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Branded Content Is Tailor-Made for Automotive Consumers

Branded Content Is Tailor-Made for Automotive Consumers

By Jeff Youngs, March 04, 2012
The things that make automobiles interesting to consumers are, by and large, the same things that make them interesting to film directors, artists, writers, music producers and other creative types: the sense of freedom they provide, their aptness to be involved in myriad aspects of an individual's life, their importance as cultural icons, their pivotal roles in the maturation of millions of persons when they're young and even as they age, their outd consideration as personal investments, the vital role of the car in a nation's work and economic vitality-even their brute and speed.

So, in this era when the digital distribution of content greatly broadens the canvas for creators of all sorts, it's not surprising that auto companies quickly have moved to the fore of "branded content" including online films, Web video series, music concerts and compilations, and video games.

Auto brands have been producing content that will both move the sales and consideration needles as well as take on a certain worthiness in and of itself. More of that is being produced on a "crowd-sourcing" basis by "users" who also are automotive consumers, like the small-time filmmaker who produced the "Happy Grad" advertisement to win Chevrolet's contest to place a spot during Super Bowl XLVI.

The willingness to take flyers  on all kinds of branded content requires a huge change in mindset by auto brands that also is reflected by their openness to consumer feedback via social media.

"Before, companies would try to control content, but in this day and age it's almost impossible," said Tom Doll, executive vice president of Subaru of America, which last year conducted a "Worst Weatherman" marketing campaign, including an on's all-wheel-drive technology, and social-media elements that invited consumer feedback.

"You might be able to control only 15 to 20 percent of the content about you because customers are doing it themselves. It's fun how it's evolving. Our challenge as an industry is how to utilize all of this and how to organize it in such a way that you can look at the content you're placing out there and make sure that it always has your message in it."

And so it's not as if anything goes when it comes to branded content and automakers. "We just want what we do to make sense," said Erich Marx, director of interactive and social-media marketing for Nissan. "It's got to have a connective thread, a logical link, to what we stand for as a brand. People aren't going to come to our Nissan USA [website] or to our Facebook page for content regarding food; the Pillsbury Bake-Off and Nissan isn't a logical connection. But if [content] has to do with performance, then it makes sense to explore."

For example, Marx counts as a big success Nissan's first major branded-content effort, last year, when it selected a video gamer to become a real-life racecar driver. Its competition engaged the 16 fastest gamers in America, on the Gran Turismo 5 game by Sony; put them through a real-life, 8-day driving school in England; filmed the goings on, and then aired a 6-episode series about the whole adventure on The Speed Channel on cable TV. The winner of the GT Academy competition, Brian Heitkotter from Fresno, Calif., who had been an unemployed auto-parts truck driver, now is being funded by Nissan for a year to become an actual racecar driver.

Arguably, Honda has perhaps pushed the envelope further than any other automaker by creating an entire community celebration around one of its customers and then using content built around that experience to feed its marketing. Last year, after a dealer in Bangor, Maine, alerted Honda executives that he had a customer who was about to drive his record millionth mile in a 1990 blue Accord, the brand went for it. Honda ended up producing an entire parade for the customer, Joe LoCicero, in his hometown, complete with a marching band, stilt-walkers, and floats in the shape of an odometer. A video of the parade made its way onto YouTube and garnered about 300,000 views.

And Hyundai is trying to broaden how American consumers regard and appreciate its virtues with new branded-content initiatives. For example, Hyundai recently launched a new global campaign, the "New Thinkers Index," an online platform which provides visitors with a chance to explore the notable thinkers' outlooks through 4-minute videos about the elite actors, musicians and other people.

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