Inside Smart USA’s Brilliant ‘Edutainment’ Strategy

Even if you haven’t seen a Smart car on the road, odds are you’ve encountered one online. Since the brand, owned by Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler AG, launched in the U.S. in 2008, it’s been experimenting with digital media in multiple forms. The latest in a long line of projects is a series of YouTube videos released in February.

Welcome to the “Demo Games.”

“Smart is a fun brand that challenges the status quo. We wanted to do something different and stand out,” Eric Angeloro, Smart’s supervisor of brand management, said of the six-video series. Mimicking the Olympic Games, it features so-called elite athletes competing in such events as the Seat Adjust World Championship and the smartShift Transmission Demonstration. Aside from YouTube, the videos—produced by Mercedes-Benz design department Torque Creative in conjunction with ad agency Merkley + Partners—are being distributed through Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, and will live on Smart’s stable of mobile apps, along with in-store visualizer touchscreens. Within the first few weeks the videos had already generated 150,000 views and exceeded Smart’s Facebook engagement benchmarks.

It’s a big year for Smart USA. In September, it will release a new model that’s been 10 years in the making. And while Angeloro said Smart has always relied on content to convey differentiating features like size and engineering, communicating its personality and sharing its “joy of life” has become critical.

While the objective of the “Demo Games” creative is to inform consumers about the myriad features contained within Smart’s ForTwo model, the videos are also pure entertainment. “That’s the key,” he said. “We don’t want to just educate, we want to engage as well.”

Edutainment is a strategy employed by brands in both the B2C and B2B space, for the benefit of current customers and to build brand affinity among prospective buyers. This month, General Electric launched a new YouTube series featuring its first “creator-in-residence” as she explores GE technology. In January, rental property concierge company iHost New York introduced a 12-part series called “The Apartments” that explains its services in an amusing and accessible way.

(Full disclosure: GE is a Contently client.)

Inspiration for the “Demo Games,” however, came from airline safety videos the likes of which have been created by Virgin America, Delta, and Air New Zealand. With a background in education, Angeloro believes that humor helps the message get through. “It proves the stick factor,” he said. “Tell a fun story, make someone laugh, and they’ll remember more than if you talk at them.”

Smart isn’t new to video or to innovative campaigns. Its counterpart in Argentina garnered global attention with a Twitter animation in 2012, but that same year, Smart USA posted an interactive story and animated flipbook called “Tag Your Own Adventure” on Facebook. The brand is also a regular user of Vine. Through social video, it has both showcased its product and capitalized on buzz around pop culture events like the Academy Awards.

For three years, the automaker has also maintained Smart Stories, a site that shares owner experiences collected through online submissions and curated from social networks. Narratives about satisfied customers are transformed into illustrations in the style of a white board animation, while tweets and Instagram posts serve to showcase owner pride. Because the Smart car is so small and consumers are prone to questioning its practicality as a primary vehicle, glowing first-person accounts are vital. “Who better to answer those questions and show what Smart is all about than our passionate owners?” Angeloro said.

Moving forward, edutainment videos will become an even more prominent part of Smart’s content marketing process. An additional series is already being planned for the upcoming 2016 Smart ForTwo. “We’re finding video to be a highly effective way to tell the Smart story, and the ‘Demo Games’ are a great way to send off the current car before ushering in a new one,” Angeloro said. “Our strategy will have a greater mix to get consumers into the technology, and tell a lifestyle story that builds excitement around the brand.”

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