'Digital first' is now automaker marketing execs' mantra

From left: Nissan North America Chairman Jose Munoz, Global Team Ford COO Mark LaNeve and BMW marketing Vice President Trudy Hardy answer panel questions from Automotive News Publisher and Editor Jason Stein. Photo credit: JOE WILSSENS

DETROIT -- Social media, YouTube videos and other digital advertising platforms are now driving how automotive marketing executives plan their campaigns, a panel of automotive marketing executives said Tuesday.

Digital marketing has long supplemented mainstream advertising on traditional mediums such as television, print publications and radio. But the explosion of digital media consumption and mobile access to content has forced automakers to change how they pitch their products.

"If our agency comes with a TV spot first, that's the wrong way to go. They have to show us the digital ideas first and the TV comes at the end -- supplementary," said Trudy Hardy, vice president of marketing for BMW North America.

Executives from Ford's ad agency and from Nissan North America in a panel discussion at the Automotive News World Congress today also said that digital advertising drives much of the decision-making when crafting campaigns. Mark LaNeve, COO of Global Team Ford, says the agency has already adopted a "digital first" philosophy to help Ford keep up with its customers, who are already far ahead of all marketers.

More than 50 percent of Team Detroit's employees work primarily on digital initiatives, LaNeve said. Other digitally focused practices at the agency include a global analytics practice and installing a digital-first planning and measurement system for Ford's regional dealer ad groups.

LaNeve says traditional media is still important, but digital media consumption has made the traditional notion of the purchase funnel all but obsolete.

"For years we've organized and budgeted where tier one was national for the brand, Tier 2 was regional and in support of the dealer ad groups and Tier 3 was individual dealer advertising," LaNeve said. "The customer doesn't really receive digital media the way they do traditional media. They engage digital media, they consume it on their own terms and timetables and it's non-linear -- the jump from watching a video to locating a vehicle to building and pricing a car to e-mailing their dealer."

Nissan is also adopting an approach similar to Team Ford's digital first" at its new agency, Nissan United, said Jose Munoz, chairman of Nissan North America.

He says digital content gives marketers more creative freedom to tell different stories about a new product simultaneously.

"The name of the game is not whether you go [into digital] or not," Munoz said. "It's how you go there, how you get there and how many resources for this vs. other channels."

You can reach Ryan Beene at autonews@crain.com



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