Web Promotion Generates 400% Increase in Site Traffic

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DETROIT -- Mercury is calling its first foray into online filmmaking a success, saying that traffic to the automaker's Web site hit record numbers in the two weeks since its first Web series, "Meet the Lucky Ones," debuted Nov. 1.
One of the characters from the 'Meet the Lucky Ones' series.

A spokeswoman said more than 825,000 unique visitors went to in the first two weeks of the five-week series. The marketer's Web site typically gets roughly 200,000 unique visitors per month.

25% of total budget

The Ford Motor Co.-owned brand has been advertising the film series online and in limited print ads to drive people to the separate-branded site: Mercury is simultaneously advertising in traditional media for its long-awaited new models in a separate push themed "New Doors Opened." John Fitzpatrick, general marketing manager of Mercury, said he's spending nearly 25% of his total marketing communications budget on digital and customer events.

"Meet the Lucky Ones" follows the interrelated lives of 10 people, whose stories will evolve over five different weekly episodes. Visitors to the site can click on each person to watch a short video of what's happening in that person's life and learn more clues about his or her background.

However, the setup to learn about all 10 characters is time consuming, and one wonders how many consumers will check back each week for updates.

Win an SUV sweepstakes

Mercury hopes a sweepstakes at the "Meet the Lucky Ones" site for a chance to win a 2005 Mercury Mariner sport utility vehicle will sustain interest. More than 21,000 people entered the contest in the first two weeks. The Mariner SUV plays a small role in a few of the short films, but isn't specifically named. The site links to the truck’s
One of the characters from the 'Meet the Lucky Ones' series.

site, which includes virtual 3D tours and video demonstrations of the new Mariner, plus an online game for the all-new Monego sedan.

More than 290,000 unique visitors checked out in the first two weeks, with more than 64,000 unique visits clicking to the Mariner SUV area. Mercury said each visitor viewed an average of 7.6 pages in the Mariner section, and that it has already collected more than 23,000 opt-in e-mail addresses from consumers seeking more information.

By comparison, the brand's site averaged two page views per visit during most of 2004, said Jeff Grice, senior vice president and director of digital marketing at Mercury's interactive shop, WPP Group's Wunderman, in Dearborn, Mich. That jumped to at least five last month when the 2005 models were added.

"So once visitors get to the site, they are intrigued," Mr. Fitzpatrick said. "We are very pleased with the early success of 'Meet the Lucky Ones,' which is helping the Mercury brand reach a greater number of more diverse consumers."

Mid-60s average age

Mercury, whose average owner is in the mid-60s, has been chasing younger buyers for almost a decade. But auto experts said the brand's image has been fuzzy for many years, partly because it's products haven't been different enough from other Ford Division models.

Among 16- to 24-year-olds, 93% of consumers surveyed by CNW/Marketing Research consider Mercury to be stodgy, placing it third this year behind General Motors Corp.'s Buick and Mercury sibling Lincoln.

BMW of North America set the standard for online films with its "The Hire" series a few years ago, and other automakers, including Nissan, Mercedes and Jaguar, have tried to appeal to younger consumers with their own Web film projects.

Mercury and Wunderman tapped Kirt Gunn & Associates, New York, to develop the concept. The independent online specialty shop, which has and continues to do work for another Ford brand, Volvo, tapped Derek Cianfrance, a Best Cinematography winner at the Sundance Film Festival last year, to direct and Radical Media's Jon Kamen and Greg Schultz as executive producers for the project.

Less costly than TV commercial

Although specific costs were not disclosed, Mercury spent less on the production of the online films than the cost of a typical TV commercial, according to an executive close to the matter.

Ford said Mercury sales slipped by 2.5% through October to 165,000 units vs. a year ago. But the brand's new models are just starting to arrive in showrooms.

Separately, Mr. Grice said the data hasn't been compiled yet on the number of free downloads on Mercury's brand site of four different versions of a custom song written by Grammy winner Paula Cole. He added Mercury is studying whether to add other songs, not from Ms. Cole, to the site in the coming months.
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