Case Study: “See What Happens”

To fully grasp Mitsubishi’s bold Super Bowl drive-to-web cliffhanger, it’s best to begin with the man in the driver seat, Ian Beavis, senior vice president marketing, product planning and public relations.

Beavis, former head honcho at FCBi, is no stranger to the world of interactive. When I heard he had joined Mitsubishi, I eagerly awaited the first fruits of his new role. And so, when I saw the Mitsubishi ad whilst watching the Super Bowl (laptop on my lap), I wasn’t surprised.

The story of “See What Happens” is enough to make people want to get back into advertising again. It has more drama, intrigue and suspense than an episode of “Survivor” and has the ultimate fortune of awarding the Immunity Idol to the art affectionately known as “branding.”

It all begins with a strong client with a clear and focused vision

Mitsubishi’s agency, Deutsch (under the tutelage of Donny, the other The Donald) responded to the challenge at hand – namely, name names. Throw down the gauntlet. Take on the rest.

While Beavis credits the agency with the idea, he also alludes to the fact that they came back with the obvious way to get the job done. “I don’t drop subtle hints about what I want to see happen,” Beavis says.

An otherwise straight-forward plan then got tossed out the window when it became known that a slot in the Super Bowl (you know, that little football game that people tend to watch because there’s nothing else on) had opened up. Beavis blessed the opportunity, but solely on the condition that the spot had to be something special. A normal 30-second spot was just not going to cut it, however a 30-going-on-50-second involving invitation would be just the ticket.

“Spending that kind of money to drive awareness alone is a waste of money,” says Beavis.

The solution was a cliffhanger approach, similar to the landmark Nike Whatever commercials from several years back. And so, engines revved to top speed and midnight fuel burned as post-production hit full throttle, wrapping up around 10 p.m. on the Friday night before the Super Bowl.

Forget click-through, try sell-through

Now came the truly hard part of the challenge: convincing the dealer network.

The route taken was one of total secrecy. Beavis estimates that no more than 50 people in the entire organization had any idea what was about to happen. As the countdown approached, every single Mitsubishi employee received a mini-football with a teaser along the lines of “See What Happens during the second quarter of the Super Bowl.” Finally, the curtain-raiser to the main event was a presentation to a small subset of dealer movers and shakers right before the Super Bowl.

As Beavis walked his internal constituents through the strategy and media rationale, he recalls wishing he hadn’t armed his audience with oval-shaped projectiles. But when the entire crowd burst into spontaneous roars of approval, he knew he was in pole position.

One week after the campaign launched, they’re still cheering.

So, will people really go to the Web on Super Bowl Sunday?

The answer is an emphatic “Yes!” Here are some proof points of validation:

  • recorded 11 million hits in the six hours following the ad's debut as people logged on to see a Mitsubishi Galant triumphing over a Toyota Camry in a crash-avoidance test.
  • The site received more visitors in its first 24 hours than historically does in a month. That site averaged 294,000 unique visitors during a six-month period last year, according to comScore Media Metrix. Think about this for a moment – based on a single media exposure eclipsing the sum total of an entire month’s qualified traffic.
  • Two-thirds of these people watched the full 50-second spot two or more times. “That’s a 50-second commercial I couldn’t otherwise have afforded to run, a 50-second commercial I couldn’t otherwise have received network clearance to run—a 50-second commercial that two-thirds of visitors are watching 2-plus times,” explains Beavis.
  • Astonishingly, the resultant action rate (i.e. the rate at which people check out information, download a brochure, locate and contact a dealer, etc.) was greater than that in a normal month. This is really the real kicker – the fact that people who visited the site didn’t just view the spot and leave.
  • And they’ll go on Monday as well. Traffic to the Web site spiked within 60 seconds of the next wave of impressions, which ran Monday evening. Thereafter traffic naturally dropped, but thus far has remained consistently above the pre-launch levels.

The tremendous interactivity and involvement, coupled with the extended and repeat views, not to mention the water-cooler network-effects of word-of-mouth, made for a pretty profound proposition.

“We tried to calculate the total media value and we gave up. It was priceless,” Beavis says. (A MasterCard ad in the making perhaps, which certainly would have been an improvement on the borrowed interest of The Simpson’s)

A shot in the arm for branding

Amidst the tremendous response, it is worth paying tribute to the blocking and tackling that took place to get the brand to the touchdown in the first place. For some time, Mitsubishi has been positioning itself to gain credibility within its key demographic target audience. From “Days Gone By” with Dirty Vegas until “See What Happens,” the Mitsubishi story is one about a challenger brand that rose to the challenge with a comparative claim of quality and performance superiority.

Mitsubishi earned the right to run with the big dogs and so, when rubber hit the road, viewers got the message.

“People got the point really, quickly based on preliminary research,” says Beavis. “There was a method in our madness.”

If nothing else, the commercial was entertaining. But it’s certainly good to know that so much strategic thought was part of the process and even more encouraging that the audience got the point.

The end of online advertising

What you’ve witnessed is the end of one chapter and the beginning of another in the great book of integrated marketing. When an interactive client takes on integrated responsibility; when a risk-inclined company embraces change; when an innovative brand communicates with confidence, clarity and creativity, we really see what can happen: the convergence of form and function; TV and the Web; idea and execution; brand and business.

Gentlemen, start your engines!