In this case study we illustrate the approaches taken by two automotive brands, and how each is suited to both their local markets and branding objectives.

In April Toyota China (丰田中国) premiered a new TVC for the Toyota Hybrid model featuring global superstar Taylor Swift. The international music press were very critical of the collaboration, however we can’t underestimate the impact of the celebrity effect here. Why would an automotive brand pay the most popular pop star of the day (Taylor Swift) to film a TVC featuring one of the most popular songs of the day (“Wildest Dreams” from platinum-selling album 1989)? The objective here is to maximise reach across a broad market segment. It’s a fairly timely move given the success of her 2014 world tour, which featured stops in 8 countries in Asia: the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai hosted her for a single show and grossed $1.8 million. The TVC doesn’t score highly for creativity, but roping in this coveted artist is certainly something.


How does the expense of the TVC scale in comparison to other car brand x music campaigns? For the most part, automotive brands partner with high-profile TV talent competitions, paying for multi-million RMB sponsorship packages.

  • In 2013 Chang’an Ford paid 6.4 million RMB to sponsor the first season of Chinese Idol(中国梦之声).
  • In 2013 Shanghai GM Chevrolet paid an undisclosed amount to sponsor the second season of The Voice of China (上海通用汽车雪佛兰) (the full title sponsorship was granted to Sohu OTV at a cost of 200 million RMB).
  • In 2013 Volvo paid an undisclosed amount to sponsor the first season of I’m A Singer (我是歌手) (the full title sponsorship was priced at 150 million RMB).

As far as reach goes, it’s not a bad deal. Alongside drawing a mass audience of real-time TV viewers, the brands benefit from asynchronous online viewing. In the case of The Voice of China, online video views have scaled dramatically since season 1, from 26 million in season 1 to 247 million (as of the 6th episode in season 3, 2014).

Meanwhile in the West, Jeep is playing a different game: the following campaign plays for loyalty and resonance with a niche.

In April Jeep launched an ongoing music platform around the introduction of the Jeep Renegade, a new addition to the small SUV segment. It includes:

  • A 60-second commercial featuring “Renegades”, an original song performed by X Ambassadors.
  • Cross-platform support (television, print, radio, experiential, social, digital and website channels).
  • A dedicated microsite offering up simple content around the campaign.

Viewing the microsite you will notice a dedicated iHeartRadio tab – Jeep bought a sponsorship package for the iHeartRadio Music Awards. This included naming rights for a category of award, which the brand named the “Renegade” award. Nominees were described as being:

“…emerging standout artists who have broken boundaries while staying true to themselves. These artists defy convention to create new musical lanes that are distinctly their own. They are authentic and passionate, with the talent to stretch the limits and do something extraordinary. They are Renegades.”

As an annual event, the iHeartRadio awards platform has a built-in limitation on the potential audience that can be reached, contrasting with a talent show that might roll over 12 weeks leading up to Q4. But despite this, the groundwork and storytelling that accompanies 80% of a talent show has been frontloaded, so each artist is already pulling in his/her respective fan base to view the show. Furthermore, the viewership consists of members of the target audience, not families, older viewers, or people casually channel flicking.

A profile page for each nominee is featured on the minisite, alongside high quality video content from the lead-up to the awards ceremony. Everything from the artist stories to the lyrics in the feature song follow the lines of the empowered millennial, in accordance with the car’s target market. Olivier Francois (Chief Marketing Officer, FCA – Global) explains:

“Together, we’ve created a one-of-a-kind platform that features lyrics and [a] track written with the modern renegade in mind – its name invoking the very spirit and mind-set of Millennials – and features traits inherent in the Jeep Renegade DNA that will allow the campaign to have global relevance.”

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The Jeep Renegade is aimed at a very specific sub-section of young car buyers in the US. The role of music in these peoples’ lives is quite specific. It’s the soundtrack to their adventures and journeys of discovery. These are relatively well-off young consumers; perhaps they attend ivy league universities, or are up-and-coming entrepreneurs. They love the outdoors and aim to grasp every opportunity to explore that comes their way. Most significantly, they are incredibly discerning, so winning their loyalty will have been a priority of this campaign, with the band/brand alliance setting the tone by showing how closely the two parties can work together collaboratively toward a mutually beneficial end. This contrasts Toyota’s approach, which is obviously purely commercial, and unlikely to enable the brand to inherit fans as a by-product of the partnership.

Why would Jeep choose an artist without a full-length release to act as a brand ambassador? For starters the partnership is unique, and besides apparel and brands dealing in music peripherals, it is unlikely X Ambassadors have (or are allowed now) to enter into any other high-profile agreements. Jeep owns the association for now.

Secondly it’s very cost-effective – Jeep are entering at an interesting time in the band’s career: X Ambassadors have spent the last two years on the road in support of their two KIDinaKORNER/Interscope releases — the Love Songs Drug Songs EP and The Reason EP. They have also been hitting the festival circuit fairly hard, playing notable platforms Firefly Festival, Made in America and Lollapalooza.

From a Western perspective it is tempting to view Jeep’s approach favorably. It is cost effective, creative, targeted, story-driven, and actually supports developing artists. But the Chinese context still revolves around brands cultivating their own celebrity spokespeople to do the heavy lifting around their campaigns. Taylor Swift in this case brings an element of cool to Toyota’s product line that is instantly gratifying – it certainly beats the usual 3d-rendered engine casket or anonymous driver careering through the country. The TVC wasn’t fully well – received – scanning Youku’s comments section, there were a few negative comments from fans – the kind you’d expect from a savvy western consumer actually, proving it’s not a full-proof approach. The video is only available for viewing in China, reinforcing the sensitivity around the partnership from the artist’s side.

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To summarize, if a brand is after scale and a short-term bump, then paying out for a high profile media sponsorship or celebrity endorsement is the easiest, most convenient route. But brands that really want to connect to a specific segment of customers and create long-term loyalty need to think more deeply about the who and the how. Jeep supported a rising star to get on the radar of Western millennials with little regard for TVCs; Toyota called on a fresh voice to bring interest to innovation, while forgoing any specified relevance. The approaches contrast sharply, however they are appropriate for their respective markets.