‘Amazon is a brand play for us’: How Buick is building a long-term partnership around Amazon’s ad business

Most marketers see advertising on Amazon as a performance play, but marketing execs at Buick have their sights on its branding potential.

The car manufacturer is the first General Motors brand to launch a vehicle with a marketing campaign focused on the built-in Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. Drivers of the Encore GX SUV can use the voice assistant to perform a number of tasks while they drive, from providing directions to playing music and ordering goods on the go.

But as innovative as the Alexa-powered in-car experience is, it’s the link to the wider Amazon platform that has Buick’s marketers excited.

“This program is the first step ar creating a voice-driven experience for customers as well as bringing vehicle shopping element into the Amazon ecosystem,” said Kate Hrabovsky, marketing and advertising manager at Buick.

Aside from Alexa tech, Buick’s campaign includes a custom Alexa “utterance,” a phrase that lets people ask about the manufacturer’s vehicle from any device. Furthermore, there’s an ad touting the partnership as well as a dedicated virtual showroom on the marketplace. The hope is that all those activations help turn Amazon into a branding channel for Buick, whether it’s targeted ads in cars, on the marketplace or on Amazon Fire TV.  (Can you do general Amazon shopping from the car?)

“Amazon is a brand play for us given the partnership with Alexa and the fact that we want to capitalize on the new vehicle launch,” said Hrabovsky. “But that’s also working as a way to show how technology can improve the customer shopping experience for the brand as people have another way to interact with it via Alexa.”

For now, Buick’s marketers are more concerned with making sure information about its vehicles is readily available across Amazon’s properties, not selling cars from there. 

“The normal buying experience is still the same,” said Hrabovsky. In fact, most of what the marketing on Amazon will try to drive people back to the manufacturer’s own site or showroom, she said. 

It’s somewhat of contrarian stance given most advertisers who buy ads on Amazon also sell products there.

For all its growth, Amazon’s ad business has yet to make real inroads into brand budgets. Most advertisers tend to be wowed by Amazon’s ability to drive direct response. But voice technology could change that, particularly if Amazon looks to install Alexa into more cars. 

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While Amazon continues to lead the smart speaker market, both Google and Apple have the advantage of having their voice assistants built into smartphones. Cars could be a way to push Alexa further into the mobile space, as well as get Amazon’s ad business closer to those marketers with some of the biggest brand marketing budgets available. 

“Buick’s addition to the growing list of voice-enabled cars is one step closer to Amazon’s vision of ‘Alexa everywhere’”, said Steff Preyer, business director at voice agency Rabbit & Pork. “Rather than thinking of voice search as a standalone activity that occurs within the home, voice is on its way to becoming an omnipresent channel, so that you can fire a command at an inanimate object at any point of your day and expect to get a response.”

Buick’s fledgling partnership with Amazon is indicative of a wider trend among automotive advertisers.

In a year where physical retail was, by and large, shut for more than three months of the year, more people bought products online and plan to continue doing so even as lockdown measures ease. In turn, car manufacturers have stepped up their pursuit of online sales.

France’s PSA, Volkswagen and Daimler have all tested car-based e-commerce strategies in recent months, reported the Financial Times. 

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