Car Companies Work to Replicate Buzz of 'The Hire'

Online Short-Film Efforts Become the Rage of Auto Marketing

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DETROIT ( -- Car companies just can't get enough of short films.

Four years after BMW launched The Hire, rival automakers are still trying to replicate the buzz generated by the film series and tap into the appeal of entertainment as a way to show off their latest set of wheels rolling into showrooms.

Beginning in 2001, BMW's 'The Hire' series established a benchmark for online short film promotions that has not been equaled since.

Consider recent efforts: Audi of America has just unveiled three documentary films on its Web site that were produced by young filmmakers from the American Film Institute that feature the company's new A3. Volkswagen of America bowed its scripted The Check Up at the Sundance Film Festival and released the 15-minute film online and on DVD, as part of the launch of its new Jetta in the spring. Subaru of America gathered 115 entries of 30-second films in an online promotion for the launch of its B9 Tribeca model.

Toyota and Nissan
Meanwhile, Scion, a sub-brand of Toyota Motor Sales USA's Toyota division, is in the midst of soliciting short online films from hip-hop emcee contenders who can win a music video of themselves and the opportunity to perform live at its events. And Nissan has produced a scripted 20-minute film born out of its Original Drama ad campaign for England's Sky One that will be packaged with the release of Fox's drama 24 on DVD and features four new models launched by the automaker in Britain this year.

Marketers say that short films are increasingly reeling their way into automakers' marketing plans because the projects can prove a cost-effective way to encourage consumers to spend more time with their brands, as well as improve brand and product awareness. They also can boost a brand's image, create brand aspirations and generate a dialog with prospective customers.

The explosion of both broadband along with other distribution methods, such as DVD and cable TV networks, has provided carmakers with increased opportunities to get their films seen by mass audiences beyond their own Web sites, and even expand creative ad campaigns into a longer format.

"Advertisers have realized they don't need to be shackled to the confines of a 30-second spot," said Joseph Jaffe, president of his own new-marketing consulting firm and author of Life After the 30-Second Spot. He said these types of programs "are less about the films and more about time spent" by consumers with the auto brands, since it's very difficult to discuss a car's intricacies in a short TV commercial.

Audi's A3
That was one of the main reasons that Audi of America launched its short-film program. The company needed to show off its new A3 in a way that would appeal to 25 to 34 year olds.

The automaker tapped three up-and-comers from the AFI in Los Angeles, outfitted them with gear and sent them on a cross-country road trip that left L.A. on May 3 and had them drive to New York, filming and blogging along the way. Apple and Sony partnered in the deal, which bubbled up from Audi's sponsorship of the film institute's annual film festival called AFI Fest.

On, visitors can watch the resulting three 15-minute films produced by the aspiring filmmakers and vote on their favorite through Aug. 3, and enter for a chance to win a trip to Los Angeles for the AFI Fest and awards ceremony Aug. 10.

Audi backed the short-film cross-country promotion with print and banner ads from Havas' McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C. Independent agency Enlighten, Ann Arbor, Mich., is Audi's online agency. Apple highlighted the program in its July 15 e-newsletter.

Targeting Internet lifestyle
"This is very much about the lifestyle of our [A3] target," which is cosmopolitan 25 to 34 year olds, said Stephen Berkov, vice president of marketing at Audi. "The Internet has savvy, hip cosmopolitan people, so it's hard to target them with traditional marketing."

According to Mr. Berkov, the films, in addition to the marketer's spring viral blitz dubbed The Art of the Heist, in which an A3 is stolen from a Manhattan showroom, have given Audi the highest online traffic in the company's history. Monthly traffic has soared to 1.4 million visitors from roughly 800,000 monthly for the same months in 2004, according to the company. And 33% of all visitors in recent months have equipped an A3, searched for a local dealer or checked out A3 leases vs. just 25% for the A4 model and 21% for the A6.

Providing measured results is one of the biggest appeals of short films, automakers say.

"The beauty of what we do on the Web is everything is measurable," said Linda Perry-Lube, e-business and customer relationship management of Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln and Mercury brands.

Marketers tout their results
And the marketers like to tout their results, whether it's big jumps in online visits, buyer indicators such as seeking area dealers online, more page views or product sales tied directly to these efforts. That kind of interest can help sell more cars. Or give off the impression, at least.

Mercury said it was very happy with the results of its 'Meet the Lucky Ones' short-film project.

Mercury, which is trying to dust off its image with new models aimed at younger buyers, is diving deeply into short films following its first effort. That online blitz, called Meet the Lucky Ones, followed the comic misadventures of 10 people whose stories unfolded in 30-second videos over five weeks. Although it was part of the new Mariner launch, the model was hardly featured in the scripted videos.

The most impressive stats from that venture, said Ms. Perry-Lube, is that visitors who came in from viewed an average of eight pages about Mercury models compared with just two pages for people who started at The venture is helping the marketer "begin to develop a deeper relationship" with consumers.

Mercury recently announced it would be the presenting sponsor of AOL's new Short Film Festival as part of this fall's launch of the all-new Milan sedan. Award-winning shorts from around the world can be viewed at An added element of the deal invites consumers to submit their own short films about the Milan, which will be judged in October.

Mercury Webisode
"We are looking at the independent film space to get hand-raisers" for the new car mainly aimed at 25- to 39-year-old singles, Ms. Perry-Lube said. She's also considering a Webisode for the new Mariner hybrid in April.

She called these efforts "lifestyle marketing, not automotive marketing."

WPP Group's Wunderman is Mercury's online agency and sibling Y&R, both in Dearborn, Mich., handles traditional national and regional creative. @Radical.Media produced Meet the Lucky Ones.

Nontraditional marketing will likely exceed 25% of Milan's launch budget this fall, a Mercury spokeswoman said. Milan is also one of several advertisers backing a 25-market tour of four short films with Glamour magazine. Mercury is supporting the online film programs with banner and print ads.

American Honda Motor Co. is also dabbling in the medium.

Honda owners and their cars
The Honda brand extended a 2004 TV commercial showing owners who looked like their cars via a casting call on Even non-Honda owners could pick their vehicle match. Viewers voted for the best pairings, which were used in a short film only shown online.

RPA's Peter Imwalle, senior vice president of Honda's independent online and offline shop in Santa Monica, CAlif., said the big idea was to do the program online. "One of the big fallacies is my niece can build a Web site over the weekend," he said. But these days, it's more complicated to tool up for a sophisticated site that can integrate photos of various resolutions and collect and count votes.

"There wasn't that big of an incentive to enter, yet thousands did," Mr. Imwalle said. "People want to interact with advertising. They want to participate."

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