Direct & Integrated Marketing Roundtable

Thursday, May 17, 2012

GM and Ford - Do Either Really Know How to Take Advantage of the Facebook Platform?

Yesterday was certainly interesting day to be a digital marketer!

When I woke up yesterday and checked the news, I saw the piece about GM pulling their Facebook Ads whereas Ford was, as Ad Age said, "Stepping on the Gas."  When I first saw it, I didn't think too much about it. Many brands do not understand that advertising on Facebook requires a new set of rules and that it operates in a different part of the marketing funnel.  This is just not a problem within GM. It is a broader issue that affects many companies.

 As the day wore on, however, more and more of my contacts were asking me personally what I thought. I saw that the news media was putting more and more attention on this decision and curiously timed announcement by GM.

I myself wanted to understand the motivation behind this decision a bit better, so I researched GM's agency of record to see if any insights could be gained from the team that was supporting their social activity. From an Adweek article dated December 20, 2011, I found out that GM cut their Social Media agency, Big Fuel (http://www.adweek.com/news/advertising-branding/big-fuel-cut-gms-social-aor-137213).  Coincidentally, this occurred as the Publicis Groupe had just acquired a 51% stake in the agency.  Both Publicis and Big Fuel had GM as a client.  Was the release of Big Fuel a sign that the company did not understand Social Media? Was it a sign that it was disenchanted with Facebook at that time?  Was it perhaps a money saving tactic?  Apparently as of this date or shortly thereafter, the social media functions were reassigned. Big Fuel has other Fortune 100 clients who are satisfied.

Just as interesting as GM saying yesterday that they were pulling their advertising dollars from Facebook was that Ford said they would be upping their investment and have been quite happy with results to date on Facebook.  This obviously begs a comparison between the two organizations and how they are using their presence in Facebook to engage with consumers.

I  took a look at the Ford and the GM Facebook pages.  I noted the "Likes" and the "Talking about" metrics, as well as their treatment of their Facebook page cover photo.  Here is what I found:

Cover Page Photo
Talking about
Percent Talking
Montage many nostalgia pictures included
1.216 Million
Chevy Camaro
Camaro Wheel
2.849 Million
Ford Motor Company
DearbornMI headquarters
1.503 Million
Ford Mustang
Car shot with a man
4.048 Million

Cars have traditionally been marketed in a way that is supposed to raise your blood pressure and get your heart pounding.  I felt this immediately when I saw the picture of the Mustang in the Facebook Mustang page cover photo -- I had to have that car.
 Ford Mustang Facebook Page

By comparison, the Chevy Camaro Facebook page cover photo puzzled me, and I was left wondering what was their intention in showing me a picture of a wheel. The Chevrolet Facebook page, in particular, seems to have more appeal for those interested in car restoration.

Chevy Camaro Facebook Page

So, what is going on here? Clearly a case could be made that for both Ford and GM, there is room to do more with Facebook. However, there is a larger failure on the part of GM to construct a cohesive brand strategy with Facebook. In engaging with consumers, they have given up leadership of the dialogue on their Chevrolet page. I formed this opinion when I observed on their Facebook page that the content on the Chevrolet Facebook page is largely supplied by consumers who want to share their nostalgic photos of restored or well preserved old Chevys. That is very nice indeed, and it serves a purpose to maintain brand loyalty and support current owners, but it does not sell new cars.        

To continue the comparison between Ford and GM, I moved from Facebook to their websites.  GM is very Flash heavy, and, as a point of fact, the pages cannot load in an iOS mobile device.

 GM Website on Mobile device (flash not loading)

I wonder, did the executives of GM in their very busy lives, not become aware of how Americans are using mobile devices more and more, and that their website is essentially not consumable by individuals who have a mobile device?  This is more than a little lapse. Since half of all phones sold now are smart phones, all of the individuals who have smart phones will not be able to consume the site while surfing with their phone...ok you see where I am going.  Ford on the other hand loads perfectly on my iPad.

 Ford Website on Mobile device

To build on the point of the websites and message integration, one tactic I have observed from GM is their mobile ad campaign.  I have found that on my Android device I have been served flash-based ads for Chevrolet.  The mobile ads are thematically similar to those run on TV with the cast of characters at the dealership. (Reminds me of "Office" at a car dealership).  These commercials and the characters represented in them could be leveraged to engage with consumers in social media. (It would not be possible to serve the ads on an iOS device because they utilize flash.)

Ford similarly has spokesperson, Mike Rowe of America's Dirtiest Jobs fame.  Mike is always authentic in the commercials and adding him to the social media posts might add another dimension for consumers to interact with the brand.  This is an opportunity for Ford.   

Americans have a unique and strong bond with their cars.  Automobiles are  intertwined into the fabric of our culture.  How is it possible that a major Automotive Manufacturer has to publicly state that they are pulling money from Facebook?  The case is clear that Ford and GM could both do a lot more to leverage Facebook, so I think this announcement by GM has more to do with the disarray in their own marketing strategy and less to do with Facebook.  Ford has a solid advertising strategy and can work towards integrating social media strategies into their already solid marketing.  GM may be looking at a larger overhaul of their marketing strategy (their digital strategy in particular needs some work), and online and offline messages should be made to work together. If GM made the announcement of a pull out of Facebook advertising to bide time while they got their digital ducks in a row, well, then who's stock would take a hit?

So to recap,  
  • 5/16/2012  GM officially announced today they were pulling their advertising on Facebook.  
  • 12/20/2011 GM released their Social Media agency in December 2011 (who was running their Social Media campaigns since December?)
  • Chevrolet has a Facebook page which seems to be largely driven by nostalgia and content which figures prominently cars and trucks from yesteryear, which have stood the test of time.
  • Chevrolet and Chevy Camaro do not employ their Facebook cover photos for heart pounding car pictures.  Chevrolet has a nostalgia montage, and Chevy Camaro has a wheel.
  • GM has a website heavy in flash.  It will not load on a mobile device.
  • Ford and Ford Mustang have cover photos showing the Corporate Headquarters and a full view of the Mustang, respectively.
  • Ford and Ford Mustang's engagement metrics are a bit higher than Chevrolet and Chevy Camaro.
Perhaps Ford is positioned a bit better because the Company is named Ford, and the brand name for the Cars is also Ford.  Perhaps it is a bit harder for GM because they have more brands to manage and lack the strong umbrella brand identity to organize their marques under.  But a complete pullout of advertising seems a bit drastic, unless you don't understand it anyway.  

Success on Facebook requires:
  • Defining the strategic purpose of this medium (I do not want to call it a channel).  Is this medium an acquisition or retention focused medium?
  • Defining the nature of your relationship to the consumers.  Are you a cheerleader, advisor, curator, friend, etc.?
  • Establishing the narrative, what is the message you want to convey to your fans?  Can you structure your message to work with your other channels?  "Hard sells" do not work well in social media.
  • Paying attention to this medium, monitoring the dialogue and commenting appropriately.   
  • Establishing in advance Key Performance Indicators that will identify the effectiveness of the strategy. (If your not measuring it you're not managing it!)
Given the keys to success on Facebook, it is rather predictable that GM bailed out.  They lack a strategic focus for this medium, the relationship is more defined by the consumers than by GM, the consumers also lack a narrative from GM. GM also lacks an understanding of using the images and timeline to their brand's advantage.  I cannot speak to the monitoring or the KPI measurement, but if they dropped their social agency, it is probably not being measured.  Given the shambles of their social strategy why do I care if they pulled their budget from Facebook?  As a marketer I am glad that they are now "out" of Facebook ads, since the inventory of ads will be freed up a bit for those Marketers who can see the path of how Facebook ads work with the other components of their digital strategy.

And in five years, if we think back on this day, we may see it in the context of the knowledge that we build and the best practices that will no doubt be in place for Social Media.  In five years it will be hard to understand how a major corporation made such a move to pull out.

I would love to know if you agree.  Let me know.

Rhonda Knehans Drake


  1. Nice post, Rhonda.

    You make some excellent points about the contrasting styles of GM and Ford. Any flash-heavy website combined with a poorly designed Facebook page certainly indicates a lack of digital game-planning.

    I'm always curious about how brands monitor what leads to a sale on Facebook.

    Is Facebook even the right platform for selling cars? If the goal was to raise GM's digital presence hopefully the people running their social media campaigns explained that to them before they got going.

    I think Facebook can be a great platform for building and maintaining communities. However, the ability to directly drive sales is highly dependent on what's being sold. The sheer number of people on Facebook make it a valuable medium but many companies just don't understand how to effectively use it.

    1. Noah, I agree that the Facebook platform should be explored regarding it's appropriateness for selling cars. That being the case, if you were aware that FB is at the top of the funnel rather than the bottom, you could facilitate conversations in FB to get consumers talking about favorite features of cars, or what is more important to what kind of consumer (families vs singles; long distance drivers vs city drivers, etc.).

      There are enough disconnects in GM's marketing strategy that it seemed pretty clear to me that the announcement was meant to give them an out and misdirect the attention of the investment community to deflect their own shortcomings.

      I think that in the next couple of years the knowledge base about what works well on FB in terms of sales strategies and applicable verticals will emerge. Until then we will all investigate and contribute to the collective conversation.

      Thanks for your thoughts.


  2. I think Facebook or myspace can be a great foundation for building and keeping areas. However, the capability to straight generate sales is extremely reliant on what's being marketed.