Observations from the Chicago Auto Show

Ben Olson | February 13, 2018

It’s always fun to attend a large consumer show and see what we can learn to bring to our primarily B2B clients.  The basic premises of engagement and attraction are often quite similar and while there may be industries where certain tactics may not be appropriate, great ideas can often be tailored to other exhibitors of all scales and budgets. 

The Good

  • Lighting
    • Lighting played a huge role in the visual appeal of the exhibits.  The beautiful finishes of these cars just beg to be noticed through great lighting.   Infiniti was one of the standouts in this area, using curved banks of overhead lighting that created attraction from a distance and created an inviting space that made their cars glow.  Additionally, the lighting of their metallic logos overhead made them sparkle like jewelry.  Many other brands used lighting to their advantage, but one of the largest spaces on the floor had virtually no overhead truss or lighting and in my opinion, fell flat because of it.
  • Environment
    • At this show, the product is hero and elaborate structure is often unnecessary.  A few really stood out though, including Genesis whose dark floor and semi-private lounge spaces contrasted with the surrounding brands and really created a welcoming environment.  Cadillac showcased their show car with a space-age turntable and curved LED wall highlighting their history.  And Buick had a very modern backdrop that helped to redefine the brand.  A couple other outstanding environments included:  Mercedes-Benz, Lincoln, and Acura.
  • Engagement
    • Here again, the cars are the stars and the ability to sit in cars and experience them first hand is so important.  Some brands did supplement the “test sit” with varying levels of engagement.  Toyota had a whole series of photo engagements, although they did feel a bit buried in the back of the large space.  Chevy used a series of VR stations and cleverly hid the queue behind the VR stations, keeping the engagement front and center.  Large LED screens were everywhere, sometimes interactive, sometimes to convey messaging and imagery.  And Volkswagen used the motion activated flip disc screen, something new and fun (see image).
  • Interaction
    • Getting consumers to actually experience the cars is always an effective way to build preference.  Toyota, Kia and Jeep had large spaces devoted to the “test ride.”  While the environment was not new, our experience in the Jeep area was very positive with a fun, thrill-ride style drive and a driver who was clearly a believer and great brand evangelist.  His conviction to the message, while having fun with it, left a positive impression that a run of the mill Brand Ambassador or paid staffer could never deliver.
  • Sponsorship
    • Not every impression was made on the show floor.  In fact, one of our clients used the opportunity to “own” the public spaces at McCormick Place with signage, creating great awareness without the expense of an actual exhibit presence.

The No-So-Good

  • Customer Lounge
    • So, I’ll concede that providing hospitality at a large consumer show is very different than at a more focused B2B show – budgets, quantity, interaction, etc.  But sometimes, it might be better to not even attempt it than to do it less than well.  Without naming names, a large exhibitor in the North Hall had the great concept of a Customer Lounge and to enter, you only needed to present a key fob from a car made by them.  Great idea, right?  Reward loyalty, build affinity, generate exclusivity and so on.  Great on paper, but not in execution.  The small area just didn’t live up to expectations and did not provide any amenity that wasn’t available elsewhere in the exhibit (seating and charging stations).  Plus, we were told the promised refreshments were only available on the weekends.  Sorry major brand, this was a miss in my book.  Special areas like this need to feel, well, special.  Plus, this could have been a captive audience for new cars and trade-ins and if staffed properly, could help drive more sales.  We need to think carefully about what we’re offering to our VIPs and make sure it is worthy of their participation.

The show was a great glimpse into some of our most iconic brands and a great chance to observe the consumer as they experience this event.  On the whole, the mg team found great experiences and a few real missed opportunities.  But, we all took something from the experience that we can use as we look to engage the next HCP, or Engineer, or Auto Dealer or IT Professional, or…