Last week I wrote about the effectiveness of online display advertising – in “To Infiniti and beyond” – where I also touched upon the significance of content marketing as a tool for brands trying to engage with users online.

This week I’ll explore the subject a little further, using the latest Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Caption Competition as the case in point.

The competition is built around the team’s F1 world champions, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, and encourages participants to have fun writing captions for a gallery of behind-the-scenes photographs of the lads and their engineers at work. To provide some creative inspiration a series of viral videos have been produced, which you can take a look at below.

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes – Cap Signing. Ever wonder what Jenson gets up to when he’s not racing?

Hosted on the Vodafone Racing Facebook page, fans are invited to choose a photo then add a witty caption, after which they can vote on other captions from the 800 or so already added.

Some of my favourites include a picture of Lewis saying, “I left Massa this much room and he still hit me..”, or one where Jenson is looking at a magazine with his engineer and says ‘ least I’m sexier than Vettel in the latest Pirelli photo shoot..”. You get the idea.

Vodafone Racing Caption Competition

The App can prove quite an addictive experience, especially once you realise there are prizes on offer. Vodafone McLaren Mercedes merchandise (including caps and t-shirts signed by either Lewis or Jenson) will be given to the highest points scorer each week, but the grand prize is a meet and greet for the main winner (and a friend) to visit either Lewis or Jenson at the McLaren Technical Centre in Woking, tour the facilities and pick up a signed copy of their winning caption. The team will even lay on flights and accommodation if the winner lives outside the UK.

The campaign which has been running since late July, has earned Vodafone over 500,000 views on YouTube (300,000 of those in the past month) but perhaps more importantly has fed plenty of positive social conversation about the playful side of the team and its drivers.

Now you might be thinking it’s easy for Vodafone, with access to two F1 world champions and a marketing budget equivalent to the gross domestic product of a third-world country, but there are in fact several lessons that can be applied to every campaign.


A few years ago we ran a campaign with Volkswagen & Tribal DDB, called GTI Project, a Scaletrix-themed driving game with its own microsite supported by a series of cryptic display ads. You can still play the game today (, but make sure you’ve got plenty of spare time available – it’s thoroughly addictive.

I remember measuring yield figures 60 times that of other campaigns and it went on to win several well-deserved awards.

The lesson learned was that a successful social campaign should focus on the viewer’s needs more so than the brand, and that play (just as it was for all of us at one time) is the best tool for learning.

An article published on Mashable earlier this year – Gamification: How Competition Is Reinventing Business, Marketing & Everyday Life – provides a more in-depth look at the mechanics of the approach, but in simple terms the use of gameplay for non-gaming applications plays on our intrinsic desire for reward and recognition amongst our peers.

From a behavioural standpoint it also lowers our guard, sustains participation over a much longer period and builds a shared experience, which as anyone involved in team building will know is crucial to the success of relationships in a group.

And of course groups of supporters and advocates are the goal of nearly every social campaign, so it makes sense for companies to start a campaign considering how they can facilitate the growth of these social groups using their brand as the catalyst. Gameplay is by far the best way to achieve this.

Vodafone Racing Caption Competition


Success in all of our relationships, hinges on the conversations we participate in and this is never more obvious than in the relationship between a brand and its customers online.

The problem as many brands have discovered, is without a constant flow of engaging content, audiences will swiftly move off topic, or worse, start talking about the brand negatively. Facebook pages become customer complaint forums and suddenly all those ‘fans’ turn from being an asset into a liability.

This is where content marketing comes into play. If gameplay is the mechanism, then content is the raw material which feeds it. Content won’t cover up a PR or customer service blunder, but it will provide the means to build a positive relationship with an audience and in many ways this is the main benefit of campaigns such as Vodafone’s Caption Competition.

It’s fun, it’s inclusive and brings us a little closer to the team which Vodafone are helping to sponsor.

There are plenty more examples in this sector which show how gamification can be used to great effect, including:

MINI’s Getaway Stockholm challenge – where the City of Stockholm provided the backdrop for the world’s largest reality board game. [Link]

Volkswagen’s The Fun Theory (The Speed Camera Lottery) – which tested the hypothesis, “Can we get more people to obey the speed limit by making it fun to do?” [Link]

Ford Focus Rally – an interactive pan-American cross-country road rally with the grand prize of $100,000 and a brand new 2012 Ford Focus. [Link]

Citroën DS4SEEKERS Competition – an online and mobile competition in a multi-player game of hide and seek for a chance to win a New Citroën DS4. [Link]

If you haven’t already scrolled past all the marketing speak, then take a look at the remaining viral clips featuring Lewis and Jenson overdubbed with the voice of an actor. They might just inspire you to create the perfect caption that wins you a visit to the most impressive F1 facility on the planet.

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes – Hands Up

Just how hot does Jenson look in his new uniform?

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes – Coin

What does Jenson keep in his pockets when he’s driving?

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes – Jenson Excited

Ever wondered what goes through Jenson’s mind when he’s driving?

Vodafone McLaren Mercedes – Lewis Solo

Ever wondered what Lewis and Jenson chat about on the phone?


Disclosure: This article is sponsored in part by Vodafone, however all views expressed within are entirely our own. We’ve used it to illustrate our wider feature on digital marketing within automotive and motorsport. 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 article further, then get in touch via email or using the contact tab on this page.