Why Toyota launched the new Prius hybrid car on Facebook and Instagram

National marketing manager explains why Toyota ditched TV advertising and invested in a mobile-first social campaign and creative for its latest hybrid vehicle launch

The tried-and-tested way of bringing a new car model to market usually involves significant spend on a mass market TV campaign. So that’s exactly what Toyota didn’t do when it launched its latest Prius hybrid car to Australian consumers earlier this year.

Instead, the automotive brand put its media dollars into an innovative campaign that brought together mobile-first creative on social media with data-driven customer insight and targeted out-of-home activity.

Toyota was the first company to manufacture hybrid vehicles on a mass scale, and more recently introduced hybrid engines to several of its volume models. Given this, the brand was keen to take an innovative approach to its latest campaign efforts, national marketing manager, Brad Cramb, told CMO. At the same time, the media habits of Prius’ target buyer have changed dramatically since the previous model was launched.

“The target customer for us is a light to medium user of TV, but they’re big consumers of out-of-home and heavy users on the Internet,” Cramb said. “More than the normal skew of customer, their mobile phone is very important to their lives. We know they’re also heavily skewed towards social media, both professionally and personally.”

In the lead-up to its latest Prius vehicle launch in March, customer research undertaken by Toyota also showed 44 per cent were seriously considering buying a hybrid car in the coming 12 months.

“Given all of this, launching the new Prius model in a completely different way was key to our thinking prior to understanding there was an opportunity to do something different with Facebook,” Cramb said. “The other aspect to the program was that this creative had to be fully integrated, tying into an out-of-home campaign.”

Toyota devised a two-part program. Firstly, it’d reach out to target Prius customers through social media using mobile-first, native creative on Facebook and Instagram. It then employed out-of-home to serve up advertising in targeted locations.

There were several stages. The first was a pre-launch phase using Facebook’s lead generation ads. These pre-populated forms sat natively in a Facebook ad and gave prospects the opportunity to sign up for more information once Prius launched.

The second component was using Facebook Canvas ad units, which ran in news feeds and included the brand’s tagline, ‘Driven by innovation’. The units, which ran for one week, featured a combination of video, carousel imagery and text stitched together.

Toyota then ran a range of video ads within Facebook and carousel ad units in Instagram, touching on key features and benefits around the latest Prius model that led to a Prius Web portal for further information. Carousel ads were announced by Instagram in 2015 and allow advertisers to include multiple images within an Instagram post as well as a link to their website that users can swipe through.

These social activities were followed up with out-of-home advertising in locations where target customers were situated.

The pre-launch ads ran in late February and March, with the main campaign kicking in during March.

Knowing up to 90 per cent of impressions would be delivered via mobile devices, it was important creative was built to suit the small screen.

“That meant building content in more personalised modules than we’ve done before,”Cramb said. “We were able to express the innovation of Prius to different consumers, understand the journey they’d taken through Facebook, and build backgrounds, scenery and ways to deliver the message based on likes and profiles. Getting that level of profiling [through Facebook] was more than we’ve been able to do in the past.”

Segmentation and targeting was a two-way dialogue between Toyota and Facebook, Cramb continued.

“We’ve been doing new segmentation profiling with our research companies, and we were able to get the latest of that and marry it up to what Facebook provides in terms of being able to target consumers,” he said. “The caveat is at some point you have to stop and look at what is commercially viable and what is going to deliver the biggest bang for your buck. You can’t just do endless permeations.”

Facebook also provided insight into how target users were going about their normal lives, Cramb said. “That allowed us to target certain out-of-home assets more succinctly. For example, insights about where those people were allowed us to connect up and be more specific in that space, and with YouTube as well, so the reach across channels was better as a result.”

Facebook’s client partner for automotive, Ted Bergeron, said consumers in Toyota’s pre-determined Prius segment are more technology focused and advanced, relatively successful in their careers and have a higher disposable income. On top of this, Facebook built in media usage habits to better inform the brand’s media buy.

“For us, it was about providing that broadcast opportunity while still using a qualified layer of targeting, scaled in the way Toyota would launch any car,” Bergeron said. “We understood we needed to provide that broader halo around technology and innovation in relation to Toyota, then separately, reaffirm the brand as that core leader across the hybrid category.”

The results

Toyota’s social campaigning generated a reach of 7.6 million people, 69 per cent of which were in its target audience against traditional measures. The brand also saw a 13-point life in ad awareness, five points above the category norm, while the Canvas experience triggered a three-point lift in people agreeing that Toyota is setting trends in the hybrid space.

“We saw a strong recall for us owning this space around hybrid, which you’d hope given our position in the market, but we improved on it, and that was a nice bonus,” Cramb said.

Other notable results included a 53 per cent increase in site traffic to the Prius Web platform, and an average 20-second dwell time on its social assets, a strong result compared to traditional products in the social space, Cramb said.

A more unexpected result was the 41 per cent increase in test drives. “Traditionally these buyers almost buy sight unseen, so it suggests we’re getting a new consideration set, and people who may previously have not considered Prius,” Cramb said. “Overall, we’ve not only met but probably exceeded our expectations with the campaign.”

Cramb said switching his dollars from mass media to social was purely a commercial decision.

“The risk on our part was applying those funds to something that was a first for us in Australia,” he said. “But Facebook has proven itself in the past. We went in confidently and comfortably, event though it was new ground for us.”

Bringing digital and physical together

Cramb said Toyota has been on a transformative digital journey over the last five years that goes beyond digital marketing and through to its dealer network. Over the past 12-18 months, this has seen interactive display units and touchscreens rolled out across dealer showrooms, allowing customers to peruse content in the physical environment.

“People used to visit dealerships five times on average, now we’re down to 1.5,” Cramb commented. “You just have to find new ways to engage with people and get them interested.”

If there’s one big takeaway for Cramb from the mobile and social-led Prius campaign, it’s that marketers must be always trialling new ways of reaching consumers.

“There are only so much funds and resources available, you have to walk the line between doing things that are new and funky and those that are commercially sound,” he said. “The consumption occurring in different media means you have to be constantly moving, and it’s how you move that will define the winners and losers over the next few years.”

Partnering is vital to success, Cramb said. “The lesson for us is keeping not only close to our partners like Facebook, but also to our dealers,” he added. “The campaign only came about because we have a good trust relationship with our dealer network and together we’re moving forward with a lot of the activities we’re doing in the digital space.”

Bergeron suggested the campaign’s results illustrated mobile’s role as a high-reach broadcast channel for advertisers.

“This campaign was all about getting cut through and resonance across a device that we know is increasingly becoming a bigger part of people’s lives,” he said. “Brands have been doing that in a smaller scale way for many years, but it’s campaigns like this that provide confidence in achieving effectiveness through mobile.”

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