Ever since they got their butts handed to them when first approaching congress, the U.S. automakers have not only had to deal with the funding issue, but also the negativity that has appeared virtually everywhere from consumers who apparently don’t want congress to move forward with any bailout.
According to Emily Steel at the Wall Street Journal, auto makers have wisely avoided broad, traditional media to spread their side of the story and instead have focused their efforts online in a variety of ways.
“Auto makers are a Web-savvy bunch, known for using sophisticated digital-marketing techniques to promote their vehicles.
Now, amid an industry crisis, they are using some of the same strategies to lobby for billions of dollars in federal aid.
Ford Motor, General Motors and Chrysler have launched campaigns on several Web sites, including Google and its YouTube video site, various blogs, Facebook and the social-messaging site Twitter, trying to make their case for a bailout as quickly and widely as possible — on the cheap.
“The auto makers in general have gotten a black eye in the media, and we didn’t feel like we were getting a fair shake,” said Scott Monty, global digital and multimedia communications manager at Ford.
“With digital media, it lives on for a long time. It’s picked up in Google searches, people pass it along and share messages they care about with blogs and their social networks of choice,” he said.
Ford launched a digital campaign last week to differentiate itself from Detroit rivals GM and Chrysler. Above, Ford CEO Alan Mulally discusses his company’s approach in a YouTube video.
The auto makers’ digital push is part of a broader industry effort. GM has asked many of its customers and vendors to lobby Congress, citing the impact that the industry’s collapse would have on their businesses. The automotive slide, a grim centerpiece of the U.S. recession, has already taken a big bite out of the profits of many media companies and ad agencies, and fear about further fallout in the sector is palpable in ad and media circles.
Ford went into crisis-communications mode around the middle of last week, assembling a digital push to differentiate itself from GM and Chrysler, anchored by a Web site, TheFordStory.com.
Timed to the release of its business plan to Congress on Tuesday, Ford launched the site, posted videos on YouTube and starting buying Internet search ads to appear when Web surfers enter bailout-related keywords. For instance, a Google search for such terms as “auto bailout,” “Ford bailout,” “9 billion loan” and “cash flow” brings up a link to TheFordStory.com.
Ford also is buying display ads on news sites, including those of The Wall Street Journal and CNN — as part of its “Myth Busters” campaign.
To save money, Ford is also reaching out to consumers directly through blogs and other social media. The company has enlisted members of its staff to respond to blog postings and messages on Twitter. Ford’s Mr. Monty said he has exchanged dozens of messages with Twitter users, ranging from questions about the company’s business plan to whether Ford is selling its corporate jet.
The company used technology from social-sharing site Scribd.com that allows visitors to download its business plan, rate it and pass it along to friends. In addition, the TheFordStory.com site includes links that let visitors contact their representatives in Congress.
The online campaigns are an alternative to costly ads in traditional media, which could embarrass the car makers in the current climate. Ford says it is difficult to break out the costs for its digital push, but that the search ad includes an additional purchase from Google.
“Most of the stuff we’ve done has been fairly creative in terms of using existing resources,” Mr. Monty said.
Chrysler’s efforts include posting to its blog and creating a new YouTube channel called Grab Democracy, as well as a Web site to promote its position.
Chrysler has also launched a virtual road show, which includes Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Nardelli talking about the company’s business plan with his senior management team before heading to Washington to testify.
GM is running ads tied to search terms about the auto bailout, the United Auto Workers and the economy, posting videos on YouTube and buying ads on the third-party sites where Google sells space. The goal is to drive visitors to GM’s site, GMFactsandFiction.com, which seeks to explain how the company ended up in its current situation and its plans for the future.
GM set up the Web site in early November as part of a broader effort to reach out to employees, suppliers, media buyers and other constituencies.
Toward the end of November, GM also posted a video blog to the site created by public-relations firm Weber Shandwick, which is owned by Interpublic Group, that discusses the auto industry’s dire situation.
In late November, GM sought to boost traffic to the site by expanding the search ads it buys through Google to include terms related to the debate about the crisis.
“As people are out there, Googling or using Yahoo, trying to learn more about this issue,” said GM spokeswoman Kelly Cusinato, “the search ads let our site pop up as an option for people to click and learn more.”
So what does this mean to our industries? Well for one, “selling” a concept such as the bailout will not work well in traditional media — there’s too much discussion that must go with the concept to leave it to an ad in a newspaper or a 30 second spot on tv. People seeing those ads will think what they want and will not be able to see whether others share the same view. But online viewers have a chance to not only read the opinions of others, but also add their own. The dialog might be negative to the auto makers, but at least there is a dialog that will give them an opportunity to further explain, or “sell”.
The same thinking applies for healthcare companies going through the CON process, or those who are making drastic staff cuts that are generating negative press. Talk about it.
Builders too must follow and contribute to the negative communication that exists online with the hope of moving those on the fence to their corner.
Look, the negativity exists, so you can either ignore it or try to make it work for you. Without question, we make it work for our clients. Not that we convert everyone, but for the little effort that it takes, converting just a handful is better than nothing. Plus, it simply looks good to have our advocates out there promoting our versions of the facts.