Automakers are using more product placement in films and interactive marketing rather than TV commercials. Hollywood and the Internet have changed what's acceptable and how much it costs, marketers say.
Forrester Research, a technology-analysis company, invited automakers to lead its annual marketing conference for the first time last fall. Representatives of Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler, Audi, Mini USA, Nissan and Volvo talked about diverse marketing methods.
"Breaking through clutter is important, given the omnipresent car ads in traditional media," says Mark Bunger, a senior analyst in Forrester's San Francisco office.
Spreading the wealth
"Multichannel means spending smaller amounts in a wider variety of media, formats and places," Bunger says. "It's about making lots of small bets and quickly following the ones that succeed, rather than planning massive media onslaughts that cost so much and clutter up consumers' minds."
Mini set the pace with its U.S. relaunch in 2002. It offered bold product literature and online gaming. And three Mini Cooper vehicles were featured in the 2003 action movie The Italian Job.
Volvo Cars of North America Inc. has a tight marketing budget, and "we have to be incredibly smart about how we spend it," says John Maloney, Volvo vice president of communications.
"From a U.S. perspective, integrated multichannel marketing will become even more important. Brands need to break through the clutter in interesting and efficient ways."
Volvo used the 2004 launch of its freshened S40 premium mid-range sedan to lure younger buyers, Maloney says.
Innovative magazine ads are part of Volvo's multichannel strategy to sell the S40.
Traffic in Volvo showrooms in Spain and Great Britain exploded after the automaker's release of a Web film called The Mystery of Dalaro. The mock documentary planted clues on Volvo's Web site that included product information about the S40. Web visitors who followed those clues to dealerships were invited to test drive the car.
Volvo hasn't made the spoof available to U.S. audiences, Maloney says. But the film has leaked to U.S. Web surfers through e-mail.
More for cable, events, Web
In 2005, Maloney says, Volvo will increase its ad spending on national cable networks by about 40 percent. It also will spend a larger share of its marketing budget on events, promotions and Internet initiatives.
The automaker intends to launch two TV commercials this year aimed at consumers age 25 to 34, Maloney says. It plans such innovations as 3-D billboards and "scent strips" in enthusiast magazines that offer vehicle-related smells, such as tire rubber, rather than perfume. Volvo is pursuing joint marketing efforts with Virgin music megastores.
Maserati also is marketing its niche luxury vehicles in action movies and on TV shows. In addition to placement in Charlie's Angels 2, Maserati vehicles have appeared in episodes of TV series "The Sopranos," "The Bachelor" and "Desperate Housewives."
Bob Segal, owner of Algar Maserati of Philadelphia, says the automaker is "at the forefront in Hollywood because it wants to be different." Driving a Maserati, he adds, is "a nice way of telling people in their face: 'I've arrived.' "