There is a silver lining to the automotive semiconductor chip shortage and supply chain disruptions that are squeezing factory output and revenue for car companies. Dealership inventory may be null, and consumers may be struggling with the decision to order a vehicle before viewing it in person and the waiting period. But for automotive event marketers, it’s an opportunity to reevaluate how and when they capture consumers and, most importantly, where.
From ride-and-drives and off-road demonstrations, to food trucks and g-force simulations, brands are designing automotive experiences around automotive messaging that is moving away from direct statements and toward more dynamic consumer conversations, especially given the rise of intricate topics like functional design and electric and autonomous vehicles.
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The entire economy has moved towards a direct-to-consumer mindset, a trend the pandemic helped expedite, and many automotive brands are following suit, says Christopher Handy, ceo at Engine Shop, which handles Mercedes-Benz experiential programming. In fact, a 2020 study by the Capgemini Research Institute found that 46 percent of consumers want to search for and purchase cars online rather than visit dealerships. Many brands had begun looking toward proprietary and pop-up brand experiences that send more direct messages to consumers before the pandemic, and the trend is accelerating in the post-pandemic era.
Mercedes-Benz USA followed suit in October and introduced its all-new Mercedes-EQ lineup of electric vehicles with a nationwide test-drive roadshow. Consumers in 20 cities were invited to test drive the new 2022 EQS Sedan while learning about electric vehicle technology, design, functionality and connectivity.
And with sustainability top of mind among younger car-buying demographics, two Mercedes-EQ Experience pop-ups, one in New York City and another in Los Angeles, offered an interactive energy harvesting pathway that invited attendees to walk across kinetic tech floor tiles that generated reusable clean energy.
INDOOR/OUTDOOR AUTO SHOWS
While brands used to primarily use auto shows for launches and reveals, today, automotive exhibitors are benefitting from showcasing how a product will benefit the consumer’s lifestyle in order to influence purchase decisions.
Alistair (Ali) Wilson, managing director of Imagination, which has handled award-winning auto show programs for Ford, says that while media attention may be moving away from auto shows, consumer attendance remains strong, even as product reveals are moving off-site.
“The good auto shows present a really rich opportunity for marketers because of the audiences they attract–increasingly young, female and culturally diverse,” he says. “The majority are in-market, 12-month intenders to buy.”
To that end, the New York International Auto Show, canceled for the last two consecutive years, is slated to return April 15-24, 2022, with new specialty exhibits and the largest electric vehicle test track ever created at an auto show. And Motor City’s famed North American International Auto Show, which had been held every January for 30 years, in June 2021 moved outdoors as a festival-like experience rebranded as Motor Bella at the M1 Concourse in Pontiac, MI. A mostly outdoor event with smaller indoor exhibits is planned for June 2022.
Andrea Trudeau, events services director at the Detroit Auto Dealers Association, says that some brands are now more willing to take risks than others. Automotive experiences like Jeep’s off-road test track that demonstrates the vehicles’ maneuverability (jumps included)—not bags of vehicle literature—she says, is what helps consumers make memories and remember a brand.
“The combination of indoor and outdoor events is here to stay,” Trudeau says. “Brands want that flexibility, too. Some want to be back inside, and some like it outdoors and think they can expand on it …So the future is both, and being accommodating according to who wants what.”
David Sloan, president of the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and general manager of the Chicago Auto Show, says that for its show last July, indoor displays were scaled back, and outdoor test drives on city streets received rave reviews. The show returns Feb. 12-21, 2022.
“People appreciated the difference rather than what was missing this year. There were so many vehicles unveiled during the pandemic that no one had seen in person yet, so this was the first place that they could see it,” Sloan says. “We’ve always had this very experiential thing going on, and that seems to be where auto shows are going.”
INTIMATE PRESS EXPERIENCES
Media events are continuing to move off the show floor and into viral moment-inducing exotic backdrops.
Carol Fleming, senior director at The XD Agency, which has handled events for automotive clients like Porsche North America, predicts manufacturers will continue to want to engage with the media through one-on-one experiences and environments. There is tremendous pent-up demand, she says, but staffing is a big issue as many people left the business. “There are now smaller, more interesting test drives in unexpected locations, and more lifestyle events to get products in front of people,” she says.
Ford launched its new Bronco by taking the media on an off-roading adventure in 2020 on Aug. 11, the Bronco’s 55th anniversary. The COVID-friendly ride-and-drive experience at Holly Oaks off-road vehicle park in Michigan featured small groups of attendees, a choreographed three-vehicle reveal, and then an in-car ride experience (Imagination handled).
As supply chain disruptions ease, pent up demand will translate into booming business in the automotive industry. Auto event marketers that are directly engaging consumers in powerful ways will be first in line to reap the rewards while shaping the future of experiential.