In the midst of a review of its advertising creative, Volkswagen is launching the media push for its next-gen GTI automobile with a single, cost-efficient marketing tool: a single iPhone app. Rather than one of the big-budget television and print blitzes characteristic of the German automaker, hype for the high-performance model of VW’s Golf model will rely solely upon "Real Racing GTI," an arcade-style racer revealed last night in Manhattan.
While an app-centric approach to advertising may seem narrow, the numbers tell a different story. Last month Apple reported 50 million iPhone and iPod touch users worldwide. The most watched television show for the week ended October 18, CBS’s "NCIS," delivered advertising messages to 21 million viewers (and that’s assuming no one recorded the show via DVR and skipped through the ads). The cost savings are evident: 30 seconds during "NCIS" costs advertisers an average of $130,000. The annual budget for VW’s mobile app is estimated at $500,000.
Considering who VW is trying to reach, that’s a really good deal: half a million dollars buys exposure to younger, tech-savvy, social media connected customers, some of whom will pass the app along, a la the viral message pushers Malcolm Gladwell termed "connectors." Users compete for six GTIs that will be given away, encouraging them to spend more time playing the game. Meanwhile, built in Twitter and YouTube functionalities promote viral behavior, giving users convenient channels by which to invite others into the game and share their experiences.
Compare that cost/benefit with the $60 million VW spent on a television and print campaign to introduce the GTI in 2006 courtesy of Crispin, Porter + Bogusky. VW pared its costs for the app by licensing the game from Australian digital house Firemint, which tailored a version of their own racing game using only GTIs. And the costs of marketing and PR are built into the app:Some PR and paid search ads for consumers browsing apps or information on the GTI will drive up costs marginally, but word of mouth and viral pass-along are the main pillars of VW’s campaign.
Will it work? Early iTunes reviews of the game are overwhelmingly positive, and other apps promoting competition and recruitment among users have caught fire in big ways; mobile social network FourSquare comes to mind, as does Mafia Wars on Facebook. Allowing users to compete for one of the six GTIs slated for giveaway will likely drive downloads as users push friends to join the race both for the sake of fun and the possibility, however slim, of winning a free ride. With the auto industry slumping and cost containment more important than it’s been in decades, VW seems content to gamble on an innovative new approach to reaching its target customer. We like their odds.