Online advertising: driving sales


Online advertising: driving sales

Promercials, ad exchanges and mini brand experiences are all part of the online advertising mix for Fiat. TBO reports on the car maker’s strategy.

Last year Italian singer Arianna collaborated with US musician Pitbull in a ‘promercial’ for Fiat. In the video accompanying the song, Sexy People (The Fiat song), the female singer is shown driving a Fiat under and on the surface of the ocean.

It is possibly one solution to the problems companies have had with product placements: how do you promote your brand in an artistic sense without its feeling too contrived and obvious? How do you stay subtle, while imposing your message?

Attracting 16 million views to date, the promercial is something probably not even the slick advertising executives in period drama Mad Men could have imagined. It is just one of the many ways brands can promote themselves online.

Claudio Annicchiarico is head of UK digital operations at Fiat and is responsible for its online marketing as well that of Alfa Romeo, Chrysler and Jeep, all Fiat-owned brands. Fiat is the seventh biggest car company in the world after having completed the acquisition of Chrysler, in which it bought a majority share in 2009. Among its portfolio are luxury brands Ferrari and Maserati.

For Annicchiarico, developing the Fiat brand online is a priority: “Ultimately, we exist in a competitive market ... and for a while digital has been our 24-7 shop window.”

Programmatic targeting

Even in the relatively short existence of online advertising, there has been a recognisable development in how to market products. Advertising has moved on from “the old-fashioned way of building a website, advertising the website and drawing people there”, Annicchiarico says.

“Programmatic targeting” is Fiat’s main method of advertising online, he explains.

“Rather than just buying the advertising space on websites, you start buying relevant audiences in real time through the digital advert exchanges,” he says.

Using sophisticated algorithms, Fiat creates a profile of to whom it wants to target its advertising, and then purchases advertising space on exchanges based on the type of audience, specifically targeting a certain profile.

“For example, for the Fiat 500L model (a family car), we’re looking to speak to families with children. We define the profiles we are looking to target, and our programmatic targeting partners, through the advert exchanges, bid in real time on impressions for that audience online. We can also manage the frequency with which we advertise to users and alter our messaging so that we can present users with bespoke messages based on where they are in the sales process. 

“It started to change from a straightforward media buy to allowing technology and audience-buying to be highly focused on just buying those relevant audiences, removing wastage so that all the impressions we buy are in line with our campaign objectives,” he says.

Not buying, enquiring

The objective of advertising online is to generate customer enquiries and it is important to Annicchiarico that Fiat provides a number of platforms through which potential buyers can direct their queries.

For Fiat, the aim behind digital marketing is to develop the identity of the brand among consumers. Selling cars online is difficult because consumers want to be able to engage with the model before committing to purchasing it. A report from management consultant firm McKinsey & Company titled Innovating Automotive Retail said that more than 80 percent of car buyers test-drive a car before purchasing it.

Annicchiarico says: “The objective, ultimately, is to drive customers to our dealer network. We have done e-commerce in the past as a proof of concept to see whether customers are prepared to buy vehicles online. The main focus is generating good quality enquiries for our dealer network to bring them in-store and give the customers the experience they require so they go on and buy a vehicle.”

An enquiry can be made through banner advertising online or through the Fiat communities found on social networks.

“In reality, our business, from a digital point of view, is driving them to the dealer network. Enquiries are relevant, whether they originate on our site or whether they come from a high impact format such as a rich banner ad,” says Annicchiarico.

The intended effect of marketing online is to create what Annicchiarico calls a “mini brand experience”. For instance, the official Fiat Facebook and Twitter feeds publish images of different models alongside familiar catch phrases. Ideas of returning home or going on road trips evoke familiar, comfortable experiences reminding users of happy memories with their automobile. The conversational tone, ultimately, encourages users to interact with the brand.

“Those expandable and rich media formats end up being a mini brand experience,” says Annicchiarico. “They are designed to engage consumers, providing them with a strong brand experience outside of our brand portals.”

He uses the example of the The Times newspaper. “If you are on The Times website and you interact with our rich formatted pieces you can make an enquiry and we are more than happy for you to make the enquiry there or on our website. It’s about giving the consumers the option of engaging where they feel comfortable.

"Annicchiarico and Fiat aim to create happy associations with the various models of Fiat on social media and online."

“The important thing is the brand experience and enabling the consumer to make an enquiry if they choose. It’s no longer just about driving people to the domain to make an enquiry; we’re more than happy for people to source information or make an enquiry on any of our channels, websites or brand portals. It is important to provide choice and ensure people are aware that they can make an enquiry when they are ready,” says Annicchiarico.

Bots in the driving seat

Big brands such as Fiat are vulnerable to deceptive tactics from certain websites that sell advertising space through exchanges. One such tactic is to disguise the amount of traffic going to the website through the use of automated bots—web robots.

“Bots are an industry-wide problem that we have in the digital space around the visibility and viewing of advertising,” says Annicchiarico.

The automotive industry has suffered in particular. In June, a report from Solve Media in its Quarterly Bot Traffic Market Advisory concluded that almost a third of traffic to automobile dealership websites was driven by bots: 22% derived from bots, while 14% displayed suspicious bot-like activity. The report concluded that automobile companies could be losing up to $500 million every year in advertising to non-human traffic.

Another problem advertisers face is the association with websites facilitating access to unauthorised content online. Companies such as Fiat can find themselves advertising on such sites after purchasing adverts through exchanges.

Black and white

Annicchiarico explains that advert exchanges are divided into a ‘white-lists’ and ‘black-lists’.

“The way this normally works is that within the advert exchanges there is a thing known as a ‘white-list’, which is something you’d normally advertise on and where there would be standards you would expect from the The Times or The Guardian newspapers,” he says.

“Within the networks they suggest that they advertise only on the white-lists, but there have been some smart fraudsters who have been masking their site to appear as a site on those ‘white-lists’.

“I am thinking of illegal download sites, where as a brand you do not want to be seen associated on those types of lines. The way they do that is by masking themselves on advert exchanges and they have managed to get advertising on their site, which they get paid for. It is a constant battle to try to stay ahead of fraudulent activity because it is a technology-based thing,” he says.

Fighting back

Avoiding associations with websites facilitating pirated content can be a costly use of time and resources for brands such as Fiat, although there may be hope. Fiat entered into a partnership with online brand protection company Project Sunblock to help protect its brand by confronting websites purporting themselves to be ‘white-listed’ sites.

Project Sunblock has worked with the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit on its Operation Creative, where adverts from brands have been removed and replaced with a banner stating that the unit is investigating the website due to allegations of copyright infringement.

Annicchiarico explains that Fiat worked with Project Sunblock to ensure it does not advertise on websites breaking the law.

“Project Sunblock was an example where we invested time and money to defend our position against this type of fraudulent activity. It was put in place to gather data and to try to minimise any type of fraudulent activity on those sites,” he says.

“I believe we were one of the first automotive manufacturers to actually deploy something like this,” he adds.

“We did a lot of investigation in to how we can defend ourselves against it. It is a difficult thing. It is a continuing battle.”

Moving the roadblocks

In the first season of Mad Men, the protagonist Don Draper says advertising is based on one thing: happiness, elaborating that “happiness is the smell of a new car”. In creating a mini-brand experience for potential buyers, Annicchiarico and Fiat aim to create happy associations with the various models of Fiat on social media and online. To buy a Fiat is not simply a choice of product, but an extension of you as an individual, is Fiat’s message.

“That is the beauty of the social environment. We’re doing advertising and getting momentum with our brand communication and obviously enticing people to come and spend time and engage with the brand in environments where we can communicate with them and have a dialogue with them,” Annicchiarico says.

Fiat and Annicchiarico understand the importance of advertising online and reaching out to potential buyers. But as digital channels offer new challenges, Fiat and other car brands will have to work diligently to ensure they are advertising in the spaces where they can reach their target audience.

Fiat; automobile; online advertising; brand protection; social media

Trademarks and Brands Online