How to launch a new car – remember to tell your customers…

A friend of mine sent me an assignment from a digital marketing course she recently completed. Interestingly I wrote and revised the original course some years ago.

In a nutshell, the students were asked to get 1,000 test drives for a new model car ($50,000) with an online budget of $500,000. The budget could only be spent online and the campaign has to last 12 months.

test drive joke

As well as the number of test drives, the measurement criteria includes “social buzz“. Yes it’s true. The assessors want to measure the amount of social buzz around people attending the test drive of a car.

Now I’m not sure about your social life dear reader, but when your livelihood depends on selling cars, what the occasional tweet says about test driving one, is probably not one of the key drivers (exclude the pun) you use for getting leads or sales.

Of course if the typical post says “please call me on this number as I have $50,000 to spend and want to test drive your new model car” then by all means such social posts are worthy of tracking.

Too often in our education courses the assignments don’t represent reality, yet this is the ‘learning’ that’s taken into the workplace. This is one of those cases in point, as it represents utopia when it comes to marketing budgets.

Anyone who has worked in automotive marketing know the flaws in this assignment:

  • Customers who’ve owned their current car for more than 5 years are your best prospects – and they love receiving printed personalised invitations in the mail, to new car launches or test drive events.
  • $500 per lead is way too much for the average vehicle sale, it’s more suited to the prestige end of the market.
  • New vehicle launches don’t last 12 months, because the car loses value as soon as the plate ticks over a calendar year – it becomes last year’s model.

The simple answer to the assignment is to run a bunch of mass media ads saying “get $250 free when you test drive this new car”. They would easily get the 1,000 test drives (though probably not many sales), but the objective of test drives will be achieved.


The most profitable way to get the test drives is to mail/email/phone current customers and invite them to a test drive event. These customers could be incentivised to bring colleagues/friends along. The more friends the more chances of a reward. And of course the car maker could also promote it on their social sites and encourage attendees to do the same.

If a national automotive brand cannot get 1,000 current customers and prospects along to a test drive by simply contacting their existing customer base, they won’t stay in business very long. Mercedes used to fill the Convention Centre with thousands of customers for their new car launches, just using mail and telephone.

Small data rules OK…

An agency I ran created Toyota’s customer contact programme. Bob Miller, Toyota’s Marketing Director at the time, called it his secret weapon in getting Toyota to the No.1 brand in Australia.  Using data (mostly small to medium, not very big data) we generated qualified leads for the dealers. The dealers sent cheques to Bob for the privilege of getting these leads. (well they were sent to head office to participate in the programme)

And those same dealers will still pay for a qualified lead today, but I can guarantee they won’t pay for social buzz. That’s not to say marketers should not use social media to promote events, competitions or other incentives to encourage test drives. There are obvious benefits to using social media if what can be shared is worth sharing.

test drive social mediat

But to restrict a car launch to digital channels only, is a fast lane to failure. Always use personal channels first, supported by the other channels – both analogue and digital.

Just ask any car salesperson. Once you get a prospect in the car for a test drive it’s hard for the prospect to say ‘no’. The conversion rates are close to 70%. The salespeople don’t care how they get the test drives, just as long as they get them.


I’m off to test drive a new office chair – watch this space for the Instagram shot, Facebook and Twitter post, Vine video, Snapchat image, blog and publication on LinkedIn. I’m sure the salespeople are anxiously scanning their iThingos in anticipation. #testdriveofficechair


One comment

  1. Ahhhh Malcolm. How refreshing it is to read your blog posts. I struggle with the mad (and misdirected) focus on social media. Coming from the ‘crossover generation’ of advertisers (as the interwebby thing emerged) I am still very wedded to the personal contact approach and I don’t think it will ever die with gurus like you bringing the newbies back down to earth. Onya!

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