With the bass turned up to 11 on a bouncing hip-hop track, four unsmiling young toughs cruise up to a stoplight. A blue car identical to theirs pulls up beside them – carrying a mild-mannered family of four.
The commercial is promoting AutoTrader.ca. But, in some ways, it tells the story of the brand itself as it battles an old, uncool image and struggles to stay relevant.
After buying the Trader Corp. classified ad business from beleagured Yellow Pages publisher Yellow Media Inc. in 2011, London-based private equity firm Apax Partners LLP was faced with a challenge: AutoTrader's used car listings were robust, and the majority of its business had moved online, but consumers still associated it with the old print magazine.
"It had to have a more youthful message," said Michael Davidson, senior vice-president and business unit director at AutoTrader's ad agency, DDB Canada.
Now, the campaign has won the top prize for 2012, the Grand Prix, at the Cassies awards on Monday evening. The awards focus on business effectiveness in Canadian advertising.
The solution for AutoTrader was simple: It needed marketing. It had been a neglected brand, that had not done much to tell the story of its digital shift. DDB did research that showed the website had the largest inventory of used car listings in the country. That became the focus of the campaign, which spanned television, the Web, social media and radio. The agency also did business-to-business marketing to reassure the car dealers who pay for most of the ads on the site that the company was investing in the brand.
"The dealers are a big part of their revenue story … and they were really questioning whether they needed to spend that kind of money when they could do things for free on Kijiji or Craigslist," Mr. Davidson said. "It became clear that these guys had to do something pretty quickly. The business was really being threatened."
The goal was to increase website visits by 500,000 unique visitors between February and July of last year. Instead, the "most cars in one place" campaign logged 3.6 million extra visits during that campaign period.
Higher traffic drove more revenue from people and businesses wanting to advertise cars for sale. Dealer listings went up 18 per cent, and private listings rose 169 per cent.
"The complaints [from dealers] about the number of leads they were getting went away," said Roger Dunbar, vice-president of marketing at AutoTrader. "...Marketing really does work."
The company is now investing even more in advertising: Seeing the success of the campaign last year, Apax immediately upped its budget for the last six months of 2012 to keep the ads visible. This year, its marketing spend will rise roughly 25 per cent. Earlier this month, DDB wrapped shooting in Vancouver for its newest campaign, due in March.
Now that basic brand awareness is up, the new advertising will shift away from rescuscitating the brand and will begin to focus on specific features that might draw visitors to the site. It will also begin to promote AutoTrader's presence on mobile devices more heavily – and will advertise on mobile more as well.
"Mobile is becoming a huge part of our digital marketing tactics, as well as our business strategy," said the company's director of marketing, Ian MacDonald. "It's all part of future-proofing this business, by understanding where the shift will go."
The Cassies celebrate Canadian advertising that has had a direct impact on the client's business results. Here are the winners honoured on Monday:
"AutoTrader.ca: The Most Cars in One Place," advertiser:
AutoTrader, agency: DDB Canada
Events, Seasonal and Short-Term (Gold winners)
1. "Zellers Festive Finale"
advertiser: HBC Canada, agency: John St.
2."Pain Squad," client: Hospital for Sick Children, agency: Cundari
3."Budweiser Fan Brew," advertiser: Budweiser, agency: Anomaly
Best Integrated (Gold)
"Koodo El Tabador," advertiser: Koodo Mobile, agency: Taxi 2
Canadian Success outside of Canada (Gold)
Sustained Success (Gold)
"Eos - Reinventing Lip Balm," advertiser: Eos Products, agency: Juniper Park
Sustained Success (Gold)
"Because I am a Girl," advertiser: Plan Canada, agency: Wunderkind
Off to a Good Start (Gold)
"BMW Canada 1M Launch," advertiser: BMW Group Canada, agency: Cundari
Events seasonal + short term
The app led to more than 90 per cent of completion of crucial pain reports at Sick Kids hospital in Toronto. It's now expanding to other hospitals.
Budweiser Winnipeg Jets "fan brew"
Sold 24,000 cases in 3 days and increased market share by more than double the client's goal.
Because I am a girl
Led to 82% revenue growth from year one of the campaign to year two, and 75% growth from year 2 to year 3.
The lip balm launch passed half a billion media impressions.