate a presence on ESPN magazine and ESPN.com," he says.
Honda uses multiple media in synergy as well. One of the company's most successful TV campaigns in the United States in recent years was "It must be love" which depicted consumers who looked like their Hondas. Taking advantage of the interactivity of online, Honda asked consumers to submit their own photos to match their cars at love.honda.com. Thousands of consumers participated.
Regardless of the media they use, carmakers have a challenge in persuading consumers to change their attitudes about such a high consideration purchase. Dynamic Logic's MarketNorms database bears this out for online advertising. Although, on average, automotive campaigns significantly increase all five core branding metrics, carmakers as a whole have
Launches get biggest dollars
"The main trends in the automotive advertising market that I've seen in recent years have been the focus on incentives and new model launches. Thirty to 50 models are redesigned or introduced each year," says Chuck Hoover, senior vice president of marketing at CarsDirect.
A look at MarketNorms data offers some clues about why automakers and their agencies concentrate so much of their media attention to "new product" whether it is truly a never-before-seen-design with a new name, or an old model dressed up in automaker's lingo as "all-new." The graph below compares attitude changes caused by new product advertising with product that is not a new model. Brand awareness, ad awareness, message association and brand favorability are all influenced more by new product advertising.
Change is in the air
Everyone I spoke to sees changes ahead for the ways cars are marketed in the United States. CarsDirect's Hoover expects more big-budget brand level advertising, like Nissan did for its full line, in addition to the targeted model-level campaigns. Johnson of Mazda expects to see more focused positioning and more targeted media. "We are seeking customers, not bodies, he says, adding that Mazda is finding a considerable success with the lifestyle aspects of cable television shows.
Honda's Peyton has more strident predictions for his competitors that have relied on incentive to goose up sales. "At some point the piper will be paid," he says. "At Honda, we have taken the high road and we expect to be at a distinct advantage [for not having used incentives], five years from now."
The branding metric automakers care about most is purchase intent. Most state laws prohibit direct to consumer sales so the objective for carmakers' advertising is to drive consumers to dealer showrooms. Let's look at how frequency of online advertising impacts purchase intent:
The graph shows change in purchase intent plotted against frequency of online advertising and you can see an upward trend to about seven to nine ads per consumer. Now most of Dynamic Logic's studies are conducted over a three- to six-week period so it is possible that the frequency curve may look different for sustained campaigns of many months or fixed placements and annual sponsorships.
The age paradox
Most young people don't have enough money to buy a new car, yet a good chunk of auto advertising seems to target youth. I asked Peyton to explain the paradox: "Most of our buyers are in the 40 to 60 age range, and they do have money to buy a new car. But while you can sell a young person's car to an older person, you can't sell an old person's car to a younger person. Our advertising portrays youthful activities and targets a youth mindset rather than youth audiences in particular."
MarketNorms data does not show any significant changes between the response of young and old people, supporting Peyton's observation.
What about gender? Surely with Volvo touting a car designed by women for women there must be differences in the way men and women respond to advertising. MarketNorms data surprised me, showing no appreciable difference by gender. This was confirmed by a young man I know who works in the new car retail business and has sold Oldsmobile, BMW and recently moved to selling Suzuki which he appears to like most. "I'm bisexual," he declared to me over a drink, "All I need is people."
Gunjan Bagla is a mechanical engineer and entrepreneur who has been active in marketing and media for over 15 years. He is presently responsible for Dynamic Logic's business with movie studios, automotive companies and others in the Southwest. His writing has appeared in Direct Marketing, iMarketing News, Silicon India, Channel Seven and ClickZ.
Don't take yourself too seriously
Many have argued that certain types of brands just don't have a place in social media. After all, the critics say, who wants to have a relationship with their toilet paper?
The people who say that haven't checked out Charmin on Facebook. The brand single-handedly proves that at least 330,000 people want to have a social relationship with their toilet paper. And why is that? It's because the brand is light-hearted and doesn't take itself too seriously. After all, it's toilet paper. And if toilet paper can't succeed in the realm of tasteful toilet humor, I don't know who can.
Consider the brand's post on Jan. 2:
(Source: Charmin Facebook page)
Charmin's Facebook page is full of such silly references to restroom-isms. It's surprisingly well done -- and often truly funny.
Even if your brand doesn't specifically lend itself to literal toilet humor, there's a good chance that it can benefit from not taking itself -- or its products -- too seriously.
Oh, social media. What a wonderful and horrible invention. It inspires so many great things, and yet simultaneously brings out the worst in humanity. And if your brand is even dabbling in the social media realm, you've likely met some of the people who make Twitter, Facebook, and other popular networks a painful place to exist.
Most brands are going to have run-ins with dissatisfied customers, online trolls, and run-of-the-mill internet smartasses. And there are many ways to deal with these people. But one of the best ways to diffuse potentially explosive situations is through humor. It's not always appropriate, of course. But when it is, it's usually effective.
Consider, for example, SmartCar's response to a Twitter user who jokingly questioned the structural integrity of its vehicles:
Similarly, brands don't always have to wait for negative comments in order to turn on a witty response. Consider JetBlue's response to a sexy fan post that most brands likely would have ignored altogether:
(Source: JetBlue Twitter account)
Be playful with other brands
Most brands tend to think of the social media sphere as one in which they interact with potential customers. But don't forget: Social media is the playground of other brands as well. And when those brands discover each other online, there's often great potential for a laugh.
Such was definitely the case between the Red Cross and Dogfish Head. The incident started with an accidental Red Cross employee tweet on the corporate account, which alluded to "#gettngslizzerd" on some Dogfish Head beer that night. Instead of panicking, the Red Cross made light of the accidental tweet. Good move. And, in an even better move, Dogfish Head embraced the new #gettngslizzerd hashtag and scored some serious free marketing.
In yet another example of hot brand-on-brand humor, Old Spice and Taco Bell, both social media giants in their own rights, rose to new levels in internet cleverness with the following exchange:
That said, your brand doesn't necessarily have to wait for these moments of serendipity. Consider reaching out to complementary brands now and then for a light-hearted social media ribbing. Everyone loves a little witty banter.
Many brands see social media as an opportunity to disseminate important brand information, offers, and customer service -- which is all well and good. But not all brands, particularly local ones, have a steady stream of new offers and insights to tout through their Twitter and Facebook presences. But that doesn't mean they can't still come out to play.
If your brand is more interested in using social media to foster awareness than it is in driving immediate sales or customer service interactions, consider taking the approach of Arena Flowers, whose Twitter account offers a steady stream of seemingly random (but often amusing) one-liners:
I still haven't decided if I'm going to go Lenny Kravitz's way.
— Arena Flowers (@ArenaFlowers) January 27, 2013
Silly, shareable photos
Some brands, such as Oreo, seem to have endless budget for creating clever on-brand visual jokes to disseminate via Facebook:
(Source: Oreo Facebook page)
And that's great -- for Oreo. But what about virtually every other brand? The ones trying to run a respectable social media program without breaking the bank? Well, keep in mind that this is the internet that we're talking about. Sometimes sharing great images will get you just as much mileage as creating great images.
Hubba Bubba is a great example of a brand that has found success curating, rather than creating:
(Source: Hubba Bubba Facebook page)
Wordplay (the dumber, the better)
Look. People love stupid puns. That's just a fact. So if you can work them into your social media plan, do it. PopChips knows what I'm talking about. "Orange you glad it's October?" "Road-chip." "Chip-faced." A little bit of fun with language makes otherwise mundane photo posts a lot of fun:
(Source: PopChips Facebook page)
(Source: PopChips Facebook page)
(Source: PopChips Facebook page)
Post with personality
This final humor strategy isn't for every brand. But, if your brand can get away with it, consider posting more like a person than a faceless company. (Consider even naming the person who is posting.) It gives you the liberty to share silly, stupid content without always having to create your own images or witticisms. If you're lucky, people will start to think of you more like their zany friend than an actual brand.
Axe is an excellent example of this. The brand actually assigns its posts to various staffers who have essentially built online personas within the company's social media properties. They're not always funny. And their punctuation is sometimes abominable or nonexistent. But more than 4 million people have decided to allow such content into their streams:
So get creative. If there's someone on staff with a knack for consistently sharing great content on their personal social media properties, consider making that person the online persona of your brand too.
"'LOL!' popular expression" image via Shutterstock.
Hefty Ultimate Cups (Cool Moms YouTube Campaign)
This campaign might just be one of the best campaigns in the history of social media campaigns, IMO. This campaign that took place in April puts the spotlight on cool moms. At first glance, these moms are very much stereotypical, cardigan-wearing moms with perfectly coiffed hair doing "mom things" like unpacking groceries and folding laundry. But as soon as they start talking, they whip out wild party stories full of today's teen slang: "bae," "FOMO," "on fleek," "hangry," "cray," "bye Felicia," and more. It seriously made me litlol.
Here's my favorite out of the series, but you need to watch them all. Trust. #PartyHardMoms
Not only does this campaign perfectly use the juxtaposition of the "role of a mother" it capitalized on very trendy slang that has taken over the Millennial generation (which is always being talked about these days, right?). Very smart marketing.
Domino's Pizza Delivery Emoji Campaign
Emojis are awesome. Emojis can tell an entire story in just a few images. One of the most used emojis is, of course, the pizza emoji. (I'm pretty sure the taco one would win, but there still isn't a taco emoji.) In an effort to take advantage of these little mini pizza emojis, Domino's has launched a new system where users can simply tweet the pizza emoji at the restaurant to place an order.
Customers just have to set up an Easy Order account, which involves registering their Twitter handle and entering their topping preferences and payment information. Voila, you can now order pizza with an emoji. It's amazing that more brands haven't capitalized on the ever-growing popularity of these fun, lazy bits of conversation. Pretty genius.
I'm thoroughly enjoying that brands aren't taking themselves quite as seriously on social media as years past. They're beginning to truly understand the community-driven aspects of social and the opportunity they have to spread their message at scale in a fun and memorable way. I'm looking forward to even more clever campaigns this year.
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"Social media, social network concept" image via Shutterstock.
Remember to communicate
Aside from the standard protocols we just discussed, don't let news of your resignation to reach your colleagues via the water cooler. Again, you don't want to circumvent the pre-defined resignation plan. However, once you've been given the green light, it's important that those you've worked with hear your news firsthand. It's likely, especially given that this is a job you love, that you have many friends (maybe even a best friend) within the walls of your office. Think about how you would feel if you learned similar news from the new guy while you stirred the creamer into your coffee.
I'm not recommending a resignation banner, party, pies, or cake, but taking a few minutes to provide a "pre-goodbye" is the type of civility that most people would appreciate. Your conversation could be as simple as, "Hi John, I wanted you to know that I've decided to leave XYZ Organization. I've loved working here and am going to miss working with you."
While you're sharing your intentions amongst your peers, don't forget one important aspect of communication: tact. The World War II American saying, "Loose lips sink ships," holds true for business, too. As you discuss leaving, think through what details you provide around the nature of your next role, etc. Your intentions may be solely for good, but others may not have your best interests at heart.
Go beyond the extended hand
Regardless of the reason, I have made the difficult decision to leave roles I have loved in the past. With each departure, I have always offered to help with the transition. Why? Aside from being a simple courtesy, it was my hope that whomever stepped into my role was not "picking up the pieces," but rather continuing a stride that was already set in motion.
Now, before you reflect on lost opportunities in your past, know that most of the time these offers are met with a kind, "Thank you," yet they are rarely capitalized on, meaning there are almost always pieces to be picked up and balls that are dropped when a new employee takes over. So rather than solely making the gracious offer, put some solid plans in place.
Sometimes your successor will already be identified before you've taken your last step out of the office. When presented with this opportunity, schedule some time with this person and go over the details of the role. Are there any tricks of the trade you can offer? Does Bob in accounting like reports saved in a certain version of Microsoft Excel? Are there clients who simply won't respond to you if it's after 10 a.m. on a Friday? Any such fact that has helped you to be successful will go a long way with those trying to fill your shoes.
Most of the time, an immediate replacement is not possible. In these cases, if you are able to craft a "cheat sheet" or a guide around the work you've been doing, it can seriously help your successors. Keep in mind that most jobs have some sort of vague description, along with technical details about how to gain access to organizational resources, but beyond this we're often left to find our own way. This is your opportunity to give back to a position that you love so that someone else may find themselves feeling the same way.
Don't forget to exhale
Leaving any job is stressful... sometimes even traumatic. However, know that all organizations experience departures at one time or another and will weather the storm. While there will be many who will feel sadness or loss without you, we all have an uncanny way of healing. That's not to say that you will be forgotten with time, but take comfort knowing that everything does eventually heal.
While society has inundated us with the notion that we should never give in, employment is a notable exception. You're not throwing in the towel, you're just finding a new game. As I mentioned earlier, having an emotional attachment to your work, your co-workers and even a commitment to your leadership and missions are normal. In fact, I might question your intentions if you had zero stress. Just know that these feelings will subside, and with any luck you'll find yourself in love with your new job soon enough.
Making the decision to leave a job you love should not be taken lightly, but if you're reading this now, you're probably past the point of indecision and ready to take action. Applying these tips as part of your exit strategy will go a long way toward eliminating any guilt you may feel and reiterate to your soon-to-be-former employer that you truly are awesome. For a powerful dose of inspiration, recall the words of one of the toughest cowboys in the Old West, Mr. John Wayne: "Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway."
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"Businessman thinking" image via Shutterstock.