Moving Targets

Dot-coms were once heralded as the high priests of a new marketing vision. Traditional bricks-and-mortar businesses would bow down before them and learn.

Since then, we’ve seen how the dot-coms’ solution for every marketing problem was to throw money at it. Meanwhile, traditional businesses quietly figured out how to integrate the Internet into comprehensive marketing communications programs.

For example, automakers are among the most traditional marketers. For decades, “automobile marketing” has meant new-model introductions, rebate offers and giant, inflatable gorillas in front of dealerships. Yet in the past year, we’ve witnessed three big automakers executing effective marketing built around an Internet component.

Ford Focus called its effort “the first live interactive TV commercial.” To assure hands-on involve ment among younger drivers, focus 247. com integrated print and broadcast advertising, Web-site voting and a chance to win prizes. Print drove traffic to the site, where consumers could play director by voting for the stars and Focus cars they’d like to see in the next TV spot. Each visit earned points toward prizes: Sony electronics and a new Ford Focus. E-mails urged consumers to log on again, to earn bonus points for answering product questions.

Nissan Sentra targeted the same younger drivers by integrating real-life locales into its campaign. The company distributed 100,000 CD-ROMs at bars and clubs, coffee shops and music events in major markets. In a conventional CD player, the discs played 10 road tunes by artists Lisa Loeb, Gin Blossoms and Steve Winwood. Placed in a PC’s CD-ROM drive, they delivered an interactive introduction to Nissan Sentra, as well as an instant link to

To build qualified dealership traffic among older drivers, Buick Century added an unconventional Web component to a conventional incentive program. “The Century Challenge” invited Taurus, Camry and Accord owners to visit century. to find out why Century was a Consumer Digest’s “best buy” and to download their choice of test-drive prizes available at dealerships.

Ironically, it’s the “cutting-edge” dot-coms that pursued the most simplistic strategies. They researched nothing, tested nothing and tried nothing new. Instead, they bought as many eyeballs as they could. The result was “So what?” marketing.

The bricks did it better because their marketing is a business-building discipline, not show business to impress investors. In these three programs, auto marketers:

• Transcended technology’s whiz-bang features to leverage its interactive and customer-choice benefits.

• Went beyond network TV by using multiple points of contact to target specific customers who may watch little or no TV.

• Realized that even people who spend two hours a day online still spend 22 hours off. They dealt with real reality, not virtual reality.

In the end, the bricks focused on their customers, not on their companies. They used the Internet to change attitudes and behaviors, not just to congratulate themselves.