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Ford, Chevy Stake Big Claims in Millennial Sales with Boost from Social Marketing

Posted by Dale Buss on August 23, 2013 11:34 AM

Ford's emphasis on social media marketing for its Fiesta subcompact is paying off in a somewhat surprising way: The brand was able to declare this week that Ford has enjoyed the fastest retail-sales growth of any auto brand in the US among the highly sought but stubborn Millennial demographic over the last four years.

Ditto in a sense for Chevrolet which, while without making claims versus the competition, noted that it continues to gain share of Millennial buyers with its own small cars, including not only the Sonic competitor to Fiesta but also the larger Chevrolet Cruze and even smaller Chevy Spark.

Ford posted a whopping 80 percent increase in sales among shoppers ages 18 through 34 in the first half of this year compared with the first half of 2009, according to R.L. Polk registration data, while the industry overall increased by only 35 percent.

The company's US sales analyst, Erich Merkle, credited Sync—Ford's infotainment system—for the achievement as well as the fact that Ford didn't even have an entry in the subcompact segment for years until it re-introduced the Fiesta nameplate with a brand-new "global car" in 2010.

"Fiesta is a great vehicle for Millennials," he told brandchannel, "and a big driver" of the brand's industry-leading sales gain among Millennials. Ford's share alone of retail sales to the 18-to-34 cohort rose to 12.5 percent for the first half of this year from just 9.4 percent four years earlier.

Overall, Ford's US market share including fleet sales was 16.2 percent during the first half of 2013 and 15.3 percent for all of 2009. So clearly, Millennials are an increasingly receptive audience for Ford compared with the rest of Americans even though sales of Ford vehicles also are climbing in general.

But perhaps the most influential part of Ford's campaign with Millennials has been social media marketing. Ford launched an innovative campaign called Fiesta Movement in 2009, lending new versions of the car to 100 digitally influential people such as auto bloggers and style mavens. The effort helped create a big buzz ahead of the vehicles US launch in 2010. 

Over the last couple of years, Fiesta sales have dipped because Ford also introduced another attractive option for Millennials and car shoppers in general: a reworked Ford Focus which is slightly larger but not significantly costlier than Fiesta. Chevrolet provided new competition with the new Sonic subcompact as well.

"But a lot of younger buyers are actually trading in Fiesta and coming back to other Ford products like Focus or C-Max or Escape as they move through their various life stages," Merkle explained. Nearly 70 percent of Fiesta buyers who've purchased a next vehicle have remained loyal to Ford, he said.

Now with a new 2014 Fiesta that has been upgraded with MyFord Touch, an available 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine and other touches, Ford is going back to the Fiesta Movement meme, and this time has branched beyond only social media to include some TV and other advertising.

For its part, Chevy said its small and compact car sales are up by 229 percent year over year, "evidence of the brand's continuing success in attracting buyers of all ages including Millennials," the brand said in a statement. Chevrolet notched those gains in part with its own clever social media marketing including the "Let's Do This" campaign for Sonic.

"The opportunity this new generation represents is enormous," Cristi Landy, Chevy marketing director for small cars and electrified vehicles, said in the press release.

While it's still arguable whether Ford or Chevy could have accomplished as much with Fiesta and Sonic among Millennials with a more traditional approach to advertising— one that emphasized sales as much as awareness—it's hard to argue with how the brands are faring with the youngest American car buyers.

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