In the seven months since Infiniti announced their marketing partnership with Formula One World Champions, Red Bull Racing, I’ve been impressed with how visible the Infiniti brand has become in Europe.

You might consider this inevitable, given that they’re working with the most successful F1 team of the last few seasons – but most brands would have used such an arrangement to boost their corporate hospitality offering or add a by-line to their newspaper or TV ads, but Infiniti have approached the opportunity quite differently.

We were recently asked to write a sponsored editorial about their latest video campaign – Infiniti M Hybrid race, we hesitated because the video on its own doesn’t tell a particularly compelling story. Take a look..

Sebastian Vettel pits a 359 bhp Infiniti M35h against Mark Webber in a 315 bhp Infiniti M37 S around the demanding Nürburgring Nordschleife.

Only when we stepped back and looked at the substance behind Infiniti’s message, did we see a story worth sharing – and it’s a story about the power of content marketing.

Display advertising – if it’s broke, why doesn’t somebody fix it?

Firstly some context. If you’re a regular visitor to SkiddMark, then you will be familiar with my view on display advertising. Back in the early 1990s when we first started using banner ads, we were seeing click through rates (CTRs) of between 70-80%. They worked remarkably well and many of us predicted that the Internet would overtake TV and print by the end of the decade. That didn’t happen. Partly because, unlike TV or print, the inventory of available online ad spots became almost infinite, but also because advertisers merely re-purposed existing content and then tried as many intrusive ways to get their ads seen.

Nowadays we see banner ads earning CTRs of 0.2% or less, with those irritating ones on Facebook and other social networking sites achieving as little as 0.08% – that’s 8 people in every 10,000 bothering to show any interest. Wowzer!

Yet despite the appalling efficacy of online ads, the sector is growing faster than ever before. This morning’s figures from the Internet Advertising Bureau show UK spend up 13.5% year-on-year to £2.26bn and for the first time online ad spend exceeded TV (27% versus 26%). Traditional media such as TV, radio and print saw growth of a just 1.4% in the same period.

So perhaps you’ll understand how ridiculous it looks to a veteran such as myself, to see more money being pumped into a medium that is less and less effective. In desperation to turn the tide, some advertisers are pushing out more intrusive forms of interaction (text links, web pages that interrupt the viewing experience and page takeovers), but these are counterproductive and only serve to annoy. With a few simple browser plugins you can already disable these ads, not to mention that people become increasingly ‘blind’ to them – sometimes deliberately so.

No, The future of advertising lies in taking the brand centre stage, becoming a content provider rather than a content divider. Brands have already found that with Facebook they no longer need publishers to act as mediators – people follow the music, whoever plays it, and brands are beginning to realise that when their outreach adds to the user experience then response rates rise accordingly (6-8% CTRs being more likely).

It will never return to those heady days back in the 90’s (there’s simply too much content and too little time), but as brands discover the power of content marketing at least engagement will be heading in the right direction.

Infiniti strikes a chord with F1 enthusiasts

Assuming that you’ve watched the video above, you’ll probably have concluded “yeah, nicely shot video, but it was never really a race”. Which is true and personally I’d like to see Infiniti letting two of the most down-to-earth and fun loving F1 drivers express a bit more of their playful nature, but it’s a start – and most importantly you chose to watch it and probably didn’t feel advertised to.

Both Seb and Mark have taken part in several more Infiniti videos, all of them content rather than advertising based – so as brands continue along this path (perhaps with our encouragement) expect more content-rich online experiences where entertainment, fun and participation replace the staid old monotony of the banner ad.

I’ve picked out a few of our favourite pieces of content from and around Infiniti during the past six months, but expect to see plenty more after Seb is crowned 2011 F1 world champion this Sunday.

Infiniti & Red Bull Racing: Anatomy of Performance

A film which dissects all the elements that go into producing Inspired Performance on the track, featuring Sebastian Vettel, Mark Webber, David Coulthard, Christian Horner, Adrian Newey and Infiniti’s Andy Palmer.

Feature: Making of the Infiniti FX Sebastian Vettel Version

This 7-minute piece tells the full story of the creation of the car, from the initial concept stage, the production process and design, right through to its official launch at the Frankfurt motor show.

Red Bull Racing Showcar run in Austin, Texas

A remarkable piece of film showing ex-Red Bull Racing driver David Coulthard drive an F1 car in Austin, Texas where next year’s US Grand Prix will be held – driving the first ever ‘dusty’ lap of the track.

Infiniti M35h hybrid Guinness World Record

Tim Pollard from CAR Magazine takes the Infiniti M35h along to Northamptonshire’s Santa Pod Raceway, speeding it into the record books as the world’s fastest accelerating full hybrid.

Sebastian Vettel drives an Infiniti FX50

Red Bull Racing F1 driver Sebastian Vettel showing fans in China what an Infiniti FX50 can do.

Mark pushes an Infiniti to its limits at Rockingham

Mark Webber takes to the track in an Infiniti M37 Sport, while his passengers experience the thrill of a ride in wet and dry conditions.

Mark takes a journalist around Rockingham during a PR day for Infiniti, conducting the interview whilst going sideways. Brilliant!

Paraglider vs FX50S: The Duel

From the top of a mountain, twins Mike and Stuart race each other down to the foothills – one paragliding, one driving the FX50S.

SLOWNESS MAKES FASTNESS…the secret behind extreme performance

More of an advert than a content piece, but still worth a look. The message conveyed is “If you take time, scrutinise every detail, you reach the ultimate in performance.”

Disclosure: This article is sponsored in part by Infiniti, however all views expressed within are entirely our own. They asked us to talk about their latest ad – which we did – but we also chose to focus on the wider scope of their content marketing practice. Sponsored articles are accepted at our own discretion and only where we believe such additional focus or analysis will benefit our readers. If you have any questions or would like to discuss this further, then get in touch via email or using the contact tab on this page.

Written By

Steve Davies

Steve is an investor, private equity advisor and former Partner at KPMG, PwC and Bain.   Most importantly he's a life-long car enthusiast, mountain biker and active sports enthusiast. He designs and builds technology platforms and is the architect behind Transmission.

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