LOS ANGELES -- Don Romano, Mazda's top marketer in North America, describes the way consumers digest information these days as "media chaos."
In particular, he says young consumers are "addicted" to on-the-go information available on their mobile devices.
"This addiction is great because it's driving a media change that we've never seen before," Romano says.
Speaking at the Automotive News Marketing Seminar here last week, Romano said car companies must have a presence across emerging high-tech media platforms.
But he says traditional advertising media are not going to disappear. Instead, newspapers, radio and magazines are simply moving from paper to digital devices, and Romano says that's where brands need to be.
"We do not believe at Mazda that digital is going to kill traditional," he said. But Mazda does plans to emphasize ads on mobile devices.
Tony DiSalle, vice president of U.S. marketing for Buick, said mobile devices played a big role when Buick launched the Regal sedan. Ads were placed on The Wall Street Journal's application for the iPad, the Amazon Kindle electronic reader and the Verizon Wireless version of the Apple iPhone when it was released this year, DiSalle said.
But traditional media are not dead at Buick either. The brand advertises heavily on TV broadcasts of college sports. Buick commercials will continue to feature prominently in events such as the NCAA men's basketball tournament and the NCAA's Frozen Four hockey tournament.
Automakers also are eager to capture the attention of some of the 500 million active users of Facebook.
Bill Fay, group vice president of Toyota marketing, highlighted three Facebook-based marketing campaigns that the brand deployed following its recall crisis last year.
One was timed to promote the addition of compact, wagon and plug-in hybrid versions of Toyota's Prius hybrid. The "Prius Plural" campaign asked Facebook users to vote on the proper word for the plural of "Prius." It generated 1.8 million votes.
Jeff Conrad, vice president of American Honda's Acura division, said the brand crafted a social media component to its product placement deal with comic book publisher Marvel, promoting Acura's role in the new movie Thor.
Kia's media-buying agency, Initiative+, used Twitter and TV to make the most out of one of the biggest auto product placement coups of the year: when Blake Griffin of the Los Angeles Clippers slammed home a two-handed dunk after jumping over a Kia Optima to win the NBA's Slam Dunk Contest in February.
Fred Sattler, managing director of Initiative+, says the agency struck deals with other NBA stars, including Rajon Rondo of the Boston Celtics, Lamar Odom of the Los Angeles Lakers and Nate Robinson of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The players agreed to use the hashtag "#OptimaJam" when they used Twitter to talk about Griffin's dunk.
A hashtag is a word or phrase preceded by the "#" character to link Twitter posts about the same subject.
Sattler also noted that Kia's creative agency, David & Goliath, was ready with a TV spot using Griffin's dunk on the air "within days."
But social media present challenges for automakers.
"Can we emotionally 'brand' through it?" Romano asks. "Can we deliver emotional content through it?"
It's important to try, because as Romano told the group, social media is a "technology-enabled word of mouth medium."