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Case Study: How NHL.com's Online Campaign Helped Dodge Launch a New Vehicle, Exceed Sales Forecasts

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Company: NHL.com
Contact: Larry Gelfand, SVP of media sales for the National Hockey League
Location: New York, NY
Industry: Sports, Online Publishing
Annual revenue: $2,600,000,000
Number of employees: 430

Quick Read

Before there was any talk of automotive-industry bailouts, Chrysler LLC called on a group of Web publishers to help with improving consumers' overall perception of the Dodge brand. Chrysler was confident that if consumers' underlying attitude were improved, they would be receptive to Dodge's new product designs and features.

The campaign ensued with the launch of the brand's first crossover vehicle, the 2009 Journey, in early 2008. Chrysler engaged 15 Web sites to creatively tout the new vehicle's innovative features, generating positive online exposure for Dodge and ultimately driving brand opinion.

NHL.com—the official Web site of The National Hockey League—was best able to cut through the clutter and deliver the brand message, and was therefore more successful in lifting brand opinion than any other enlisted site, according to Nielsen IAG.


NHL.com strategically infused Dodge product promotion into video and editorial content surrounding the Stanley Cup, creating a customized and successful online campaign.

Challenge

Dodge is Chrysler's best-selling brand, with 6.2% share of the US automotive market. The brand has undergone a fairly significant makeover throughout the last few years with the redesign of models past—including the Charger, Challenger, and Magnum—and the introduction of new "bells and whistles" that fit today's consumer lifestyle.

Its latest addition to the lineup, and Dodge's first crossover—the 2009 Journey—is competitively priced, starting around $21,000, and features best-in-class fuel economy, a lifetime warranty, 5-star safety rating, all-wheel drive, dual-zone temperature control, an integrated beverage cooler and rechargeable flashlight, and more.

Before Journey's debut in April 2008, Dodge met with 15 Web publishers—including NHL.com, SportsIllustrated.cnn.com, Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com), NBA.com, Google, MSN, and Yahoo. Included in the agenda was the announcement that Dodge would dedicate more resources than ever before to interactive—at least 25% of marketing for the Journey launch campaign.

Dodge then walked the publishers through the various challenges facing the brand—including rising fuel prices, a questionable economy, a cluttered crossover marketplace, and an outdated public opinion of the overall brand—and charged each with developing a custom marketing solution that would...

  • Advocate key vehicle attributes such as durability, fuel efficiency, and efficiency of space
  • Incorporate broadband
  • Elevate public opinion of the Dodge brand
  • Be so unique to Dodge and the individual publisher site that no other product or brand could be substituted.

Here's a look into how NHL.com went about meeting that challenge...

Campaign

The Dodge campaign on NHL.com launched on April 8, 2008, purposely coinciding with both the market introduction of the Dodge Journey and the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The 8th of April also marked the launch of NHL's broadband player, built specifically for this campaign.

At the center of the campaign, titled "Journey to the Cup," were 32 original video vignettes—two for each NHL team that qualified for the playoffs in 2008. The videos told the stories of each team's progression throughout the season and aligned the team characteristics that led each to qualify—such as endurance or power-play efficiency—with comparable Dodge Journey features, such as fuel and space efficiency, and the vehicle's 5-star safety rating.

Each video was preceded by a 15-second video Journey ad, which trafficked clicks through to the corresponding portion of the Dodge Web site.

The videos were featured on each qualifying team's page on NHL.com; in addition, 30-second versions were created for placement on the NHL YouTube channel and on iTunes (in the form of podcasts). The videos received more than 30,000 views on YouTube and became some of the most popular NHL podcasts on iTunes during the Stanley Cup.

In addition, the campaign on NHL.com included the following:

  • Prominent homepage promotion in the days leading up to, and over the first weekend of, the Dodge Journey premier.
  • Additional homepage promotions guiding users to the special Dodge "Journey to the Cup" portion of the Web site.
  • Co-sponsorship of the Stanley Cup Playoffs editorial section and custom integrated content—which, again, made the connection between Journey features and individual team strengths.
  • Various ad units, such as 468x60 and 300x600, which ran adjacent to the videos and editorials and touted either Journey's durability or its efficiency, depending on which team strengths were featured in the associated content.

Overall, NHL.com delivered more than 133 million impressions throughout the campaign.

Results

Through the efforts of all 15 publishers and the company's larger multi-media ad campaign, Dodge was able to meet and exceed Journey sales forecasts for April and May 2008.

According to Nielsen IAG, NHL.com outperformed all the other Web outlets: It had a 53% higher brand "cut-through" rate, 80% higher creative cut-through rate, and 87% higher message cut-through rate—referring to rates of how well a campaign cuts through the clutter in terms of branding impact, creative effectiveness, and message comprehensibility.

In addition, Nielsen IAG found that NHL.com was 79% more effective in propelling public opinion of the Dodge brand.

"The NHL.com campaign really delivered...particularly the ad effectiveness," said Mary Ann Capo, Dodge advertising manager. "They really hit the jackpot not only with excellent ideation and integration with their digital partners, but most importantly, the campaign resonated with our audience. NHL.com delivered by far the most superior creative cut-through across a significant number of online properties."

Lessons Learned

NHL.com provided a compelling demographic for Dodge: on the surface... die-hard hockey fans (NHL reported 93% capacity at its games last year and expects 94% this year) who exude passion; and on closer look... college-educated, tech-savvy opinion leaders who are generally more affluent than other sports fans.

The "Journey to the Cup" campaign was especially effective because NHL tapped into fans' passion in a highly customized approach that...

  • Took advantage of the sport's main event
  • Focused the campaign promotions in the areas of the site where fans would be most likely to frequent during the Cup (i.e., the playoffs page and pages for the 16 qualifying teams)
  • Provided fans with insightful, in-demand team information rather than blatant advertorials
  • Tied all promotions together, so that banner ads related directly to the content they encircled, for example.
  • Effectively used video to serve the information and entertainments needs of this audience, while also leveraging the popularity of iTunes and YouTube

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Kimberly Smith is a staff writer for MarketingProfs. Reach her via kims@marketingprofs.com.

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