'Gorilla' Marketing: VW Brings Its King Kong Ad to an Instagram Scavenger Hunt

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In the ad-blocking era, marketers are going to great lengths to get their brands in front of skeptical consumers. For Volkswagen, that means sending people on a scavenger hunt through an imaginary city on Instagram that is devoid of paid advertising.

The social media sweepstakes is part of a new campaign for the redesigned 2018 Tiguan crossover that began last month with a TV ad called "The New King." The spot, by Deutsch L.A., shows an inflatable King Kong chasing down a woman driving a red Tiguan through the city. The vehicle, not the gorilla, is the new "king of the concrete jungle," declares the spot. The campaign pitches the Tiguan to urban single people, an increasingly important audience for marketers of SUVs and crossovers.

VW on Friday made the TV ad come to life on Instagram via a 21-day scavenger hunt in which viewers are fed daily clues and asked to find hidden Tiguans in a cityscape spread across multiple tiles. There is a catch, of course: To enter a sweepstakes for daily prizes, viewers must take a screenshot of the Tiguan and send a direct message to a VW-run account. The grand prize is a 10-day trip to San Francisco, Miami and New York. This video shows how it works:

Instagram scavenger hunts are nothing new. Heineken did one as far back as 2013 as a way to give away tickets to the U.S. Open. But Deutsch says its hunt is more robust than most. It was assembled with 150 pieces of content stitched together on Instagram to make a city modeled on New York. "We wanted to push the boundaries of the platform as far as we could without breaking it," says Todd Riddle, executive creative director at Deutsch, in a statement. "I don't believe there's a native Instagram feature or behavior we're not tapping into for this experience."

At the @VWRuleTHeRoad Instagram page, each panel displays an overhead shot of a section of a city meant to resemble New York. Once clicked, viewers are zoomed to street level, triggering videos of random scenes, like a squirrel running across a power line grabbing a nut. That footage was pulled from a new TV ads plugging the Tiguan's "pedestrian monitoring" system, which helps the vehicle stop on a dime for unexpected hazards.

VW will run paid Instagram ads to direct people to the page. But the brand wanted to keep the scavenger hunt ad-free. "We wanted to try take a nontraditional approach to social and cut through the clutter there," says Jennifer Clayton, director of marketing communications and media at Volkswagen USA. The brand chose Instagram because of its popularity among the thirtysomething urbanites to whom the Tiguan is targeted.

The 2018 Tiguan has been updated to be made longer as part of VW's approach to better appeal to U.S. consumers who are gravitating away from sedans to crossovers and SUVs. Its introduction follows the debut earlier this year of VW's seven-passenger Atlas crossover, the biggest vehicle VW has marketed in the U.S. But while the Atlas is looking to lure family buyers, the Tiguan is sticking with its core target of single people, or couples without kids.

The lead TV spot (at top) seems particularly aimed at high-achieving female business execs. Tiguan buyers are split about 55% female to 45% male, Clayton says. But the ad was not a conscious female empowerment play, she says. Rather, it is meant to put a new twist on the classic King King narrative. It is "all about the admiration that the gorilla has for the car, not the girl," she says.

The spot is also an example of how automotive marketers are pushing SUVs and crossovers for urban uses, rather than off-roading getaways. "The image of vehicles being in the off-road is something that consumers like. But the reality is that they drive them in the city and don't go off-roading," Clayton says.

While urban-themed SUV advertising has been running for several years, the newest trend is to pitch the vehicles as status symbols, says Mark Wakefield an expert in automotive strategy and managing director of the Detroit office of AlixPartners, a global consultancy. Ads "don't talk about toughness at all," he says. And they "don't talk as much about space." Instead, they are about "prestige and are trying to say this is a car that shows you made it."

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