April 21, 2009
Case Study

Saturn’s Mega-Event Inspires Evangelism through WOM and Social Media Channels

SUMMARY: How do you create a huge splash that inspires evangelism? And how do you make sure that your evangelists spread the buzz, both in-person and online? The communications pros at Saturn reveal how they turned a plain-vanilla launch partnership into an extravaganza with more than 1,000 nationwide parties held by strategically handpicked evangelists.

Hint: You can use Saturn's opt-in strategy to identify and handpick your own evangelists to get more event-specific buzz.

Saturn launched five new vehicles during the past two years. In that time, the company had marketed the vehicles through traditional channels and slightly non-traditional ones, such as product integration on TV shows, including Bravo’s “Project Runway.”

The goal was to get the vehicles in front of as many Gen X and Gen Y females – Saturn’s target – as possible. Steve Janisse, Manager of Saturn Communications, says the brand needed to get the target to interact with the vehicles on a more tactile level because “we have found that, once people get in a car, they’re actually blown away by it.”

In addition, Saturn was looking for a way to promote its newest product integration partnership with TLC’s “Real Simple Real Life,” a TV show that targets Saturn’s core audience.


Janisse’s team decided to sponsor 1,008 house parties across the continental US.

Here are the steps they took:

Step #1. Connect house parties to an event

The team tied the house parties to the premiere of “Real Simple Real Life.” They wanted the target audience to make the connection between Saturn and the TV show, which helps busy women tackle daily challenges by giving them a lifestyle makeover.

Saturn provided vehicles for the TV hosts and guests to use on the show.

The brand hoped that having the 1,008 party hosts and 14,112 attending guests watch the premiere at the same time would create a viral word-of-mouth effect.

Step #2. Attract party hosts

Saturn's team advertised the house parties largely by
sending notices via email to a vendor's database of about
100,000 opt-in registrants and by posting a notice on the
vendor's website.

The notice said, “How would you like to host a Saturn House Party?” By clicking a link people, were sent to a landing page created for the event. (See creative samples.)

The landing page explained everything about hosting the house parties, including the day and time and special items hosts would receive for hosting the parties.

From the landing page:

1. Interested individuals clicked the “Apply Now!” button
2. That took them to a questionnaire (it included “qualifying” questions)
3. They chose to register for the event by filling out a form and creating a password

Hosts were told they would be required to invite 10 to 15 of their friends and family members to attend the party.

Note: Saturn chose House Party, a viral marketing platform, because the vendor had a large opt-in list and the resources to orchestrate several house parties simultaneously.

House Party got the opt-ins by advertising through online and offline channels. As more and more people read, heard about, or experienced various house parties, they became interested in hosting and opted-in to receive information about upcoming house parties.

House Party also put restrictions on how often people could host – not more than twice per year. Also, no more than 5% of total hosts for a house party could consist of repeat hosts.

Step #3. Screen hosts for sociability

The questionnaire asked potential hosts a series of questions related to their sociability and connection to the Saturn brand.

Questions were asked about:
o Social behavior
o Online behavior
o Whether potential hosts had a blog, MySpace page, Facebook page
o How often they blogged or interacted with social media
o How often they were online

The reasoning was that, if the hosts were very social, they were likely to be thought as leaders among their friends; therefore, they had influence. If they were bloggers, the chances of them blogging about the Saturn house party experience was greater.

Saturn verified applicants’ blogs, Facebook, and MySpace pages before making a decision. Participating in the social media channels increased applicants’ likelihood of being chosen to host.

Janisse’s team chose mostly non-Saturn owners to host the parties. They wanted to familiarize non-Saturn owners with the Saturn brand in hopes that the non-Saturn owners would purchase or consider purchasing a Saturn vehicle.

Questions asked:
o Do you own a Saturn?
o If not, what has your experience been with your car?
o Have you ever thought about purchasing a Saturn?

Step #4. Choose hosts from target audience

Janisse’s team chose mostly Gen X and Gen Y females to host the parties. They screened 10,334 host applicants. About 95% of the 1,008 party hosts chosen were women. 75% of them fell into the Gen X and Gen Y categories. They were between the ages of 18 to 39.

“We have found [that demographic is] a good match for Saturn,” Janisse says. “Saturn has always skewed a little more toward females.”

Step #5. Create an exclusive experience

Saturn created an exclusive experience by loaning about 350 Saturn vehicles to party hosts to use during the party; they had possession of the cars for a total of 48 hours.

Step #6. Entice attendees with free stuff

The team made the party memorable by providing unique gifts and discounts to all attendees. Each host and guest received a party pack.

Hosts’ party packs included:

o Saturn Hybrid messenger bag
o Real Simple Celebrations Book
o Saturn backseat organizer
o Reusable shopping list/dry erase board
o $25 Exxon/Mobil gas card
o Set of 15 party coasters
o Discovery Network pen

Guests’ party packs included:

o Reusable shopping bag (Saturn branded)
o Reusable water bottle
o Preview issues of Real Simple magazine
o Real Simple recipe cards
o Saturn informational brochure, including $20 oil change coupon
o Game: “What Type of Saturn Are You?”
o Game: “What’s Different?”

Hosts were encouraged to make food for guests using recipes from the Real Simple Celebrations Book. Guests were encouraged to play the interactive games before and after watching the “Real Simple Real Life” premiere.

Step #7. Conduct pre- and post-party surveys

The team conducted pre- and post-party surveys. They asked party hosts to rank their opinion of Saturn as favorable, neutral, or not favorable before and after the party.

Guests were asked how the house party influenced their overall opinion of Saturn.

Step #8. Monitor blog activity

The team was able to get some metrics from blog activity about the Saturn house parties.

Based on blog comments, they found out how many people were considering purchasing a Saturn vehicle and how many actually purchased a Saturn vehicle as a result of the house parties.

Since every host and guest was asked to double opt-in to receive communication from Saturn, the team could follow-up with the people who wrote blog comments about purchasing or test driving a vehicle.

The team monitored how many blog posts were written pre- and post-party by bloggers attending the parties.

Tip: Always ask hosts and guests to opt-in to receive further communication.

“We were able to reach an entirely new audience for Saturn, and expose them not only to our vehicles, but to the overall Saturn experience,” says Lisa Gilpin, Saturn Advertising and Media Integration Manager.

Five Saturn vehicles were purchased as a direct result of the Saturn house parties. About 233 people went to a Saturn dealership to test-drive a vehicle.

- The house parties inspired 2,911 blog posts and 3,303 photo uploads.

- 78% or 11,258 hosts and guests opted-in for future communication from Saturn.

- Total reach of the house parties, including blog readers, was 814,050 people.

40% of the house parties lasted three hours, which translates to three hours of one-on-one immersion in the brand.

Other stats:

o 89% of party hosts said their opinion of Saturn was favorable in the post-party survey, while only 47% rated it as favorable pre-party.

o 81% of party guests said their overall opinion of Saturn was either “better” or “much better” as a result of the party experience.

o Guests’ familiarity with Saturn increased by 38% as a result of the house parties.

o Guests’ likelihood to test-drive a Saturn increased by 25%

“Our goal was to have this group become advocates for our brand, and based on both quantitative and qualitative measures, we absolutely accomplished that goal,” Gilpin says. “We would definitely consider another party.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative sample from House Party:

Saturn’s house party micro site

Saturn’s house party blog

Real Simple Real Life – TV show on TLC:

Project Runway – TV show on Bravo:

House Party Inc. – vendor used by Saturn to organize the house parties:


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