Ford F-150 Drives Away With Online Success

NEW YORK – Ford Motor Company and the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) unveiled a media mix study of the automaker’s F-150 launch campaign Tuesday, revealing that online outperformed television for dollar-for-dollar cost efficiency.

The campaign strategy was devised as the company faced a daunting challenge: how to launch the newly redesigned Ford F-150 during a rough economic period, while managing increased competition from other manufacturers. It was a launch referred to by chairman and CEO Bill Ford as the most important one in the company’s history.

The century-old automobile manufacturer looked to the 21st century for innovation by deploying a multi-channel advertising campaign. Results were released at the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s (IAB) Leadership Forum in New York today.

Performed by Rex Briggs, managing partner, Marketing Evolution, the Cross-Media Optimization Study (XMOS) was the latest in a series of research reports the IAB has released over the past several years.

The most innovative of the online media buys were “roadblocks” — ads that interrupted the homepages of portals AOL, Yahoo and MSN. The roadblock component of the media blitz came during the NFL Kickoff in September, with spikes during the premiere of the television show, “24,” and during Thanksgiving football games. The roadblock launch was so wildly successful that the Ford site registered 3,800 hits per second, sending servers crashing.

Complementing the roadblocks were a consistent presence of in-market ads that ran on Yahoo Autos, and other focused sites, such as Kelly Blue Book and Edmunds.com. The in-market ads — given that moniker because visitors to those sites were presumably “in the market” for a car — directed users to a comprehensive personal walk-around of the vehicle when clicked. The idea was to present an experience that was contrary to what potential buyers would encounter in a showroom. It allowed individuals to perform deep dives into the elements of the vehicle they found most interesting, rather than be distracted by a salesperson’s pitch.

Traffic analysis from comScore indicated that nearly 50 percent of all Internet users were exposed to the F-150 online campaign, with impressive results from the roadblocks alone. Just over 39 percent of the reach came from the portal roadblocks, compared to 8.5 percent of Internet users who were exposed to the in-market ads. Nearly 2 percent of Internet users were doubly exposed. Most notably, 40 percent of the targeted 25 to 54 year-old males were reached via the roadblocks.

The XMOS examination revealed that Ford earned a measurable 6 percent sales lift for the F-150 just from exposure to the online ads, while click-through tracked sales pushed conversions even higher. The in-market ads registered a higher conversion rate than the roadblocks, but the roadblocks achieved significantly greater reach, resulting in more sales.

While television garnered the greatest level of absolute reach and purchase consideration impact, the cost was not nearly as efficient as online media and magazines. For every dollar spent online, $21 was allocated for television, and $4 for magazines, Briggs quantified.

In addition to the marketer-directed roadblocks and online ads, there were consumer-directed actions that increased reach and sales. Briggs noted that visits to the Ford site had a strong correlation with sales; visits to truck pages registered moderate correlation with sales; and auto sites had a weak correlation with sales.

The strongest correlation with sales came from search, which Briggs defined as “the ultimate opt-in.” At just .6 percent reach, tracked search terms represented 3 percent of all buyers. “It [search] is the consumer raising their hand. People who have done searches on those [truck-related keywords] are more than 4 times as likely to buy than people who haven’t searched those terms,” said Briggs.

In the F-150 launch, Ford wanted to convey the same idea in their advertising campaign as is evident in their overall product marketing: Ford is setting the standard — again. By strategically incorporating two different types of online ads amidst their television and magazine campaigns, Ford was able to differentiate itself from its competition, leading to increased reach, increased recall, increased purchase intent, and, most importantly, increased sales.

The multichannel strategy led Ford to sell more F-150 trucks during the last day in March than a competitor sold all year, while also boosting ad recall 32 percent, favorable opinion of the product 13 percent, and purchase consideration 17 percent — a 20 year high for 12-month intent.

Briggs had suggested at The Advertising Research Foundation’s (ARF) 50th Annual Convention and Trade Show in New York last week that marketers should look at the total media landscape because consumer attention continually shifts. Briggs’ concern is justified as research continues to reveal simultaneous media usage habits among consumers.

“Good ideas exist in many different places and there is an emergent time for them,” said Briggs.

Briggs’ approach to multichannel marketing is apparent in other XMOS renditions. For Universal Studios’ release of “E.T.” on DVD, the addition of a 3-second rich media overlay ad that captured an iconic moment from the film was three times the cost of a banner ad but three times more effective. Less than one percent of the total budget was allocated for the rich media overlay ads, with roughly 6 percent spent on banner ads, and 94 percent allocated to the cornerstone of the campaign — TV.

For financial services organization ING’s U.S. launch, the company configured the Internet ads more prominently into the mix. In the six-month campaign, 68 percent of the budget was allocated to television, 17 percent to magazines, and 15 percent to online, creating a nearly optimal mix for the campaign’s objectives, the researchers concluded.

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