The past two months have been hectic.
In June, Dodge hosted 12,000 owners at the Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, Fla.
In July, Ford Motor Co. sponsored a Three Tenors concert attended by more than 40,000 people in Detroit and treated opera lovers to parties before and after.
Also in July, Ford, Toyota and DaimlerChrysler sponsored parties and arranged test drives of their vehicles for some 6,000 journalists of color at a convention in Seattle.
In August, Mercedes, Honda and Ford were among the automakers on hand to wine and dine thousands of racing fans at the Detroit Grand Prix.
And in the middle of all this, there were golf tournaments galore, the granddaddy of socializing events among automakers. During the pro-am event before the Buick Open earlier this month, I saw GM executives such as Roy Roberts, vice president of North America vehicle sales, service and marketing, and Tony Derhake, Buick golf brand manager and brand manager for the Buick Century, smiling and profiling as never before. The execs were having a good time, and so were the fans.
This is automotive event marketing. It's not new, but it certainly has been turned up a notch.
There are more events, and more customers are being invited - from entry-level folks to luxury buyers to women to young people. And the vehicles are always on hand, in living color.
Before 1990, most marketers relied on magazines and network TV to showcase their wares. Besides measured media, golf was the primary party, but it was used primarily to reach the rich and the mighty.
Now automakers are scrambling to find ways to reach all potential owners, as the days of mass media begin to wane. And they want exclusivity to keep other automakers out, such as the deal Dodge has with Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.
'What we're trying to do is weld people to Dodge,' says Jim Julow, vice president of Dodge Division, 'not just from a vehicle standpoint, but from a lifestyle standpoint and a relationship standpoint.' And Julow says the event in Orlando was just a test 'to get our feet wet with a big group of people.'
'Big' is the word of the day, and golf leads the pack. Auto companies have hosted big groups of people at golf events for years. And while some may find golf boring, auto companies can do a lot with the sport. Not only can the companies sponsor big pro events such as the PGA tours, they also can reach hundreds of thousands of consumers on a regional level by sponsoring amateur events with their dealers. The relative unavailability of any prime-time golf sponsorships - because most are hoarded by a small group of car divisions - may be the primary reason that marketers are creating so many other ways to get touchy-feely with the masses.
'Golf has become the lead event that we can learn from and then apply to other events,' says Alex Morton, group account director for Cadillac at D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles.
And golf will continue to pave the way. Auto marketers say more young people are swinging golf clubs than ever before. And that makes them smile.