News & Views

Volkswagen, Google / Smileage

by Contagious Team

Social driving app highlights need for auto makers to 'be part of the whole experience of travelling'

GoogleVolkswagen and Deutsch used part of their Art, Copy & Code showcase at SXSW to demonstrate Smileage, an app that the three parties have collaborated on that aims to reposition driving as an experience. The app will be launching in Beta shortly, and interested users can sign up hereWinston Binch, chief digital officer at Deutsch, LA commented at the launch: 'Automotive manufacturers can't just be in the business of manufacturing cars, they have to be part of the whole experience of travelling.' 

Smileage, as the video above shows, is a mobile phone app that draws together location, social media, and images being shared. In Trip Mode, the app tracks details of the journey while linking to Google's platforms, including its social properties like Google Plus, tagging people on the ride, and allowing those not on board to see updates and comment. The app is avaliable to drivers of all cars, not just VW owners. 

The app runs in pasive or active mode and rates journeys with a 'fun score', based on details such as the number of interactions, weather, etc. The insight behind the app's development was that people spend substantial amounds of time travelling alone in cars and the brands could work together to make those trips a more social experience. In North America, for instance, people drive for an average of 52 minutes per day, with 70% of journeys undertaken alone. 

Justin Osbourne, general manager for marketing at Volkswagen, shared that for the automotive brand, 'marketing has always been about us being part of people's lives.' However, he added, 'just telling stories isn't enough, we had to connect the information and loop it all together.' 

Binch added that the trio of partners had set out 'to create a product that proved Volkswagen's brand promise, and that VW could own. We wanted to make drives more social and fun through mobile and empower the community.' He added that part of the aim of the project was also to help the brand connect with an audience of Millenials. 

The app includes gamified aspects such as 'punches' (updating the classic back-seat game of punch buggy, which you receive for passing another VW with the app running, and stickers, which are received for special punches, like passing a car which looks identical to yours. 

Google sees the partnership as a way of driving the industry forward, as Google Creative Lab's managing director, Ben Malbon, commented at the launch: ' We want to help the entire industry grow, and grow branding in a digital world which aims to shift to marketing which builds on existing technologies to provide service and utilities.'

Contagious Insight   
Reimagining travel for the digital age is a lofty aim, and while an app that makes driving social may not go the whole way towards achieving this it certainly is an interesting way of alleviating the mundane aspects of regular journeys and sharing more exciting trips with friends. 

The open nature of the app, if it is widely picked up, should ensure that VW is a considered brand and will help keep the automotive brand front of mind in between the large ticket purchase of a new car. The social media connections mean that even if people are not using the app themselves, they can still be tagged on specific journey, discovering the app that way. The app's connection to Google properties like Google Now could create genuine utility, improving the commute by providing useful advice and keeping interested parties up to date about delays, without the driver having to stop and reach for his or her phone. 

It's interesting to bear in mind that that, should Smileage become popular, it has the potential to make every driving experience a VW experience, regardless of which vehicle the user is in. Much like Toyota's Backseat Driver app (featured on Feed in July 2011), this is a smart marketing tactic which keeps the VW brand front-of-mind with positive association around travelling during those infrequent moments when people are considering buying a new vehicle. 

For Google, the collaboration is an impressive way of showcasing how its properties can add value to a brand, creating an ecosystem and a form of marketing that adds value to a brand and its users.

This story originally appeared on Contagious Feed. Contagious Feed is our bespoke trends, inspiration, insight and analysis service, providing daily innovative marketing intelligence across a comprehensive range of sectors to brands and agencies across the world. For more information about Contagious Feed contact