Saab Dips Its Toe Into Mobile Marketing

In a move that could make its business reply cards obsolete, a mobile effort from GM has its Saab brand prospecting for leads via cell phone, a strategy the company might take national.

Saab, one of the sponsors of the 18th annual Boston Wine Festival (which began Jan. 12 and runs through April 6), decided to forgo the traditional business reply card normally handed out at such events in favor of a mobile alternative. Attendees are being asked to text in their cell phone numbers to receive food and wine tips.

When they receive their first tip, users are then presented with the option of answering questions about any prospective Saab purchase. The next step will be GM dealers contacting interested buyers. Attendees do not have to participate in the marketing in order to get the food and wine information, which is from Daniel Bruce, the chef at Boston Harbor Hotel’s Meritage The Restaurant. (The festival is being held at the Boston Harbor Hotel.) Users who agree to receive messages from Saab and say they are interested in buying a car in nine months, for example, would likely be contacted by a dealer in that time frame.

In order to be compliant with anti-spam laws, consumers who want to opt out of any of Saab’s mobile marketing need only send the word “stop” as a reply text.

The idea for the program came from Saab’s agency for events and promotions, Interpublic Group’s GM R*Works in New York. It was executed by Soapbox Mobile in Carlsbad, Calif. Saab put less than $1 million into the effort, with the money coming out of the company’s events and promotions budget, according to sources.

“When we were putting this together, we tried to think of things that have some value that we can use to get people to register with their mobile numbers,” said Vlad Edelman, CEO of Soapbox.

According to John Konkel, regional divisional marketing manager for the premium team of GM, Northeast, 38 percent of those who have already texted into the campaign ultimately requested information about a Saab. “So far, the results have been good,” he said, adding that Saab now has “hundreds” of new names in its database.

Given the early results, GM is mulling expanding the execution of mobile outreach to events and promotions it holds across the country that currently use the business reply card method. “It’s possible we’ll roll it out on a national basis or even across other divisions of GM,” noted Konkel, who, in addition to working on Saab, handles Hummer and Cadillac.

First, the program is being analyzed to see how it compares with the automaker’s other lead generation activities.

“We’re looking for eventual conversion to sales,” said Konkel. “We’ll look at the amount spent [on the festival promotion] versus other events we believe have been a success.” As marketers try to figure out what approach works best when selling by cell phone, giving the consumer a tip as well as a way to immediately purchase the product comes ever closer to fruition, said Soapbox executives.

This is the first of six campaigns Soapbox has in the works for GM. The other five are in the planning stages. To target the “youth market, we’re looking at a much more involved execution, like an on-the-fly fantasy game,” said Edelman. He noted that it could be a music event where a mobile VIP club would be created: “For example, we could do Pontiac mobile VIP club, where if you pre-register you have a chance to win backstage passes.”

Added Edelman: “This has longer term possibilities, like routing people to the closest liquor store that sells the recommended wine. It’s not part of this campaign, but it is where it’s going [eventually].”