Volkswagen Canada team
PALM + HAVAS team
|Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):||April 17, 2014 – June 24, 2014|
|Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: ||April 17, 2014|
|Base Period as a Benchmark: ||February 13, 2014 – April 17, 2014|
The Golf line-up is iconic. Dating back to 1974, the Golf has come to occupy a place in the hearts of both car enthusiasts and the general public alike. Each successive generation has built on the foundation of the previous Golf, continually adding newer technology and tweaking the design, while staying true to its roots. But despite the Golf’s illustrious history, there were three major challenges to overcome for the launch of the 7th-generation Volkswagen Golf and Golf GTI in the summer of 2014.
1. The 7th-generation Volkswagen Golf and Golf GTI had already been launched worldwide the previous year. The international and Canadian media had covered the past year’s launch, thereby lessening the impact of the official announcement of the launch in the Canadian market. Due to the fact that over a year had elapsed since the international launch, we were unable to surf the wave of “fresh news” that a simultaneous launch would have provided. As such, we needed to rekindle the newsworthiness of the new Golf’s launch in the Canadian market.
2. The 2015 Volkswagen Golf and Golf GTI were only starting to trickle into dealerships starting in May (GTI) and June (Golf), building up to the full launch in September 2014. This created a void in compact segment sales for Volkswagen, as there were no Golf or GTI models available for purchase between January and May 2014. Volkswagen Canada tasked PALM + HAVAS with pre-launching the models in order to garner as much consideration as possible from prospects and owners, and generate 1,500 pre-sold units by the end of June 2014.
3. To make matters even more complex, Volkswagen only allocated a minimum amount of its media budget for the pre-launch period (starting in May for the GTI and in June for the Golf), the reason being that Volkswagen couldn’t afford to heavily invest in both the pre-launch and the launch. Volkswagen therefore determined that the media budgets would be used most effectively if they were not diluted but rather focused during the period when the vehicles were actually in dealership.
Overall, it was a tall order: generate and maintain interest in the 7th-generation Golf, with minimal paid media support, with limited earned media, with no vehicles to showcase, for a period of three months prior to the cars being available, while reaching an aggressive pre-sales objective of 1,500 units.
In an increasingly competitive automotive industry, we needed our voice to be heard in a marketplace that was already saturated with offers and new releases. With minimal support from paid media, we had to come up with a concept that would be effective in generating “newsworthiness,” increase our earned media, maximize visibility for the Golf and Golf GTI, and ultimately pre-sell the vehicles.
Pre-sales for the new models started off very weak. In February, when these models were first made available for pre-sale, a mere 88 vehicles had been pre-sold, even though their announcement during the Montreal and Toronto auto shows garnered positive media feedback and interest. While March was stronger, with 240 pre-sales, we were not even close to reaching the pre-sales target by June. Our Countdown concept came at a perfect time, rapidly turning the situation around.
- Generate 1,500 pre-sales of the 2015 Golf and Golf GTI by July 2014 (pre-sale period began in February 2014)
$100,000 - $200,000
Putting Consumers in the Driver’s Seat
Though Volkswagen Canada’s pre-sale goals were aggressive, with no media budget and a vehicle that wasn’t yet available to be test-driven, we needed to generate awareness for the launch and eventual consideration for the cars. With all the challenges we faced, we couldn’t use traditional promotional techniques.
We innovated by creating the Volkswagen Golf Countdown, a reverse auction in which the starting MSRP of the All-New Golf and Golf GTI decreased by 1 cent a second, up to $1,000 per day. The price could effectively reach $0. One Golf and one Golf GTI were simultaneously reverse-auctioned, and once the consumer was satisfied with the price of either model, they could lock in a personalized discount…as long as another consumer didn’t get there first. Upon placing a bid, the customer had to reserve the vehicle by putting a $250 deposit on their credit card. Each time a vehicle was reserved, a new one would reappear after 60 seconds at the original starting price, and the reverse auction would start again. Everybody knew that the price could reach $0…but it took nerves of steel to wait it out. The Countdown lasted for two months, from April 17, 2014, to June 24, 2014.
The analysis that drove us to this insight is the fact that one of the Golf and Golf GTI’s core value propositions is that they are fun to drive. The driver truly feels in control because of the Golf’s distinctive handling. We wanted to replicate this feeling by giving the consumer control over the price in a fun and interesting way.
Another critical element of this strategy was that we felt the Golf Countdown was newsworthy enough to foster the media attention we lacked for the Golf pre-sales. The vehicles directly pre-sold through the Golf Countdown would simply not be enough to reach our pre-sales objectives. For instance, even if we directly pre-sold two vehicles a day through the Golf Countdown, it would still only result in 120 vehicles over the Countdown’s 60-day period. Our main insight was that the Golf Countdown didn’t need to directly pre-sell any vehicles. Its true potential was in generating enough word of mouth and media attention to bring the Golf and Golf GTI to the forefront, which would result in collateral pre-sales that would not only greatly exceed the pre-sales generated on the Golf Countdown site, but do so without discounting the price of the Golf and Golf GTI.
High impact, low cost
With a $0 media budget allocated to this initiative, we had to leverage all available owned media to promote the Golf Countdown with a heavy focus on our house e-mail list and social media. We needed to showcase the uniqueness of the Golf Countdown in order to generate word of mouth and other forms of earned media. To get the word out, we used Facebook and Twitter communications in unison with teaser trailers on YouTube. These promotional videos emphasized the real-time aspect of the Countdown and were used to serve three roles: explain the concept, encourage sharing and, quite simply: drive traffic.
An e-blast was also sent out to over 250,000 Volkswagen owners and prospects to encourage them to participate in the auction and to be among the first to own a 2015 Volkswagen Golf or Golf GTI. All these promotional tools led to the Countdown page: a fun, simple and easy-to-use webpage, highlighting the core benefits of the Golf and showcasing the Countdown price in real-time with a big, luring “lock-it-in” call to action.
To further spread the word we launched a PR campaign targeting traditional media, bloggers and a wide range of Canadian forums. The inventiveness of the concept led to an incredibly positive reaction, ranging from enthusiastic fans on Twitter using the hashtag #VWCountdown to renowned publications reviewing the Golf Countdown and highlighting the coming launch. As we had anticipated, the word of mouth and earned media generated for the Golf Countdown translated into an immediate increase in pre-sales. The Globe and Mail, The Gazette Autonet, Driver, The Car Guide, Auto123, La Presse and many more praised the campaign. While Volkswagen’s owned media was effective in sparking interest in the Countdown, the gained and earned media made the campaign an astonishing success.
As previously noted, paid media was not used for this campaign. The Golf Countdown was only supported through earned and owned media:
- E-blast to owners and prospects
- Social media posts (Facebook, Twitter)
- One-minute YouTube trailer (see attached video "youtube trailer")
- PR campaign
From a creative point of view, the overarching message of the campaign was putting the power in the hands of the consumer. As previously noted, the Volkswagen Golf and Golf GTI are true “driver’s” cars. They are fun to drive and it’s reflected in the history of the Volkswagen brand. The Countdown allowed consumers to draw a parallel between empowering themselves by selecting the price of the car, and empowering themselves by getting behind the wheel of a Volkswagen Golf. Thus, the central message of the campaign was allowing consumers to take control. Additionally, we wanted to play on the double-meaning of Countdown, referring to both the price reduction and the impending launch of the 2015 Golf models.
The number of people on the Countdown website was also displayed in real time to give users an idea of how many people were potentially trying to lock in the best discount, thus creating a sense of excitement and urgency.
If that wasn’t enough to get the player’s heart racing, Volkswagen added an automated alert system that allowed everyone to follow the countdown in real time and to reconnect at the exact moment their desired discount was reached.
The YouTube video was also a key element of our creative as it showcased the Golf Countdown experience by summarizing the value proposition in a one-minute teaser. This video enabled us to generate additional inquiries and interviews for the Golf Countdown, which was instrumental in our overall strategy of maximizing our earned and owned media.
The Golf Countdown would have probably never existed had our pre-sales media budget not been so low. Of course, as with any campaign there’s an inherent risk in expecting it to garner enough traction and impact to generate acceptable business results, and even more so when that campaign is not supported through paid media. Volkswagen is a small player in the industry, with only 3.4% market share. This is reflected in their advertising budget, so we’re always asked to do more with less.
To compensate for this lack of advertising budget, the Golf Countdown had campaign newsworthiness. Not only did it attract the consumer and media attention we had hoped for, but it arguably did so more effectively than a paid media strategy. The campaign felt less like advertising and more like news, giving it more credibility with Canadian consumers and stronger word of mouth.
Both the earned media and business results were very positive.
- The Golf Countdown generated over 9.9 million impressions in earned media
- The Countdown site hosted over 117,000 sessions from 66,526 unique visitors
- 1,919 people remained connected to the automatic alert system
- We far exceeded our pre-sales objectives of 1,500 units and pre-sold 1,810 vehicles by June 24th
- 81% of the pre-sales (1,482 units) were pre-sold during the Golf Countdown campaign
- As predicted, the bulk of these pre-sales were collateral to the Countdown:
- 9.3% of the pre-sales (137 units) were directly ordered through the Countdown (with an average discount of $250)
- The remaining 90.7% (1,345 units) were pre-sold without a Countdown discount
- The Countdown generated millions of dollars in pre-sales, compared to an investment of $240,000 (includes all costs related to the Golf Countdown: creative, email and PR campaign, website development, and Countdown price incentive)
The Countdown was the primary cause of the dramatic increase in pre-sales of the Golf and Golf GTI. Prior to the Volkswagen Golf Countdown, pre-sales of the Golf and Golf GTI were lagging due to the minimal advertising budget allocated to this period. Moreover, since the 7th-generation Golf models had already launched a year earlier in Europe, we couldn’t ride the novelty wave even though the models were launching for the first time in North America. This negatively impacted our pre-sales numbers. In a little over two months, from February 13th (the start of the pre-sale) to April 17th (the start of the Golf Countdown), Volkswagen had only pre-sold 310 units out of an objective of 1,500 units. In a little over two months, Volkswagen had to generate the remaining 79% of pre-sales or 1,190 units to meet its pre-sales objectives.
During the Golf Countdown campaign, media exposure skyrocketed with almost 10 million impressions in earned media. But more importantly, pre-sales increased 4.5 times during the Golf Countdown campaign compared to the pre-campaign, increasing from 328 pre-sold units to an additional 1,482 units, for a total of 1,810 units, beating our pre-sales target by over 20%.
Volkswagen only allocated a minimum amount of their media spend for the pre-launch period (starting in May for the GTI and in June for the Golf), with the reason being that Volkswagen couldn’t afford to invest heavily in both the pre-launch and the launch. So they determined that the media budgets would be used most effectively if they were not diluted and if they were focused during the period where the vehicles were actually in the dealerships.
While on the surface, the aim of the Golf Countdown was to allow consumers to select their own discounts, the results indicate that the campaign’s effect was much more profound. Out of the 1,482 units pre-sold during the campaign, only 9.3% (137 units) were directly ordered through the Countdown. The remaining 90.7% (1,345 units) were pre-sold without a Countdown discount. So it’s clear the Golf Countdown campaign was driving sales, rather than discounts.
Unusual Promotional Activity:
This was the only initiative designed to generate Canadian pre-sales of the 2015 Golf and Golf GTI.
Other Potential Causes: