Getting potential customers to test drive your car is half the battle in automotive advertising. But the odds of making even that happened looked pretty slim for Mitsubishi Motors as it launched its latest model, the Outlander Sport.
"Mitsubishi as a brand had fallen off the consideration set for all but 4 percent of all Americans, which is pretty bad," said William Gelner, executive creative director for 180 L.A., Mitsubishi's creative agency, "and our media spend was a fraction of all costs of what other auto manufacturers were spending."
So rather than try to lure the customers to the dealership, 180 decided to take the dealership to the customers. From November 1 through November 11th, Mitsubishi offered online test drives of the Outlander Sport.
Billed as the "Mitsubishi Live Drive," the program allowed consumers to operate a real-life Outlander from their home computers by using their keyboards. "This was not a simulation or a 'virtual' test drive," said Gelner. "You actually got to drive a real car" around a closed course.
The idea wasn't quite to replace a real-life test drive, but to convince people they should sign up for one. The agency was also hoping to make the link in consumers' minds between hi-tech innovation and the Outlander Sport, which comes with various iPhone and iPod integration features. Indeed, creating the Internet test drive required the work of renowned robotics engineer Dr. James Brighton and software engineer Simon Cave from B-Reel. B-Reel created the Live Drive site and handled all the production.
180 also created a series of Web videos to promote the test drives (and the car). The 60-second version of the video has so far attracted more than 27,000 views on YouTube.
More than 40,000 people ultimately registered for an online test drive, though only 5,000 actually got the chance to take one during the 11-day promotion. (Of those 5,000 people, 38 spent their entire test drive doing donuts, and 11 drove in reverse the whole time, said 180.) Although 35,000 registrants never got to take the actual test drive, Mitsubishi nonetheless captured their e-mail addresses and will be following up with CRM efforts.
Perhaps the most important metric though is that 25 percent of those who took a test drive clicked the "find a dealer" button to sign up for a real test drive, "which was the real goal," said Gelner.
Whether the campaign results in more Mitsubishi sales remains to be seen, but it did break one record so far: the longest distance ever driven by a remote-control car, 91 miles. The Guinness Book of World Record confirmed the record on November 19th.
Update and correction: Story has been updated to note B-Reel's involvement. Also, an earlier version misidentified Simon Cave as Simon Archer.
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Douglas Quenqua is a journalist based in Brooklyn, NY who writes about culture and technology. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, The New York Observer, and Fortune.
March 19, 2014