What Web Buzz Does for Car Sales: Not Much

BrandIntel Finds Online Chatter Doesn't Indicate Which Vehicles People Will Buy

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- Positive online buzz for cars and trucks doesn't necessarily translate to volume sales, according to marketing-data firm BrandIntel.
The buzz about the Mitsubishi Lancer shows that consumers are ready for a change in the compact-car segment from the traditional sales leader, the Honda Civic.
The buzz about the Mitsubishi Lancer shows that consumers are ready for a change in the compact-car segment from the traditional sales leader, the Honda Civic.

When it came to positive online buzz among compact cars last year, Mitsubishi's Lancer sedan topped the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, but both of those car brands sold more units and got more advertising support, according to findings just released by BrandIntel.

Most of the 450,000 comments monitored last year by BrandIntel, a unit of Brandimensions, Toronto, for its third-annual Consumer Voice Awards were in consumer discussion forums on auto-information sites such as Edmunds.com, newspaper and magazine sites, and blogs, said Alan Dean, VP-research.

Talking point: redesigns
Five of BrandIntel's seven awards went to vehicles that had had major interior and exterior redesigns, including the Lancer. Consumers liked Lancers's redesigned shark-nose front, aggressive styling and fun-to-drive experience, Mr. Dean said.

Lancer's buzz shows that consumers are ready for a change in the compact-car segment from the traditional sales leader, the Honda Civic, which BrandIntel ranked fourth in online buzz, and the Toyota Corolla, ranked seventh. Mr. Dean said neither Civic nor Corolla made a lot of news last year, which can generate online discussions.

While the Honda Civic "is a solid choice," the car "isn't getting people excited right now," Mr. Dean said. The Civic, redone last in fall 2005, won BrandIntel's award in the small-car segment for 2006.

Positive online buzz doesn't necessarily translate to vehicle sales, Mr. Dean said. But, he added, "if [online consumer] sentiment is low, you're not going to generate sales."

'Prospects are good'
Mitsubishi said it sold 31,376 Lancers last year in the U.S., while Honda sold 331,095 Civics. "Lancer's not about to outsell the Civic, but its prospects are good," Mr. Dean said.

Chevrolet's Malibu, redesigned and launched last fall backed by a $100 million ad blitz, won BrandIntel's standard-sedan segment, topping Nissan Altima and Mazda 6, which took second and third place, respectively. The Honda Accord was 20th, followed immediately by Toyota's Camry.

"A lot of people definitely don't like the new styling of the Accord," which was redesigned last fall, said Ryan Ghaeli, auto manager at BrandIntel.

Positive buzz
He said positive buzz started early in the year for Malibu after the redesigned sedan was unveiled at Detroit's auto show in January 2007 and gained momentum as consumers were able to test drive the Malibu later in the year.

"We don't maintain a link between advertising and activity online," Mr. Ghaeli said. "Advertising helps, but a lack of advertising doesn't mean you can't generate [online] discussions and word-of-mouth."

The other winners of BrandIntel's third Consumer Voice Awards were the Nissan Titan full-size pickup, the Mercury Mariner midsize SUV, the Dodge Grand Caravan minivan, the Cadillac CTS in the entry-luxury-sedan category and the Nissan Rouge sports tourer.
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