GM‘s decision late last year to close its Oshawa plant has negatively affected consumer attitudes towards the company; Tesla continues to generate massive interest despite zero traditional marketing; and “dieselgate” could still be haunting Volkswagen four years later.
These are among the findings from Mass Minority‘s proprietary Brand Attraction Monitor (BAM), a cross-media analytics tool that gauges brands’ market performance against key competitors.
Mass Minority measures brands’ spend on both mass and digital media against online performance metrics including search interest and presence, website relevance and advocacy to assign a total Mass Attraction Score, ranking companies based on their ability to attract consumers against their investment.
Mass Minority CEO Brett Channer recently walked The Message through some of the study’s results for the automotive category. Mass Minority does not currently work with any automotive clients.
GM falls: Oshawa plant closure the likely culprit
General Motors dropped from third to ninth place in the overall rankings of 24 automotive brands, which Channer says is a direct result of its November decision to close its plant in Oshawa, Ont. and move production to Mexico.
The brand’s “net sentiment” score dropped 29% between November and January according to the BAM research. “It’s an example of how a company’s behaviour impacts its appeal,” says Channer. “They dropped to ninth place in less than 60 days in a category that does not traditionally see big changes.”
While GM’s ad spend during the period was below the category average, its market presence only served to further annoy consumers already upset by the company’s announcement, says Channer.
Mass Minority recommends pulling back dramatically on advertising when brands are in the midst of a PR crisis. “When a brand doesn’t slow down the exposure it accelerates the decline,” he says. “The more they talk, the more it’s amplifying the low appeal and consumer sentiment.”
Tesla: Zero marketing, but high interest
Despite zero traditional marketing spend, the electric vehicle (EV) maker has generated what Channer describes as “massive interest” among Canadians, topping the total Mass Attraction score with the highest organic search ranking of any auto brand.
Much of that score comes courtesy of significant earned media, whether from general consumer interest around the EV category as a whole, or as a result of attention-getting stunts like sending a Tesla Roadster into space.
Consumers are looking to Tesla to learn about a category that could represent the future of the automotive industry, says Channer. “People are learning about technology and then applying those expectations to the way they look at other cars,” he says.
Chevrolet avoids parent company’s negative halo
Despite being part of the GM family, Chevrolet has mostly avoided the negative consumer sentiment its parent company has faced. Channer attributes it in part to the brand’s long-running “Real people” campaign.
“We have been tracking automotive for three years and see that Chevy’s consumer advocacy program consistently drives strong appeal,” he says. “The data says it’s a winning campaign that has created attraction.”
Chevrolet’s organic search metric—49 out of 100, compared with an industry-leading score of 78 for Tesla—could be stronger, he says, but that could be as much as part of product history as it as a product currency story.
Brands in Fiat Chrysler Automobiles family occupy the bottom four positions in terms of the overall Mass Attraction score. Each brand has a low to middle score in both the appeal and relevance categories, which Channer attributes to them being more focused on promotions than product brand values in their marketing versus what the leading companies are doing.
“I’m buying a Chrysler because it’s on promo,” says Channer. “I’m not buying it because I can depend on it, or because it’s reliable, or because of its great value.” This leads to lower advocacy and unpaid search scores, making the brand more dependent on promo and paid media.
The outlier within the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles family is Jeep, which boasts an above average advocacy score earned through a marketing approach that has created a compelling brand story based on shared values. “What we have seen repeatedly is that brands with clearly defined values consistently do better in the cross media measuring,” says Channer.
Volkswagen: Still recovering from “dieselgate”
Volkswagen sits 20th out of the 24 auto brands in terms of its total Mass Attraction Score, with middling appeal across all of the categories.
Channer believes the German automaker pursued the correct strategy while grappling with the fallout of the 2015 emissions scandal—where it was discovered that VW used software to conceal the emissions from approximately 11 million diesel-engine cars sold worldwide (it paid more than US$25 billion in fines in the U.S.).
Customer’s memories of such scandals tend to linger because of the importance of automobile purchases. “It’s one of the most considered purchases in a person’s lifetime, and the higher the customer consideration the greater the legacy,” says Channer, noting that it has taken Toyota more than a decade to fully recover from its “unintentional acceleration” scandal of 2009.
In the end, however, Toyota’s reputation for reliability allows it to consistently place among the top 10 brands, with strong organic search and web attraction.