Marketing Winners and Losers at the NY International Auto Show (Part 3)

Manufacturers put on exhibits at auto shows because they want to sell cars to adults, but sometimes they recognize another key attendee group: kids.  Subjects of “My Super Sweet 16” aside, the kids don’t buy cars, of course, but they do have immediate value to the exhibitors for two reasons:

  1. Kids attend the auto show in droves ($7 tickets help) and drag adults with them.  As in, adults who potentially buy cars
  2. Kids actually influence car purchases to a large degree

While a lot of brands offer kid-friendly exhibits (Jeep had Camp Jeep and other booths had video games), not as many have anything specific for the kids.  Let’s look at one that did have something for the kids, Ford Trucks, and what they did well and not so well.

Good: Hands-on brand experience

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My Research Assistants

Ford Trucks let kids 12 and under built snap-together models of their halo truck, the Raptor.

Obviously, giving kids an activity and a souvenir gets them very excited.  They also literally get their hands on the brand.  Seeing other kids with toy trucks at the show makes most kids ask “hey, where can I do that?”  This destination factor really makes a difference, given that the NY auto show consigns most of the truck exhibits to the basement.

Moreover, a lot of parents, including this one, grew up building plastic models and want their kids to experience the hobby as well.  Overall, Ford Trucks’ idea works really well and probably represents a huge win given that they probably paid next-to-nothing for the model kits.  Revell charges about $4.41 retail for a more complex model than what Ford had.  I suspect the Raptors cost well under 50¢ each, well in line with other giveaways (pins, shopping bags, fancy brochures0 at the show.

Bad: Now what?

Unfortunately, Ford Trucks missed the opportunity for a real marketing coup for basically no cost.  No, I don’t mean collecting kids’ info.  Bravo to Ford Trucks for not trying to sign up kids.  But what about the grown-ups waiting in line?

I waited with my research assistants for about 25 minutes along with several other parents.  I  imagine that the line can be even longer.  Yet not a single booth staffer came by to ask if I had any questions about Ford Trucks.  Even more inexplicably, the counter at the exhibit stood about five feet from the front of the line for the model building and they barely glanced in our direction.

Maybe the staffers had orders to engage parents on the line and they simply forgot or chose not to do so.  However, it seems like a slam dunk to have a staffer float by with a tablet and maybe some brochures to answer questions.

For the record, I did lean out of line to ask the team at the desk about the final assembly location for the Transit Connect and they happily supplied the answer (“What is ‘Valencia, Spain,’ Alex.”).  However, I find it astonishing that Ford had a bunch of people waiting around for long stretches of time about whom they could make some simple assumptions (e.g. more interested in the Explorer than the Raptor because kids).

I don’t think marketing has a greater sin than leading a horse to water and not at least offering a drink.  And for the company that builds the Mustang, you’d think they’d know more about horses.

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