This car is the slickest you’ve ever been in. The way that it responds when your foot hits the gas pedal, the smooth, yet powerful, brakes, and the engine that sounds so soft and far away and yet still feels so close to you. It’s invigorating. It’s powerful. It’s… actually just a test drive.

But is a test drive truly just a test drive? Although you don’t own the car, the way that it performs during that test drive can be a defining factor leading to your purchase decision. The experience that the test drive provides is crucial. But how do we get there? How do brands win this precious time with consumers in order to show them that they can in fact deliver what’s promised?

Think of a test drive as an interview. Before the automotive brand can get an interview with their consumers, they’ll have to go through some sort of application process. In this case, the application would consist of the brand’s marketing campaign. The marketing campaign, and ultimately how an automotive brand positions itself in such a competitive market, is an extremely important aspect to attracting the right consumers.

Some consumers are looking for upscale, smooth, and luxurious cars. Others are looking for an economical, environmentally friendly, and family oriented car. The market is so diverse, but within each segment, there is still a large amount of competition. Where an Audi might be sophisticated and tech savvy, a BMW is considered comfort lovers and innovation savvy. This small difference is key in attaining the brand image that consumers are going to see, especially in brands that produce cars that are considered to be more or less in the same segment.

Consumers, in the midst of their hectic daily schedules, will almost inevitably forget an advertisement that they quickly saw on TV while they watched their morning dose of news, or on their way to work. The difference in brand positioning here is crucial and very detail oriented. It’s important to note that although the differences in brand positioning are tremendous from the brands’ perspectives, they are relatively small in the consumer’s eyes.

When a brand is trying to outline such small differences, it needs more than just a quick ad that a consumer can see. It needs something that will provide interaction, brand integration into the consumer’s mind, and, of course, a positive experience that will lead the consumer to come back and take the car on a test drive.

The beauty of experiential marketing campaigns is that they can create positive experiences through activities that may not necessarily involve the regular activity that a brand would provide consumers with. An automotive brand, for example, can create positive experiences surrounding the overall brand image, including exclusive vehicle launches, parties, or footprints at heavily populated locations.

Some automotive brands have taken the idea of experiential marketing straight to the experience of driving their cars. Audi set up a footprint where consumers could control a slot car through an iPad. Although the experience wasn’t directly tied to driving a real car, the idea behind the fun game was still directly relatable to driving.

Other companies decide to take experiential marketing to a different playing field, where they allow consumers to experience certain factors of the brand that may not be at first associated just with the automotive brand. Two great examples of brands extracting meaning from their brand and providing consumers with positive experiences come from Volkswagen. In one occasion, VW introduced a “Fast Lane” slide instead of stairs so consumers who were taking the stairs to the subway could instead go faster with VW by speeding up their lives.

VW also introduced The Fun Theory. One of the entries in this campaign consisted of Volkswagen converting a set of subway stairs into a piano, such that when consumers went up the steps, they would hear a sound. The campaign also generated great positive buzz about the healthy choices consumers can make when faced with a more fun alternative to unhealthy choices. This undoubtedly led to good brand associations toward VW, fun, and healthier living.

Regardless of the route that automotive brands decided to take with their experiential marketing, it’s extremely important to create real, personal engagement between the brand, the consumer, and ultimately the brand’s vehicles. In a society where cars are becoming such a vital part of any consumers’ lives, it’s important to distinguish brand differences and establish an accurate brand position that will attract the right consumers.

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