We hear a lot about Intelligence in the motoring industry, it’s become the norm in automotive acronyms, especially for the leading German car makers – Intelligent Performance, Intelligent Lightweight Construction and even Intelligent Emotion (whatever that means) – but how intelligent is their marketing?

Rather than base our Top-10 listing purely on video views and social shares, I thought it would be interesting to look a little closer at how well each campaign contributed to the ‘equity’ of each brand – the assets a brand is then able to use across its entire marketing mix.

In today’s highly networked business environment, the old adage “what get’s measured, gets done” is becoming something of a liability as marketing teams seek to justify their actions through quantitative analysis and attribution modelling, whilst often ignoring the factors which drive those results.

When something can’t be measured, does that make it not worth doing? Of course not. But in the rapidly evolving digital environment, that’s precisely what happens. We struggle to keep up with all the tools, platforms and new methods far less accurately measure them, so just like performance, lightweight construction or efficiency, automotive marketers sometimes need the intelligence to realise where taking the right action is equally as important as being able to justify it thereafter.

Ultimately, intelligence boils down to using the assets at your disposal in the most effective ways to achieve your objectives. Let’s see how well they did:

Top 10 Most Shared Automotive Ads of 2011 (not all released in 2011)

  1. Volkswagen: The Force: Volkswagen Commercial  – 47.5 million views, 4,813,984 shares (32,618 comments)
  2. DC Shoes: Ken Block’s Gymkhana Four; The Hollywood Megamercial – 13.1 million views, 2,111,150 shares (19,115 comments)
  3. Kia: Party Rock Anthem-Kia Soul Hamster Commercial – 10.7 million views, 1,556,221 shares (12,748 comments)
  4. Nissan: Pôneis Malditos – 13.9 million views, 968,124 shares (25,827 comments)
  5. DC Shoes: Ken Block’s Gymkhana Three; The Ultimate Playground733,112 shares
  6. Chrysler Eminem Super Bowl Commercial – Imported From Detroit – 15.4 million views, 436,016 shares (28,241 comments)
  7. BMW 1M – Walls – MPowered Performance Part 1 – 3.0 million views, 407,505 shares (1,922 comments)
  8. DC Shoes: Ken Block’s Gymkhana Two; The Infomercial341,980 shares
  9. Team Hot Wheels – The Yellow Driver’s World Record Jump – 8.1 million views, 294,046 shares (4,177 comments)
  10. Volkswagen: Black Beetle – 6.3 million views, 212,290 shares (2,371 comments)

Source: The data was compiled from Unruly Media’s Viral Video Chart at 15:00 (GMT) on 15 December 2011. The Viral Video Chart is the world’s largest, most comprehensive database of online social videos, and measures views and social shares based on a count of the embedded videos and links on approximately 2 million blogs, as well as Facebook and Twitter.

I could wax lyrically about the high-quality production values in our Top 10, their clever use of aspirational memes and how effective they are in conveying the personality of the brands they represent, but there’s an elephant in the room.

Nissan Brazil’s ad for the Frontier pickup, Pôneis Malditos, is not like other video ads. According to the Portuguese Blog the ad uses a play on words ‘do you have horse-power or ponies?’ A song then taunts the presumably-macho target customer with a chorus line that I’ll leave you to translate for yourself, ‘pônei maldito, pônei maldito’, since it’s definitely NSFW.

There’s a twist at the end where the cute little pony tells you not to close the video, followed by its evil twin who tells you that if you don’t share the video with 10 people, you’ll get the pony’s song stuck in your head forever. So it is basically the advertising equivalent of chain-mail spam. Such questionable tactics are unlikely to succeed more than once, so we’ll treat it as an anomaly in our 2011 list.

The remaining ads in our Top 10 illustrate the trend towards creating re-usable memes, enabling their brands to reuse the characters and storylines in other media campaigns and thereby reinforce the identity to which customers establish a relationship with. In last week’s interview with Ken Block of DC Shoes, he spoke about the value of building ‘personality’ into a viral video and we can see this type of character-based ad dominating the charts.

Top 5 Automotive Brands in 2011

If you’re anything like me, then you’ll not be satisfied with a Top 10 list of the most shared social media ads, you’ll want to know which car maker has really grasped the nettle and made social video a mainstay in their marketing plans.

Last year we singled out MINI, Ford and Kia for consistently performing above the pack, producing videos that were funny, entertaining and highly shareable.

But while humour is useful in generating strong viewing figures, like the sugary high of a Pina Colada the positive sentiment can quickly decline. Brands are now moving towards more epic ads, as spoken about recently by Unruly COO Sarah Wood, “More brands are realizing the potential of social video to build a high-impact, long-term emotional connection with their audience.”

This move towards a more sustainable level of engagement has raised the bar for what it takes to capture the audience’s interest, but in turn, people are sharing more videos with others in their social groups. In 2011, the top 20 ads across all sectors generated 25 million shares, a near five-fold increase from 2010 levels. However, the ratio of views to shares from 2011 to 2010 is even more interesting: In 2010, one in 39 people who viewed video content went on to share it online. In 2011, the ratio rose to 10 to one.

In comparing the Top 5 Automotive Brands we’ve yet again used data provided by Unruly Media’s Viral Video Chart, and we’ve then selected from campaigns within the Top 200 that ran during 2011.

Automotive Brand Total Views Social Shares Shares/View (%) No. of Videos
Volkswagen 62,690,930 5,409,290 8.63% 11
Kia 26,279,468 2,216,199 8.43% 4
Nissan 16,466,915 1,067,151 6.48% 4
BMW 15,637,892 885,380 5.66% 15
Audi 5,551,388 211,453 3.81% 14

There are several conclusions that spring to mind when looking through the above list. Firstly we know that the position of the first 3 brands is heavily influenced by big-impact campaigns which already feature strongly in our overall Top 10. However that should in no way detract from their significance, even if it does raise questions about their repeatability.

The one exception is Kia, which truly owns the Hamster meme, in much the same way as comparethemarket.com built a successful connection with its audience using a bunch of Meerkats. Kia’s ‘Black Sheep’ ad was the most successful automotive ad of 2010 and they’ve shown the ability to sustain the character’s impact.

Nielsen Automotive Advertising Awards voted the campaign the “Automotive Ad of the Year” in 2010, attributing a sales increase of 10% purely due to the halo effect it brought the brand.

Audi and BMW delivered the highest number of campaigns within our overall Top 200, although none reached the giddy heights of those from Kia and Nissan.

Audi’s top campaign was for the A8 (Big Game Commercial: Release the Hounds), which as with Volkswagen, benefitted from the Super Bowl TV viewing figures during February.

BMW’s strongest performance came from an unlikely source; a pair of ads produced by BMW Canada to promote the 1 Series M Coupe – both generated millions of views (3.0 million for Part 1 and 1.7 million for Part 2) and together generated more than half a million social shares.

They were certainly epic and ticked all the boxes for what makes a successful automotive ad. As an added bonus, not a single child or small cuddly animal was exploited to achieve their success, so perhaps there we should recognise them as a moral victor in the category of ‘Purist Car Ads’.

We would also like to acknowledge BMW’s success in maintaining a consistently high level of performance throughout the year, they were the only brand to reach 1 million views in 7 separate videos, with Volkswagen and Kia being next most consistent with 4 videos each.

Volkswagen were in a different league to the others during 2011. Principally because of their record breaking Mini Darth Vader ad (The Force), but they also achieved the highest overall shares per view of 8.63%, narrowly beating Kia with 8.43%. To add some context, before all this success goes to Volkswagen’s head, Gymkhana 4 achieved a shares per view performing of 16.7% making it by far the most effective automotive ad in terms of engagement.

We were in two minds whether to attribute any credit to Ford for Ken Block’s Gymkhana 4 video. Whilst Gymkhana 4’s primary goal is to promote DC Shoes’ clothing and apparel, Ford are a key partner in the campaign and have cleverly used Ken and his Hybrid Function Hoon Vehicle (H.F.H.V) to increase adoption of the Ford Fiesta through the parallel campaign, 43 Fiestas Challenge.

But if we stand back and take stock of the most effective Automotive social video campaigns of 2011, we see top-quality production values, the use of engaging characters and increasingly dramatic storylines.

One consequence of these attributes is that successful video ads are no longer cut down versions of their TV counterparts, but instead bespoke short films lasting anywhere between 2 and 9 minutes – the feature ad. The sales message, if there is one, is firmly hidden away and replaced by entertaining content and a viewing experience that encourages sharing and social conversation.

For 2012, this trend is set to continue, with the most successful brands being those who best understand their audience and embrace their role as entertainers and content providers. Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments below, or on Twitter.

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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