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'Digital first' is auto maker marketing execs' mantra

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DETROIT — Social media, YouTube videos and other digital advertising platforms are now driving how automotive marketing executives plan their campaigns, according to a panel of automotive marketing executives gathered in Detroit this week.

Digital marketing has long supplemented mainstream advertising on traditional mediums such as television, print publications and radio. But the explosion of digital media consumption and mobile access to content has forced automakers to change how they pitch their products.

BMW North America photo Trudy Hardy, vice president of marketing for BMW North America.

"If our agency comes with a TV spot first, that's the wrong way to go," said Trudy Hardy, vice president of marketing for BMW North America. "They have to show us the digital ideas first and the TV comes at the end — supplementary."

Executives from Ford Motor Co.'s ad agency and from Nissan North America also said that digital advertising drives much of the decision-making when crafting campaigns.

Mark LaNeve, COO of Global Team Ford, said Ford's agency already has adopted a "digital first" philosophy to help Ford keep up with its customers, who already are far ahead of all marketers.

Ford Motor Co. Mark LaNeve, COO of Global Team Ford.

More than half of Team Detroit's employees work primarily on digital initiatives, Mr. LaNeve said. Other digitally focused practices at the agency include a global analytics practice and installing a digital-first planning and measurement system for Ford's regional dealer ad groups.

Mr. LaNeve said traditional media are still important, but digital media consumption has made the traditional notion of the purchase funnel all but obsolete.

"For years we've organized and budgeted where Tier 1 was national for the brand, Tier 2 was regional and in support of the dealer ad groups, and Tier 3 was individual dealer advertising," he said.

"The customer doesn't really receive digital media the way they do traditional media," he added. "They engage digital media, they consume it on their own terms and timetables and it's non-linear — the jump from watching a video to locating a vehicle to building and pricing a car to e-mailing their dealer."

Nissan is also adopting an approach similar to Team Ford's "digital first" at its new agency, Nissan United, said Jose Munoz, chairman of Nissan North America.

Digital content gives marketers more creative freedom to tell different stories about a new product simultaneously, he said.

"The name of the game is not whether you go [into digital] or not," Mr. Munoz said. "It's how you go there, how you get there and how many resources for this vs. other channels."

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Ryan Breene is a reporter with Automotive News, a sister publication of Tire Business. This story appeared on the publication's website.

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