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ROI: Mad to Measure

Calculating the return on E-business investments isn't easy, but that doesn't stop companies from trying.

But how best to communicate the contest to that market of well- educated, highly paid 25- to 54-year-olds? Saab’s technology partner, Boston-based Digitas (www.digitas.com), did its own research and discovered that two Web sites catered to this demographic — Epicurious.com, a wine site, and Concierge.com, an upscale travel site. “We designed a banner ad that blended in with the look and feel of these sites, so viewers would click through thinking it was actually part of the site,” says Digitas chairman and CEO David Kenny.

Viewers who took the bait saw a flash movie in which a convertible Saab 9-5 cruises up the Pacific Coast Highway across a bridge and into Big Sur. The clip ends with a shot of a hot-air balloon ascending the deep blue sky. And then the hook: To participate, entrants would have to test-drive a Saab at their local dealership.

That is where the rubber meets the road for Saab, because the company has found that its best chance of competing with the likes of better-known Euro-sedan kings such as BMW and Mercedes is to get people behind the wheel of one of its models. The tag line “People who test- drive a Saab usually buy a Saab” isn’t just wishful thinking, but is borne out by market research (although Saab won’t quantify “usually”).

Therefore, any calculation of ROI for the Web advertising effort had to be designed around its success as a vehicle for getting people into showrooms and out on the road. Based on that metric, the effort was a stunning success. “The number of people who took test-drives based on the contest exceeded projected estimates by 300 percent,” says Ken Adams, CFO at Saab Cars U.S.A.

“Previously, we had established a benchmark in terms of the number of sales we wanted to generate through the ad campaign, then estimated the number of test-drive sign-ups consistent with that,” adds Adams. “Basically, we had an objective and worked backward from that.”

The winner of the contest, announced late last year, was a woman from Cincinnati. “The best part was that after the trip, she came home and bought a Saab,” says Price.

Saab won’t give actual figures for the number of entrants who ultimately bought a Saab (although the winner and others did), but Adams says that the company was keenly interested in quantifying the success of its marketing effort. “We did a monthly comparison of the database of names produced by the Internet sweepstakes against the databases of other advertising campaigns, including direct mail, dealership strategies, television advertising, and so on,” he says. “What we found out was that the Internet strategy was highly profitable given the investment, and sales exceeded our estimates. Most important, we reaffirmed that the test-drive is the critical part of the strategy.”

Digitas, which designed and built the technology around the advertising campaign, was also eager to measure results. “Saab wanted a high-ROI campaign that would be measurable across several metrics,” Kenny explains. “We measured demographic detail on the number of people who clicked through to enter the contest, then clicked through to the local dealership to set up a time and date for the test-drive, and then actually completed it.” Designing the contest page so that visitors could click through and communicate with their local dealer proved a major advantage, and tapped an aspect of Web advertising that other media would be hard-pressed to replicate.

On a cost-per-test-drive basis the advertising campaign proved so successful that Saab and Digitas recently launched another Internet sweepstakes, this time with the banner ads built around jazz music and featured on the New York Times and Washington Post Web sites. Says Price, “We discovered that our target market likes a little jazz with their wine, so we’re offering a weeklong trip to the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.” There are rumored to be some respectable wineries not too far west of there. An easy drive, in fact. — RB

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