March 31, 2006, 12:00 AM

Ga-Ga Over Google

Pontiac`s cross-channel marketing campaign serves up plenty of do`s and don`ts for retailers.

One of the biggest challenges confronting Internet retailers when it comes to setting a cross-channel marketing strategy is how to break through the clutter. In an era when most consumers have become numb to viewing web addresses as part of any offline ad campaign, retailers are feeling hard pressed to create television campaigns that generate a buzz about their brand and drive consumers to their web sites.

At the same time, asking a consumer to remember a web address, unless it is highly intuitive, is likely to lead to mistakes when entering the address. Sadly, unless consumers get the address right in less than three tries, they are likely to abandon their effort to locate the retailer’s site. The hope then for the retailer is if the consumer performs a search on the company name.

Huge buzz

In a stroke of ingenuity, automaker Pontiac has seized on a new way to marry search and television advertising to drive consumers to its web site. Instead of telling consumers to go to Pontiac.com in its television commercials, the automaker is urging consumers: “Google Pontiac.” The ad closes with an image of the Google screen and the word “Pontiac” being typed into the search box.

Not surprisingly, the ad has generated a tremendous buzz in advertising and marketing circles, as well as among consumers, for its innovativeness and clever leverage of the Google brand. By linking its brand to Google, Pontiac not only gains credibility with consumers ages 25 to 35 that see Google as a hip, stylish and authoritative brand, it gives consumers outside that demographic a surefire way to remember where to find Pontiac on the web.

“This is a creative twist on the concept of ‘Don’t take our word for it, go ask the expert,’” says Julie Cottineau, executive director, consumer branding for Interbrand, a brand consulting agency. “This ad breaks through.”

Cottineau, who acknowledges she does not remember many television ads from automakers, says that what makes the Pontiac ad memorable is that Google is a beloved search engine used by consumers surfing the web for information. That includes consumers in the market for an automobile. Since the suggestion to “Google Pontiac” plays into consumer behavior to search in advance of shopping online, Pontiac is assured of automatically raising its natural search placement on Google, even though the automaker has paid for the premier placement. The advantage from the rise in natural search is that consumers can click to related Pontiac sites.

Tapping into behavior

“Most people don’t know how a company gets to the top of a Google search-what they see instead is a high ranking that says there is a community of people looking to the Pontiac brand to aid them in their search for a new car,” she adds. “Consumers not only get a listing for the official Pontiac site, but links to related sites that can provide a richer source of information about Pontiac.”

The apparent success of the Pontiac commercial in creating word of mouth marketing is certain to have Internet retailers asking what they can learn from Pontiac’s strategy, and whether leveraging the Google brand in a similar fashion will result in incremental sales for them.

First the positives. One of the key advantages of urging viewers to “Google Pontiac” is that it taps into current consumer behavior when it comes to online shopping. “Consumers no longer navigate to find information about a brand or a product, they search, even offline,” says Fredrick Marckini, CEO of search engine marketing company iProspect. “There are more devices becoming available that allow people to search. Look at TiVo or GPS navigation in autos, they are search tools that people are embracing.”

Tapping into consumers’ natural inclination to search creates a dynamic call to action that fits seamlessly with the purpose of directing consumers to a web site. Television, radio and display print advertising are brand and image building tools. Their purpose is to create a recognition factor among consumers which the advertiser follows up with more detailed advertising in other mediums. These channels can include online, direct mail, telemarketing, advertorials, and in-store brochures that build upon the brand recognition by delivering detailed information about the specific products under the brand umbrella.

Drilling

“The key to successful cross-channel marketing is that it takes consumers somewhere they can drill down to learn more about the product and make a purchasing decision,” says Larry Chiagouris, senior partner for BrandMarketingServices Ltd., a New York-based marketing firm and an associate professor of marketing at New York’s Pace University.

In the case of Pontiac, consumers are guided via Google to the automaker’s official web site. Once there, consumers can, among other things, view the entire Pontiac line, virtually build a car, get price quotes, and locate a dealer.

Consumers wishing to drill down within Google’s search results can also be linked to sites offering discussion groups about Pontiac and web sites for Pontiac enthusiasts. Access to such information can be valuable to consumers when making the decision to purchase an automobile, since the buying process tends to be lengthy and can last weeks and even months for some consumers.

“The appeal of television advertising is declining and advertisers are taking a closer look at ways to generate secondary exposure through brand-building ads,” says Sanjay Dhar, professor of marketing at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business. “Large advertisers like Procter & Gamble are reallocating huge portions of their ad budgets to campaigns that generate secondary exposure.”

The appeal to a retailer for pursuing this type of strategy is that it associates itself with a ritual brand that enhances the value of its own brand. “Pontiac is not a top of mind car brand,” says Cottineau. “Associating itself with a ritual brand such as Google makes Pontiac look as though it has something going for it when it comes to consumer lifestyles. It is a way to successfully connect with the target audience.”

First in line

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