The Race to Viral: how Automakers are Trying to make Viral Content to Advertise Cars

By March 13, 2018 No Comments

The Super Bowl used to be the holy grail of advertising opportunities for automakers. 30 seconds of airtime during the Super Bowl cost $4.5 million, but it was worth it. That is, until something new came along — viral marketing.

Before the angry mob of hipsters shows up at our door, let it be known that TV advertising and viral marketing are not mutually exclusive. Ads like Toyota’s #Prius4 campaign have embraced both mediums, but viral is a decidedly different advertising vehicle — no pun intended — because it can be done on a shoestring budget and still be effective.

SAAB Autoparts Becomes Orio

2011 was the last year of production for Saab automobiles, but Saab parts manufacturing facilities stayed online to ensure their cars were supported for current owners. To increase profitability, the parts operation was expanded to include parts for different marques and rebranded Orio.

But the public had no way of knowing the brand Orio, a problem when it comes to selling car parts. To increase awareness, the company launched a viral campaign based around a classified ad for a used Saab wagon.

Orio didn’t place the ad themselves — that honor goes to owner Magnus Eriksson. His blunt honesty about the car’s poor condition turned it into a social media sensation, but Orio saw an opportunity.

They bought the car and turned it into a project with the eventual goal of a complete restoration. Each step of the job was detailed in social media content, creating a network of touch points through which the public could get to know Orio.

To cap it all off, Orio prepared a film of the full restoration included in the company PR package. Results were astounding, with a 130% increase in Facebook traffic, 1600% increase in traffic to Orio’s website and substantial coverage in the mainstream media and other social media outlets.

Orio never paid for any televised content, but they achieved their end goal by taking advantage of the public’s interest in their social media posts. Another example of this is Volkswagen’s “Fast Lane” campaign.

Live in the Fast Lane with Volkswagen

For this endeavor, VW chose to get out amongst the people and shake things up. Yes, there are videos documenting the entire project, and they feature Volkswagen vehicles, but for those interacting with the installations in person, there isn’t a whole lot of Volkswagen branding to notice except for the colorful “fast lane” graphics placed at the user’s feet.

There were three separate projects in total. The most popular was a slide installed beside the stairs in a popular underground rail entrance. Another project included upgraded shopping carts with skateboards attached, allowing shoppers to glide through their grocery-getting experience.

In each instance, people were recorded engaging with the life-accelerating contraptions using GoPro-type action cameras. Their reactions, almost universally positive, were then edited into videos and published to Youtube with a little embellishment to remind you that Volkswagen supports you living faster.

Ford Steals a Page from The Walking Dead

It’s not just European brands that are getting in on the viral goodness. American stalwart Ford Motor Company has been cashing in on viral media vicariously as the maker of rally expert Ken Block’s outrageous rides — you know, the ones featured in all those Gymkhana videos.

Back in 2011, Gymkhana was still fresh in the public’s eye, and Ford decided to keep it weird with a viral ad for the Fiesta that saw owners of the peppy compact running away from zombies. At the time, the Fiesta offered keyless entry while Toyota’s Yaris and Honda Fit did not. That might seem like a minor detail until a hungry zombie is chasing you.

It’s a timely ad, and you can’t help but chuckle at the goofy zombie movie references. Of course, our Fiesta-driving hero has time for a quick phone call while evading his undead assailant.

One Million Miles

Sometimes a little customer appreciation goes a long way. Toyota trucks have been leaning on their iron-clad reliability for decades now, so when a customer committed to putting one million miles on his Tundra and proceeded to do precisely that, Toyota took the opportunity to do some viral marketing.

Victor Sheppard sold his Tundra back to Toyota with 1,020,130 miles. But this wasn’t your ordinary pickup truck buyback. Toyota celebrated at the Texas dealership where Sheppard purchased the truck, which got a clean bill of health upon inspection.

The dedicated owner didn’t even want to sell his truck, but Toyota made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Toyota bought back the million-mile Tundra at a value of $8000 and replaced it with a brand-new 2016 Tundra Double Cab for free. Talk about good viral marketing. This is a story that sells itself.

Mix-ups and Viral Flops

Of course, not all viral marketing campaigns work out the way manufacturers hope they will. Nissan, for example, is somehow the official manufacturer of Star Wars, a movie where the characters drive anything but cars. You can throw some red and black on a Juke and call it a special edition, but with a distinct lack of content, it’s hard to see how it’s paid off to lay down the amount of money it must have taken to ride the coattails of a franchise like Star Wars.

And then there are the Chevy “real people” ads. Did no one who planned these have the common sense to think that someone from the unwashed masses recruited to stand in and make comments like “it feels like a Mercedes” would ever speak out? If nothing else, it made for some good parodies.

Going Viral

Advertising isn’t easy. People are fickle, getting their attention is difficult and keeping it is another challenge. But carmakers are on the right track with this new approach — particularly when it comes to young people, who might not pay as much attention to the TV as they do social media. What’s your favorite viral ad? Let us know in the comment section below.

Scott Huntington

Author Scott Huntington

Scott Huntington is an Automotive YouTuber and writer who loves cars, sports, and business. Follow him on Twitter @SMHuntington or email [email protected].

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