We all know that social media can get us to click on an endless stream of virtual diversions. (Witness the sheep throwing and superpoking and quiz-taking of the Facebook newcomer for ample evidence.) The question for marketers is, can it influence consumer decisions when it comes to big purchases? Like, for instance, a car?
That's what the marketeers at Ford are obviously betting. A free, online game named Hover Kart, created by a company named OMGPOP, has become the latest vehicle (ahem) for Ford's brand-name product placement by way of a "cheat code" (if you don't know what this is, ask your kids) that, according to Adam Ostrow's writeup at Mashable, "unlocks a virtual Ford Fiesta that comes with some special features versus the standard vehicle you use to race around the track."
Ford's presence on the social web is undeniably a leading force, but reaching out to their target product markets with throwbacks such as the Fiesta placement in Hover Kart is a clever move indeed, especially when paired with other parts of Ford's Fiesta Movement campaign (including a six-month long event in which 100 twenty-somethings will drive a new Fiesta and share their experiences online via blogs, tweets and Facebook updates.)
According to Wired Magazine's Keith Barry, the incentive is clear:
"...the healthiest of the Big Three wants to generate buzz for the car among "millennials," those born between 1979 and 1996. Some 70 million millennials will be driving next year, and Ford is targeting the Fiesta squarely at them. A Microsoft study found 77 percent of millennials use a social networking site like Facebook or MySpace daily and 28 percent of them have a personal blog."
Hence the Fiesta showing up in odd places like a free online video game. It's all about the millenial buzz. Like all "conversation marketing" there is risk involved -- several users have complained that the virtual Fiesta actually slows them down in their pursuit of Hover Kart glory (which is definitely not the intended conversational effect Ford was going for).