Buying a car is one of the biggest purchases a consumer can make. Up there with owning a home, it requires months of thoughtful research, price comparisons, and financial investment. Very few (but very rich) people can walk into a dealership and instantly make a purchase. Not only a major investment, cars are an integral component of our lives, and a positive association with a car's brand and model is vital to the sale.
In order to create an emotional connection with consumers, car brands are redistributing their advertising dollars away from traditional media, especially the Super Bowl ads they're famous for, and focusing on non-traditional channels in the digital and event space. When it comes to the automotive industry, a great experience is key, and there's no better way to achieve that than with experiential marketing.
Why the sudden change in strategy? Because Millennials, the largest consumer group, are flocking to major cities and taking public transportation instead of buying a car and paying for gas. Millennials also happen to be the most responsive to brand experiences, aligning themselves with companies that value experiential. The automotive industry is hoping an incredible brand experience may sway a Millennial to choose them if and when the day comes that they decide to buy a car.
The trend really began in 2014, when Honda created their music platform, Honda Stage. Then, in 2015 Toyota unveiled a guerrilla marketing campaign with street performers called "Feeling the Street." Ford soon followed with their campaign, "Songs of the Road," highlighting the alignment between driving and listening to music. Two musicians were brought together and tasked with writing, recording, and performing a brand new song in a 24-hour window. The Ford C-MAX served as their mode of transportation between all of these destinations.
And it's not just mid-class brands vying for sales, luxury automakers are using an extreme example of experiential marketing to differentiate their brands.
Photo courtesy: Porsche Press
Just outside of Atlanta's Hartsfield Jackson Airport is the Porsche Experience Center. The 26-acre complex houses the legendary German automaker's new North American headquarters, a huge, LEED-certified building featuring a business center, restaurant, museum, and restoration facility for classic Porsche cars. But the biggest draw for consumers is the chance to test-drive their fleet of sports cars.
Visitors 21 or older, with a valid driver's license and reservation, are paired with a driving instructor for 90-minutes of driving on a 1.6 mile track. Drivers navigate the curves of the handling circuit, practice skid control on the "kick plate," and open up on the straightaways. Prices range from $300 for a session with a new Cayman to $850 for the chance to "test your limits to maximum speed" on a 911 GT3.
Audi also allows consumers the chance to "push the envelope" of its S-class models at the Sonoma Raceway in California. The Audi Sportscar Experience attracts around
2,500 drivers each year, creating a bond between consumer and brand, while educating consumers on Audi's history. The company is deep-rooted in racing history, with many of its models still tested on the racetrack. By showing off the car's capabilities on the track, customers get to experience exactly what it was designed to do.
By allowing consumers to get behind the wheel, brands can show off their cars' quality, technological capabilities, and performance firsthand — something a commercial, press release, or even a tweet could never accomplish. The experiences are also high-adrenaline and high-energy, which can turn someone who walked into the driving center with nothing more than curiosity, into an actual customer.
Some of the best automotive experiences don't include a test drive at all.
The Lincoln Motor Company teamed up with Grammy Award-winning, contemporary blues musician, Gary Clark Jr., to help kick off Lincoln’s multi-year collaboration with the Seaport District NYC. The artist and The Lincoln Motor Company unveiled their first collaboration in February with “Cord,” a television ad that aired during the 59th annual Grammy Awards. Clark’s appearance kicked off a week of live music, food and special events hosted by Lincoln and the Seaport District NYC. The Navigator Experience invited guests to explore how taste, touch, sound and smell combine to help create Lincoln’s 2018 Navigator.
Also in NYC, Cadillac has created Cadillac House, an experiential space in Soho designed to attract New Yorkers to the brand by actively engaging with the city's cultural scene. It features a coffee bar, a curated shop selling goods from up-and-coming designers, a gallery space, and multiple sitting areas where locals are encouraged to work and relax. While their cars are featured throughout, Cadillac House serves to intersect the brand with their fans' passions, mainly art, fashion, design, and film — showing that brands can produce culture, not just advertise it.
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