Last year, U.S. auto industry sales dropped for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis. After years of strong performance, annual sales dipped by a small but still noticeable 1.8%.
To combat the ever challenging car market, auto brands of all types are turning to influencer marketing to win and retain customers. Here we’ll examine how automakers among the likes of Maserati, Jeep, and Land Rover are adapting their marketing strategy for social and winning.
Founded in 1937, Toyota is a brand known for its practical and equally affordable vehicles. By annual revenue, the Japanese automaker is the fifth largest company in the world. In 2017 alone, Toyota generated more than $254 million in revenue.
The 4Runner is one of the brand’s most popular models. According to Toyota, 31,550 4Runners have already been sold in the U.S. this year. Toyota also estimates that trucks and SUVs now account for two-thirds of the auto market, which explains why the brand chose to promote its 4Runner model with social media influencers. To improve upon its already successful 2018 4Runner sales, the brand partnered with travel influencer Kelly Lund (@sharktoof) and his influencer dog @loki.
The 4Runner is a car designed for adventure and outdoor exploration. On Toyota’s website, photos feature the vehicle traveling off-road and being filled with camping gear. As such, Loki, a Siberian Husky, is a perfect influencer to promote the rugged, off-terrain vehicle. The dog’s Instagram account (run by Lund) is an amalgamation of picturesque shots in nature.
One can expect that Loki’s audience shares a similar interest in nature and outdoor pursuits, as this is the content users sign up for when following Loki on Instagram. Toyota is therefore tactful in choosing Loki over other influencers, as the dog gives the brand access to a subset of consumers likely to be interested in the 4Runner.
Toyota’s Instagram partnership with Loki started in February 2017 and has since included close to two sponsored posts a month. Curiously, the posts situate the 4Runner in a diverse array of natural environments (snow, forest, and desert), subtly reminding followers of the vehicle’s versatility. Furthermore, the seamless integration of the photos into Loki’s feed is compounded by the authenticity of the long-term partnership over a one-off campaign.
To put it simply, Maserati is a completely different car company than Toyota. The Italian carmaker epitomizes luxury and class. Its streamlined vehicles start at over $74,000 and are meant to go fast, in style. To promote its luxury models, the brand traveled to the Alps with three influencers, effectively living up to its reputation for creating, “Masterpieces of elegance, luxury, and sports car performance.”
The trio of influencers involved included macro-influencers Scott Schuman (@thesartorialist) and James Walker (@mrjww), as well as micro-influencer Jenny Walton (jennymwalton). Maserati organized a photo and video shoot in the snowy mountains of Courmayeur, Italy with beautiful views of Mont Blanc.
Scott Schuman, creator of The Sartorialist and the largest influencer involved in the campaign, is a blogger and photographer who describes his interest in, “Creating a two-way dialogue about the world of fashion and its relationship to daily life.” His Instagram feed is an ideal medium for Maserati to reach more than one million interested in elegance and luxury.
The same can be said for micro-influencer Jenny Walton. Her fashion blog and Instagram feed celebrate high-end fashion, positioning her to showcase a luxury brand like Maserati. Additionally, her portfolio includes past partnerships with Saks Fifth Avenue and Carolina Herrera, a strong indicator that her audience is likely to enjoy sponsored content from a brand like Maserati. In the form of two sponsored Instagram posts, Walton shows how Maserati’s elegance pairs perfectly with her elegant fashion.
The non-fashion outlier of the campaign was James Walker, an auto influencer with 192,000 followers. Though Walker doesn’t give Maserati access to a luxury fashion-centric demographic, he exposes the brand to an audience interested in sports car performance — a tenant central to Maserati’s brand identity.
In partnership with Maserati, Walker published seven sponsored Instagram posts. One of the highest performing posts is a video showcasing the speed and handleability of Maserati vehicles. In the video, Walker drifts a Maserati in the snow, which serves to give his audience the auto content it’s accustomed to while simultaneously providing information about Maserati.
Much like Toyota, Jeep has also turned to travel and adventure influencers for marketing campaigns. During the World Surf League Billabong Pipe Masters event in Hawaii, Jeep teamed up with a group of professional surfers, photographers, and influencers, because in Jeep’s words, “Surfing and adventure have always gone hand in hand.”
Using the hashtag #JeepWSL, the brand partnered with six macro-influencers: Chelsea Yamase (@chelseakauai), Sam Potter (@captainpotter), Travis Burke (@travisburkephotography), James Cole (@earthfocus), Malia Manuel (@maliamanuel), and Courtney Conlogue (@courtneyconlogue). Each posted between one and three sponsored Instagram posts.
As millennial influencers, the group of six appeals to an important Jeep demographic: adventurous, young professionals who are likely ready to purchase their first middle-priced car. For instance, Yamase is in her late twenties and travels the world for a living. Her audience is likely of a similar age and interested in travel.
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In one sponsored Instagram photo, Yamase features a Jeep Wrangler. Yamase positions the vehicle as a tool that helps her chase experiences by saying, “Cruising around Oahu with @Jeep this week to document some of the #BillabongPipeMasters.” The statement serves to emphasize that a Jeep is a car that facilitates the experiences and lifestyle her followers are interested in.
By centering the #JeepWSL campaign around the Billabong Pipe Masters event, Jeep was also able to capitalize on the anticipation of a specific event. The Pipe Masters is the final competition of the WSL world tour each year. The campaign communicated Jeep’s brand identity as an adventure vehicle manufacturer and positively associated its vehicles with an adventure-centric event.
Furthermore, professional surfers like Conlogue and Manuel who are competitors on the WSL tour serve to reach the audience keep wants to target — adventurous, sporty and looking to travel.
British manufacturer Land Rover is famous for its iconic four-wheel-drive adventure cars that offer a perfect mix of class and practicality. To highlight the durability and versatility of its vehicles, the brand teamed up with seven influencers: Lauren Bullen (@gypsea_lust), Jack Morris (@doyoutravel), Michelle Madsen (@michelletakeaim), Ed Stafford (@ed_stafford), Jessica and Garrett Gee (@thebucketlistfamily), and Lydia Millen (@lydiaemillen).
In collaboration with the Gee family, Land Rover showcased the practicality of its 7-passenger SUV, the Discovery. In the form of one sponsored photo, the family of five shows how easily their luggage and gear fits into the Discovery and emphasizes the car’s practical advantage.
In addition, the photo and caption also serve to highlight the car’s versatility. The Gee family is known for their outdoor-centric adventures and in 2015 sold all their belongings to travel the world. Nevertheless, they’re using the Discovery to do something as ordinary as traveling to their relative’s house for Thanksgiving. By mentioning the holiday, the family indicates that though perfect for adventure, the Discovery is also appropriate for everyday use.
Similar to the Gee Family, travel influencers Jack Morris (@doyoutravel) Lauren Bullen (@gypsea_lust) emphasized the Discovery’s various capabilities by traveling to the Namibia desert with the brand. Each published two Instagram posts describing their trip using the hashtag #Discovery.
Morris and Bullen are two influencers known for traveling in style and frequently stay at five-star hotels and villas. As such, the two perfectly embodies Land Rover’s reputation as a brand infusing luxury with rugged adventure. By traveling to the Namibia desert in a Discovery, Mullen draws attention to the car as durable and able to withstand rugged climates. At the same time, her appearance in a polished outfit in the image above draws clear connections between Land Rover and a luxorious lifestyle.