Starting with a SuperBowl ad in 2000, AutoTrader.com
has invested millions in high profile TV spots mainly during NFL,
NASCAR and NCAA broadcasts. Luckily it works. John Kovac,
Director of Advertising, says, "Our commercials are unbelievably
effective." By July 2001, the site was getting more than 5.5
million unique monthly visitors who used it to conduct more than
27 million searches for used vehicles to purchase offline.
Why have AutoTrader.com's ads succeeded in a world of dot-bombs?
Instead of going for shock or pure entertainment value, the ads
use strong visuals to clearly explain how viewers can use the
site to make used-car shopping easier. Kovac explains, "The TV
ad shows consumers in white space. They go through a virtual
search for a car, 'I'm looking for a black truck', and thousands
of black trucks pop out of the ground. Then they narrow it down,
'one that has a rack for my bike', and hundreds of trucks
disappear until it leads them to one perfect vehicle."
Unfortunately, big-ticket item marketing isn’t just about
catching favorable attention once. Only a small percentage of
the clicks any campaign produces are actually people who are
ready to plunk down thousands for a used car right at that
So Kovac had to invent an online marketing campaign that not only
took advantage of the TV ad's popularity (a challenge in itself -
- it's hard to create a powerful synergy between TV spots and
online ads); but, he also had to create an online campaign so
involving and memorable that even prospects who weren't quite
ready to buy yet would remember to click back again when they
The height of the used-car buying season is late-summer
to early fall, mostly because college-aged kids are going off to
school and con their parents into paying for a car (or use their
summer job savings to buy one.) So in spring 2001 Kovac began
working with internal marketers and his agency to plan the new
online campaign to run August 1-September 30th.
One of their first calls was to Midway Games (NYSE:MWY). Midway's
been entrancing the college-aged crowd with video games since the
early days of Pong, and their titles include Mortal Kombat, Ms.
Pacman and NFL Blitz. Kovac wanted to know - was it possible to
create a seriously fun videogame that would mimic the visual
elements of AutoTrader.com's TV commercial? Yes it was…
The game took about two months to produce. (Plus two additional
months were needed to create the promotional campaign, and to
hammer out legal details and partnerships to support them.)
Autotrader.com's marketing team told Midway they wanted a game
specifically designed for web-attention spans. Kovacs explains,
"We wanted something that could be as short as a couple of
minutes. You could go in quickly to win instant prizes. Or you
could spend as long as 15 minutes per game, and then play over
and over again to your heart's desire.
Kovacs was all in favor of repeat gamers, "Repeats mean
additional exposure to the brand, and more opportunities to join
our opt-in list."
Each game started out by asking if the visitor would like to join
AutoTrader.com's list to receive a monthly "Curbside" car owner
newsletter and occasional third party special offers. (Note:
third party notices, which are always sent from AutoTrader,
include opt-out links. These offers are sent fewer than 12 times
a year, generally during the mid-way point between monthly
Kovac knew that smaller-dollar prizes are just as important to an
online game's success as the big stuff (because people truly
believe they can win the small things) so he worked deals for a
variety of prizes with partners. The top prize was a $25,000
used car-shopping trip on AutoTrader.com (Kovac laughs, "Well we
didn't want to give away a new car!") JBL donated some speakers,
amplifiers and other car stereo equipment to the cause, and
Sports Illustrated kicked in a wide variety of low-cost branded
items such as t-shirts and golf balls.
AutoTrader.com advertised its new game on its own site, plus a
variety of partners', most notably the welcome screens for AOL's
used-car classifieds, as well as banners on college oriented
sites such as IGN.com's Network College Club and messages
reaching iWon.com's '.edu' registered members.
While Kovacs admits the game wasn't the most cost …
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… effective tactic to gain bulk traffic, he explains, "We measure
the quality of the consumer by what they do when they get to our
site. Our goal was not to drive very high quantities, but to
start familiarizing that younger demographic with the brand and
start communicating." The great thing was, "These consumers were
- 4.5 million game rounds were played by 555k visitors
- "Several hundred thousand" of these visitors then went on to
actually search for used car classifieds that met their
requirements at the AutoTrader.com site.
- Serendipitously, 57% of game players were females, which is a
market AutoTrader.com had been meaning to crack for some time
because 80% of car-buying decisions in the USA are either made or
influenced by a woman.
- 49% of all players were in the critical 18-34 age-range that
buys the most used cars.
- Out of all online media used to promote the game, according to
Kovacs, "AOL consumers are incredibly responsive to promotions.
It's such a community environment."
- 61% of game players opted to join AutoTrader.com's email list,
which now totals over one million names.
Setting hard numbers aside, here are just a few of the actual
impassioned emails that AutoTrader.com received as a result of
“Congrats on a great promotion. I've visited autotrader.com more
in the last few days than I have in the last couple of years
combined. (Your Slide Into Your Ride game is addictive.) The
autotrader.com name is definitely stuck in my head, too, so you
know where I'll look first when I get ready to car shop.
“The autotrader slide into your ride game was so much fun!
Please put it back on your website, with or without a
“Please bring the game back. It's not about the grand prize,
it's not about the instant prizes either. It's how high can I
get my score. Do I have the highest score in this office? I
need a break I think I will play a couple of games. It's I
brought my lunch, but I know what will take my mind of work for a
few minutes. It's the sheer joy of getting the perfect board.
And finally it's I'll play one more game then get back to work,
wait no that score was not high enough one more . . .”
“I WOULD LIKE TO BUY THE SLIDE YOUR RIDE GAME PLEASE CALL ME”
Link to compare TV ad and the advergame:
AutoTrader.com - http://www.autotrader.com
Midway Games - http://www.midway.com