Case study: How the Suzuki Saturdays campaign sold out cars

Case study: How the Suzuki Saturdays campaign sold out cars

It took a leap of faith from both Suzuki and the producers of ITV's hit Saturday-night show to help the car brand break out of the middle-market doldrums, writes Rachel Courtney, head of partnerships at the7stars.

The challenge 

Suzuki had long suffered the "middle-market" problem; trusted European premium brands dominated at one end, with the traditionally Japanese "high tech/low cost" proposition embodied by Korea’s Hyundai and Kia at the other. It had become a battleground for ad space and share of voice, but there was little to distinguish us from them. All too often Suzuki was left looking like a middle-of-the-road option.

We began by looking at ourselves and embracing the truth behind the brand. With cars such as the Jimny and the Swift, Suzuki resonated with quirky people who didn’t take themselves or their cars too seriously. For them, why they travelled was more important than how they did so – the purpose trumped the pleasure. This attitude to driving was most prevalent in a surprisingly neglected segment of the market – the family car-buyer. 

Yet, at the same time, we were all too aware that the fun had been taken out of driving. TV shows and automotive marketing would have us believe that fun could be had only in a supercar. Anything attainable by the mass middle-market was consigned to a combination of sterile messaging and media. Until now. 

This is the story of a car campaign that took a totally different approach to creative, content and media, and sold out of cars in the process.

The insight 

Years of consumer insight, motor reviews and dealer feedback led us to one singular insight: Suzuki cars are fun to drive. In fact, the sale rate after a test-drive was second to none at 70%. But being fun is difficult. You can’t just tell people you’re fun, you have to make them laugh. 

Our strategy was to create fame and show the brand’s "fun" personality by connecting with popular family entertainment.

Research told us that ITV is the channel of choice for families, and Saturdays, in particular, are a time of family bonding and shared viewing. ITV’s Saturday-night entertainment programming was tonally perfect, delivering a style of humour that appealed to our target audience. Yet we didn’t want any old entertainment sponsorship that could easily be misattributed to another family-friendly car brand. Our challenge was to engage with the crown jewels of ITV, which wasn’t the shows but the talent. More specifically, star presenters Ant and Dec.

"The 2016 campaign proved great content can drive conversion, even for high-ticket items"

To give Suzuki a platform proven to get the country giggling, we partnered ITV AdVentures to use the IP from Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway (SNT). This gave us unprecedented access to Ant & Dec themselves and allowed for the use of pranks and challenges seen in the show to be adapted and used as part of our campaign – a UK TV first.

Not only did this allow us to sponsor the duo and the much-loved show, it also allowed us to use the show’s production teams and writers to produce content for Suzuki featuring Ant & Dec as their jovial selves. Our extensive partnership deal meant this content could run on TV, across branded mobile and social channels and in dealerships nationwide.

The plan 

Over a period of three days, we captured hours of footage featuring Ant, Dec and two Suzuki Vitaras in a series of skits, challenges and pranks. We knew the content was a standout so, rather than create a traditional media campaign, we bought media that mirrored how entertainment content is distributed. #SuzukiSaturdays was born.

For this we produced ten short films for TV, each to be aired in one-off hero spots. We didn’t hold back on programming, either – these spots were placed in ITV’s best Saturday-night primetime shows. Our content strategy meant that the assets were carefully shot and tailored to different placements, playing to the strengths of each channel. Shortform versions were teased on Twitter in advance, and extended edits were released on Suzuki’s Facebook page and YouTube channel post-transmission. The spots focused on Ant & Dec’s pranks and worked as sketches, with the Vitara always part of the fun. 

On 20 February 2016, series 13 of SNT launched, featuring Suzuki sponsorship bumpers that extended the fun of the show into the ad break. Naturally, viewers loved it.

To capitalise on the most exciting moments from the show, we partnered Twitter Amplify to broadcast those moments in real-time to a wider social-media audience. All of these were wrapped in Suzuki branding, putting us at the heart of the fun.

SNT fans are an excitable bunch. Social tracking from the 2015 series showed social buzz for the show growing from 2pm on the day of broadcast – as soon as people began queueing – but there was little official content being released at this time. 

To whet the appetite, we created and released our own seven-part online miniseries – Suzuki’s Saturday Afternoon Takeover. This was released exclusively through Suzuki’s YouTube and Facebook channels.

An extensive licensing deal meant that the fun could live off-screen too, so #SuzukiSaturdays was taken around the country in a nationwide roadshow. Dealers jumped at the opportunity to embrace the Ant & Dec antics on the shop floor, with many of them making localised #SuzukiSaturdays events.

The process 

This significant partnership was brokered over two years, to allow real commitment from both the brand and the talent, maximising the authenticity of the endorsement. Not surprisingly, it was almost two years in the making as well.

It’s not uncommon to hear the C-word bandied about in agencyland, but this partnership is true testament to the value of good collaboration. At any one time, there were ten or more independent groups working toward the single goal of putting the fun back into driving, and placing Suzuki firmly at the wheel. With so many moving parts, naturally this brought a new set of challenges for all involved. 

Communication and patience was paramount. From day one, a lead representative from each party involved was appointed. Suzuki was no exception and was fantastic about dedicating the resource this undertaking deserved. 

As a core group, we spoke daily, but we also met every week, without fail. No exceptions. Things were moving at such a pace that decisions often had to be made in the moment. Having a brave client who could make those decisions on the spot was invaluable and kept the wheels in motion.

This partnership spans talent, licensing, broadcast, content-creation and production. We have well and truly blurred the lines between commercial and editorial, and even pushed our own roles beyond their normal limits. This has meant trusting and learning from each other. 

In a UK first, we had TV producers taking themes from their own show and injecting them into branded ad spots that sat in commercial airtime. We trusted completely in their ability to create great content for TV. Equally, they leant on us for guidance about how to adapt the story and assets to work for social ad formats. It was fluid, and it worked.

We were often in uncharted waters and it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Compliance issues, undue prominence, approval from talent, time – these were all weekly challenges. Like any campaign, there were a few hairy moments. Nonetheless, as a brand, Suzuki doesn’t take itself too seriously, and we were all there to create a sense of fun. We regularly reminded ourselves of that when things got tough. 

The results 

Our content-based partnership was the only branding activity Suzuki ran across January-March 2016. Running in isolation to track its impact against previous years of traditional media, the results prove that, when done right, great content can drive conversion, even for high-ticket items.

    • The sales for the Suzuki Vitara (the model featured in the campaign) rose 38% during the course of campaign. 
    • Across the campaign period, Suzuki car sales overall were up 14% vs. total automotive market growth of 4% for the same period. (SMMT registration sales data)
    • Suzuki has just posted record UK car sales for the year 2016.
    • Positive opinion of Suzuki rose from 9% to 14% in only three months. (The Nursery, Brand Tracking)
    • Suzuki ranked third in the National Franchised Dealer Association (NFDA) Dealer Attitude Survey Winter 2017, finishing between Mercedes and Lexus in the table.
    • YouTube best-in-class results for purchase intent, achieving 45.2% uplift among exposed viewers vs control group. (YouTube Brand Uplift study) 

What’s next?

The 2017 campaign is certainly not just a rehash of 2016’s. We’ve evolved the campaign around Suzuki’s changing business and audiences needs, which has resulted in bringing hot new talent on board for 2017. Gogglebox star Scarlett Moffatt has been welcomed not only into the SNT family, but also by Suzuki, and now fronts "Scarlett’s Saturday Night Take-away Suzuki Challenge" – the next iteration in our Saturday-afternoon content series, written and produced specifically for Suzuki’s social-media channels.

What makes 2017 special, however, is the level of access and integration Suzuki now has with the show. This has become possible only as a result of the relationship built over the past 12 months. Suzuki has been granted unprecedented access to the show’s producers and content in advance. This includes our presence at pre-production meetings and during dress rehearsals, all so branded content can be lined up in advance – no mean feat for live shows. 

We’re in on all the jokes, so, like SNT, there will be a few surprises for Suzuki audiences on the night.

The marketers’ view

"We’ve always been way more fun than the other manufacturers, but this is the most fun thing we’ve done to date. This campaign was very different from our usual, and it was a huge decision to go with it but I’m very glad we did. The return we’ve had is more than we could ever have hoped for."
Dale Wyatt sales and marketing director, Suzuki

"Moving into 2017, we were conscious of evolving the campaign to build on the fun we had in 2016. We’re delighted to add Scarlett Moffatt to the #SuzukiSaturdays family this year and to build on our success by extending the partnership into the Republic of Ireland."
Megan Norton partnerships manager, Suzuki 

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