Social Strategies Differ for Auto Brands in Super Bowl

Toyota looks for sales with paid ads, Mercedes plays the long game

The difference between an earned-only strategy in social media versus paid-plus-earned can be like the difference between the Baltimore Ravens’ methodical, pro-style offense and the San Francisco 49ers’ quick-strike "pistol" formations. And with that in mind, football fans and/or marketing followers, Mercedes-Benz's game plan right now mimics the Ravens and Toyota resembles the Niners.

The Super Bowl advertisers’ social strategies are interestingly different for two automotive brands, though mainly due to the fact that Mercedes-Benz is promoting its 2014 CL model—which doesn’t hit car lots in the U.S. until September. That’s right, seven months from now. Therefore, the German automaker isn’t supporting the TV commercial—starring supermodel Kate Upton—with ads on Facebook and Twitter since the marketing plan centers on maintaining a steady flow of awareness that won’t peak until the car’s release. It’s instead leaning on free posts via those social sites and YouTube to reach young adults.

And according to data from Salesforce Marketing Cloud, the strategy appears to be working. The brand has been mentioned more than any other spot so far via social media, per Salesforce, and has a 55 percent positive sentiment.

Mercedes-Benz teased out its first teaser video with Upton on Jan. 21. “That’s a very good way to build views and buzz prior to the Super Bowl,” said Bernie Glaser, vp of marketing for Mercedes-Benz USA, when asked about the teaser strategy. Glaser’s team looks forward to using digital data from the Super Bowl effort to inform future promotions during the remaining slow build-up they must orchestrate from February to Labor Day.

For Toyota, conversely, the time is now while promoting its 2013 RAV4 model with a commercial starring The Big Bang Theory actress Kaley Cuoco. It’s teased out a 60-second video, but so far has only generated roughly one-third the online mentions compared to Mercedes-Benz, per Salesforce.

Toyota hopes to spark more digital discussion in the coming days when it’s running Facebook ads and Promoted Tweets (see ad below) leading up to Super Bowl XLVII. The brand is also buying a Promoted Trend this week.

“There’s so much that’s going on in social media,” said Russ Koble, advertising and planning manager for Toyota USA. “By just putting out tweets from Toyota USA and through other channels, that helps on the free side. But buying the paid social ads helps that much more.”

Bridgett Judd, group director of digital innovation at the brand’s agency, Saatchi & Saatchi L.A., and her team are deeming the January portion of Toyota’s Super Bowl campaign a success. Using Cuoco as the point person, from Jan. 2 through Jan. 12, they encouraged consumers to submit photos via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram with the hashtag #wishgranted for the chance to appear in the big game spot with the actress. “Wish granted” is a central theme to Toyota’s big game ad.

“Our intention is a social experience,” Judd said. “And we’ve seen some amazing engagement. We’ve seen thousands participate.”

Meanwhile, Toyota is also the official sponsor of CBS’ online stream of the Feb. 3 event. And its promotions for the RAV4 certainly won’t end after the game, as the brand plans to run an integrated campaign to push the model during the rest of 2013.

But unlike Mercedes-Benz, Toyota hopes to see the sales meter move in the near term to justify the $8 million, 60-second spot that’s set to air in the Super Bowl’s first quarter.

On the other hand, Mercedes-Benz and its agency, Merkley + Partners, will pay special attention to Upton’s effect on social buzz stats—or “talk value” as Glaser from Mercedes put it—for the next several weeks.

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