Adwatch: Porsche’s Boxster Road Trip shows how NOT to run a digital campaign

I’ve been an outspoken critic of brands who boast about the size of their fan base. Of course, it’s an understandable temptation, especially if you allow yourself to be influenced by the vernacular of a Facebook ‘Like’. But what use is a follower, if they don’t then engage with a brand in a way that translates into commercial value?

In a recent article on Bloomberg Businessweek, Mark Risher, CEO of anti-spam software company, Impermium, claimed that 40 percent of the accounts on social-media sites are spam and although Facebook and Twitter are working hard to reduce the flotsam, the message is clear – marketers would be better advised to focus on ‘yield’ rather counting inventory.

Or to put it more succinctly, “Size isn’t everything – it’s what you do with it that counts.”

A case in point is Porsche Cars North America’s latest campaign for the new Boxster – ‘The Spirited Escape Road Trip‘ – produced in partnership with Men’s Journal magazine.

The campaign has been designed to raise awareness of the new 2013 Boxster and its day-to-day usability, through a process of experiential marketing.

The Spirited Escape Road Trip, hosted by Dhani Jones – former NFL Linebacker and host of Travel Channel’s “Dhani Tackles the Globe”, follows his journey in a Porsche Boxster S from New York City on 4th June, ending up at the Porsche Sport Driving School in Alabama on June 11th.

Fans were able to follow the journey via the microsite at, on Twitter at #BoxsterRoadTrip and on Porsche’s YouTube channel.

Despite the road trip being promoted as a joint campaign between Porsche and Men’s Journal magazine, I couldn’t find any mention of it on the magazine’s website, so we must assume Porsche had creative control of the full campaign.

Chris McLoughlin, publisher at Men’s Journal, said in a recent interview in The New York Times, “We think of this as a different way to work with advertisers, helping brands stand out amid a clogged freeway of marketing.”

How is the campaign doing?

In the same New York Times article, Scott Baker, manager for marketing communications at Porsche Cars in Atlanta was quoted saying, “This is the first time we’ve done something like this..” He added. “We wanted to work with a partner to make it not just a road trip, but a Porsche road trip.”

During the course of the trip Porsche produced a series of 10 videos, ranging in duration from 27 to 84 seconds. (click on an image below to launch each video).

  Stage/Date Views
Stop 1 Travel Log: New York City
Jun 04, 2012
Auto Start Stop in the New Boxster
Jun 04, 2012
Stop 2 Travel Log: Washington D.C.
Jun 04, 2012
The Boxster’s Fully Electric Roof
Jun 06, 2012
Stop 3 Travel Log: Charlottesville, VA
Jun 06, 2012
Stop 4 Travel Log | Tail of the Dragon
Jun 08, 2012
Behind the Scenes of Filming the 2013 Boxster S at the Tail of the Dragon
Jun 09, 2012
Preview Dhani Jones Preparing to Drive the Tail of the Dragon in the New 2013 Boxster S
Jun 09, 2012
Dhani Jones Chats about his Experience in Asheville, NC
Jun 12, 2012
Porsche Classics Gathering with the 2013 Boxster S at Barber Motorsports Park
Jun 13, 2012

The goal of experiential marketing is to grow a closer bond with consumers, to turn viewers from voyeurs to participants. And when you boast a social media audience of more than 4.1 million people, including 64,449 Twitter followers you’d expect a lot more than a few thousand views on YouTube.

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According to Porsche, the Spirited Escape Road Trip is about meeting interesting people whose unique passions provide escapes as immersive as the experience of driving the new Boxster.

But instead of ‘immersive’, the campaign has become downright ‘corrosive’ to Porsche’s reputation as a brand that knows its customers.

Take a look at some of the comments below from the official Porsche Channel on YouTube. Not only have the video views been low, but as the comments became increasingly negative (although surprisingly constructive for YouTube), Porsche made the decision to switch off the likes/dislikes for each video.


What is Porsche Selling ? Am i missing something with this series ? Is there some illuminati clues or something? worth our time in this series of lame clips ?


@Porsche just make one long documentary about his experiences when they are over. It gets a bit intrusive when you feel obligated to constantly upload 30 second snippets in order to get my attention 5 times a day. Stop it.


But what about the car… or his experience? in the car, how the car performs over long distances. What about the Porsche Experience?


Wow…they disabled like and dislike features, and? even thumb up ability for comments…what are they thinking with this series?


Worst campaign ever…. Unsubscribed, thanks.

As for the campaign’s engagement factor on Twitter, I counted 26 tweets since 8th June, with only 6 tweets from people outside the team involved in making the videos.

Porsche have form when it comes to successful social campaigns, an example which comes to mind includes the Webby Award winning Porsche Panamera launch site which sought to build a Family Tree of Porsche owners to showcase its customers as the true legends behind the brand.

So what lessons can Porsche take away from this campaign?

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Learning points

There has been plenty to find fault with in Porsche’s new campaign, but let’s conclude with a series of constructive suggestions on how the campaign could be improved.

The marketing team at Porsche U.S. already know most of these principles (from previous campaigns), so perhaps the company should also take a look at how knowledge is shared within their organisation – as long as they can learn from these mistakes then they’re efforts will not have been wasted.

  1. Build stories around your customers – Porsche is not the first brand to try and exploit the fame and following of a celebrity or ex-sporting hero, but with a following of only 66,696 on Twitter and just 23,046 on Facebook, Dhani Jones was far from being universally known – nor did his endorsement of the Boxster carry any weight with enthusiasts and fans. Celebrity endorsement is a broadcast marketing tool which can often backfire in a social context, yet a great many brands continue to waste marketing spend stroking their own egos and then wondering why audiences fail to respond.
  2. Curated content encourages word-of-mouth sharing – experiential marketing is key to building stories around your customers, so it’s something of a surprise to find it missing from this campaign – even more so given Porsche’s past experience with its Family Tree campaign for the Panamera. It’s not as if it’s that hard to find examples of owners documenting their own road trips – such as here and here – Porsche could have used the route taken by Dhani Jones to inspire fans to upload their own experiences and for Porsche to select their favourites.
  3. Add fun by gamifying the experience – social marketing shares many similarities with organisational team building, where the goal is to build a team (a tribe) of people who identify with the brand and share its values. The best way for people to feel part of a team is to share an experience, which could so easily have been achieved by involving fans in shaping the journey (or suggesting stop-offs along the way). Porsche could also have offered fans the chance to join Dhani Jones at each stage, and perhaps the chance to win a week with a 2013 Boxster S and make their own road trip. One of the best examples of gamifying a road trip can be found in last year’s Ford’s Focus Rally, which demonstrates much of what’s lacking in Porsche’s Spirited Escape campaign.
  4. Serialised video campaigns don’t work – there is a misconception among some marketers that consumers’ attention spans are declining and therefore online videos need to be as short as possible. Not true. An article I wrote for Econsultancy earlier this year – Does the size of branded videos matter? – explained the reasons why viewer’s behaviours have changed and a further report showed the majority of videos watched on smartphones, tablets and PCs is now between 1 and 3 minutes in length, with 3 to 6 minutes becoming the norm in certain cases. Brands have just one chance to engage a consumer, so rather than drip-feed a series of clips, the best marketers either create a 5-6 minute story, or weave each video clip into an interactive whole. Examples to learn from include, the entertaining Tippex Hunter and Bear interactive ad and the hugely successful TNT Benelux ad, ‘A Dramatic Surprise On A Quiet Square’, which demonstrates the standard of storytelling consumers are beginning to expect from ad campaigns.

Many people, in my experience, over complicate social campaigns when in fact the principles are mostly common sense. But if there’s one message to take away from our review of this campaign, it’s this – social campaigns should first and foremost address the audience’s needs, not the brand nor the profile of some ex-sports personality.

Celebrity endorsements can prove a double-edged sword in a world where the consumer always has the last word and for this reason it’s never a good move to stifle user comments and feedback, as Porsche appear to have done with these videos on YouTube.

Presenter Dhani Jones, brought no authority to the videos nor was his viewpoint seen as relevant. Not only were the videos too short, they also lacked story – despite the obvious context of a road trip.

Porsche’s goal for The Spirited Escape campaign was to reach new consumers, beyond their core fan base, but they need to remember that Porsche is first and foremost an enthusiast brand – as such, prospective customers will seek out reviews (written in the main by enthusiasts) before deciding to buy.

A recent survey by Reevoo, on Econsultancy found that 88% of consumers ‘sometimes or always’ consult a review when making a purchase, with the travel and automotive sectors relying on user reviews most heavily.

Did Porsche consider this factor when signing off The Spirited Escape campaign?

Photo credits: Porsche Cars North America.