Scott Kelly heads digital marketing strategy at Ford Motor Co. Kelly talked to eMarketer’s Lauren McKay about Ford’s integrated marketing efforts and why ads in online and social media are more effective for the Ford brand than Super Bowl commercials.
eMarketer: What are Ford’s core digital tactics?
Scott Kelly: At the absolute core are our website and web content, social media and online media. Online media can mean anything from display advertising on websites such as Yahoo! or content integration within podcasts. It also includes mobile advertising and gaming.
eMarketer: How has this digital investment grown in recent years?
Kelly: It’s grown tremendously. We’re putting more and more money into digital, but also into online and offline integrated programs—things like Ford’s June 2010 Fiesta Movement and our Winter 2011 Ford Focus Rally. The significant thing is it’s not so much a shift as it is a growth in media consumption because, across the board, consumers are engaging in more media.
If it was as simple as taking money from TV and putting it into digital, it would be easy, but we’re seeing customers spend time with TV and on Hulu.com and on mobile devices. We have to be in more areas—so it’s not just a shift.
eMarketer: In terms of integrating some of the online content with offline campaigns, what has Ford found most effective?
Kelly: With our launch of the 2011 Ford Explorer, a campaign we called Explorer Live, we were able to combine online and offline, and also paid, earned and owned media. We launched the car on Facebook, but also incorporated live streams from launch events across the country. We found that when you combine those things together the effect is bigger than any one tactic. It’s a smarter, more cost-effective way to reach and engage consumers.
Following the Explorer launch, we had all kinds of interesting results. We had the second-highest day ever on Ford.com. And results from third-party auto sites also showed us that traffic and searches for the car model after the Explorer Live event were higher than what they typically see following a Super Bowl ad.
When we revealed the Explorer on Facebook, we had the online audience all to ourselves. There was nobody else competing for conversation. The Facebook Explorer campaign was done at a lower cost than a Super Bowl ad and got a higher effect as opposed to being in a game where there were numerous automakers competing for share of voice.
eMarketer: How do you measure the performance of a social media effort—such as the Explorer Live—relative to a traditional offline campaign?
Kelly: It’s definitely tough. A lot of your traditional metrics, like website performance indicators, aren’t a great measure of success. So, we look at things like, “Did it spur online conversation?” or, in the case of the Explorer, “How many people researched the Explorer on third-party research sites?” and “What are people saying about us on Facebook?” We do track “likes” on Facebook, but we don’t just want to rack up a bunch of numbers to rack up numbers. We’re making sure that those people are actually engaging in conversations and that when they give us feedback, we can have a dialogue with them.
eMarketer: What benchmarks do you use to compare effectiveness?
Kelly: Because all of this is so new, we don’t have great benchmarks. Our best benchmarks are what Ford has done with previous social media campaigns. In the case of Explorer Live, we gained more fans on Facebook than we did for the Fiesta Movement. In the case of Focus Road Rally, we hope to gain more fans than Explorer Live. We think we’re doing pretty well if we keep improving over the previous vehicle’s performance.
In terms of the quality of online discussions, we use some online monitoring tools and we’re exploring several different vendors to help measure engagement. As an industry, we’re going to need to work toward establishing common benchmarks.
eMarketer: Are you experimenting with any new forms of digital marketing?
Kelly: We’re always mixing different forms together. For something like the Focus Rally, it’s very heavy in online video and Hulu-type media. If we are running a sales event, however, we’re using more search and doing more online targeting.
As a trend, I think we are gravitating away from just IAB units and banner ads to more video and integrated content. Because we’re a brand marketer, and because we’re a more highly considered purchase, we’ve got to make an impact. With banner ads we are limited in just how much of an impact we can make. So, that’s why we’re looking to do more things with sites like Hulu.
We’ve also had some success doing programs with podcasts, where we have the podcast host talk about products and tell the story behind our product or brand. It’s a much more authentic way to reach people than a simple banner ad.
eMarketer: What do you think is going to be the next big thing in online automotive advertising?
Kelly: I think you’re going to see a continued shift toward integration, especially with social media. I hate using the phrase “social media” because some people only think of Twitter and Facebook. But, to us, social media is really about figuring out ways advertisers can step out of the normal confines of ads and into the conversation with consumers.
We find that people don’t trust advertisers—they trust people like themselves. So, if we can encourage people to talk about our products on our behalf, or we can get the host of a big podcast like “This Week in Tech” to help tell our story, then it’s much more believable than a banner ad or a 30-second commercial.
You’ll start to see us—and in general the industry—move away from just the static push advertising to more engaged conversations. You’ll see more Fiesta Movements, more Explorer online reveals and more Focus Rallies because we know those things are successful.