There’s nothing like them. I’ve been to several. Even helped organize a handful. What makes them special is their beginning. They are grassroots – born out of passion and love. They are independent, self-governed, a republic of mechanical showcase. 365 days a year thousands take place across the US, some big – some small, all important in their own way. Cultures and communities collide to share their love, their work, their appreciation. They are car shows and I love them.
This weekend I attended a local car show, the 5th annual Moparpalooza. The show brought together every brand that has ever lived under the Chrysler pentastar. The event raised money for the Fisher House Foundation, a nonprofit that provides housing to families of wounded warriors while they receive care.
The show was in high gear. The parking lot filled with the perfume of unburnt fuel as cars revved their engines and eased into their parking space. The lot filled with the echo of custom exhausts as one driver greeted another in the traditional automotive version of tipping-of-the-hat.
As co-drivers applied sunscreen, set out chairs and unloaded coolers, drivers took to the quick detail spray. Microfiber cloth in hand they gently wiped off any road grim they collected on the way in. Once cleaned, I’d watch them step back and smirk, proud of their mechanical canvas. Their car glistened, their faces glowed.
Rarely have I seen automakers get involved with grassroots events. I assume it’s a matter of resources vs. payoff. They have to answer the “What’s the return on this?” question.
Automakers are always eager to share enthusiasts happenings via their social network. But is retweeting or sharing on Facebook real community engagement? Was the ‘investment’ a real investment? What does it really cost to retweet something?
A group of brand loyalist, or better yet brand soldiers, are on the ground at-the-ready to defend your brand and they just spent months planning an event that will pay homage to a lifelong commitment to your brand and you offer them – a retweet?
Other brands may be promoting “Go Further”, Chrysler actually went further. They engaged their community in real life, where people and products actually live. They did it without celebrities and cameras (Mike Rowe isn’t engagement, its advertising).
He Did Whaaaaat?
Around 11 p.m. Saturday night Ralph Gilles, CEO of SRT and Vice President of Chrysler Design, rolled into northern Virginia in a new (pre-production) Dodge Dart, his nephew Max riding copilot.
Yes. An automotive executive got into a car and drove 500 miles, to be with fans.
Think about that. What that means for the owners and for the brand.
Chrysler also brought a preproduction 2013 Viper and the notorious OneLap of America Jeep SRT8 (in photo above).
Gilles spent all of his time walking and talking to fans. There wasn’t a piece of asphalt that his black Converse didn’t cover. He signed hoods, air intakes and anything else he was handed. I heard one person say, “I wished he was signing my paycheck and not my hood. Talk about dream job.”
In talking to Mopar fans, who refer to themselves as Moparians, I learned that Ralph had asked many of them about their vehicle customizations.
It reminded me of a 6th grade science show where a judge would come to each project and a nervous child would explain what exactly they had constructed. Only these weren’t children. They were full grown adults, yet they were still nervous as hell.
Enthusiasts spend countless hours and dollars making their car ‘theirs.’ I can’t imagine how they felt to have the brand’s CEO look at their car and say, “That’s awesome!” Sincere appreciation is powerful, especially when it comes from a personal hero.
That is what Ralph Gilles is to this community, these Moparians. Many owners left the show that day with a renewed sense of passion for the brand. They left with a feeling that all their hard work was well worth it and they were a part of something bigger, something special.
That brings me back to the title of this post – The ROI of an autograph. A better title might have been The Value of Real Life, the difference in return between engaging on social media vs. engaging in real life.
Resources appear to be the primary reason automakers aren’t more involved with grassroots events. Automakers focus a great deal of their marketing efforts on the acquisition of new customers. They see little value in investing in their brand loyalists.
This strategy is shortsighted and overlooks the value of the people I met here today.
My advice to brands: Love your customers. Worship your enthusiasts.