Sometimes social media can take companies to surprising places. A recent marketing campaign by Nissan and their media agency, TBWA, to promote the newly launched Versa Note has been successful beyond the company’s dreams, due partly to an unprompted pickup via an observant social media user that went viral.
The car manufacturer was enthused when its media agency proposed a stunt in which it would allow users to order the new Nissan Versa Note via Amazon, the e-commerce behemoth with whom the auto maker is partnering.
The original idea was to have the first 100 users who ordered via Amazon receive a $1,000 gift certificate and to allow three people to actually receive the car via Amazon in a huge box. The first 100 orders came through in no less than 72 hours, although only 28 actually ended up purchasing the car. "We knew there would be breakage," says Erich Marx, director of interactive and social-media marketing at Nissan. "Everyone had a lot of fun with it. It was a stunt, not a way to sell cars. The idea was to raise awareness for Versa Note."
In the end, after talking to a number of potential recipients, Nissan chose only one: Arun K of Madison, Wisconsin, who was to receive his car in early January. The whimsical story of the car’s delivery was to be told via a promotional video released later in the month.
But events got ahead of themselves on January 6 when someone spotted a truck bearing a massive Amazon box parked on the streets of Madison, Wisconsin. The observer posted a shot of the truck on social media site Reddit, noting: "What's the largest item you can have shipped from Amazon? Because I think my neighbor just got it."
"Within two hours, it had caught fire," recalls Marx. Reddit users began speculating about the contents of that big box. Is it a boat? A house? A very large safe? Or merely a "bunch of those plastic bubble bags and a much smaller box?" Others had to put in their two cents, such as: "That box is bigger than some apartments you can get in New York."
More fuel was added to the fire when the topic of what was in the box was discussed the same day during Jerry Seinfeld’s Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything), according to Marx. And Reddit user drfarren soon figured it out: "Looks like someone bought a car and amazon has a sense of humor."
Not long after that, user iamtehstig noted, "I remember Nissan was in partnership with Amazon to sell the new Nissan Versa Note a few months ago. Maybe they bought one?"
In all, the item generated 60,000 up votes (Reddit’s equivalent to Facebook likes) and 4,200 comments, according to Marx, and generated mainstream news coverage in 10 different countries. "This was not our marketing plan," he notes.
The topic went quiet on social after that but did get a bit more buzz after the official launch of the video on January 23, according to Topsy. However, so far the video has only received 332,085 views on YouTube. "The story was played out," notes Marx. "It had already got so much pickup."
That was just one of a few lessons the car manufacturer drew from the incident. "Partnering with a trusted and well-known partner like Amazon is always good," Marx says. "Had this just been a nondescript box, I doubt it would have generated much excitement." The fact that Amazon is one of the most trusted brands in America was the reason Nissan decided to partner with the e-commerce behemoth, he says. And although Nissan won’t be selling any more cars via the site, the two will "continue to look for additional opportunities to partner and co-brand," he notes.
Lesson number two was the need to stay flexible in the age of social media. When the story was leaked, Nissan had to scramble to complete the video ahead of schedule and ended up pitching the story to the media that very day. "In the social space you have to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. This is controlled by the public, and not by brands. We needed to seize that moment and be ready for anything."
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Mary Lisbeth D'Amico is a freelance writer based in Jersey City who frequently covers digital marketing, social media, tech startups, and venture capital. She has contributed to a wide range of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Red Herring, and Real Deals. Find her on Twitter at @mldamico.
March 19, 2014