Car Survivor: Reality promotion or TV?

Car Survivor logoI’ve often written here that the real disruption to media is that advertisers are now capable of functioning as media companies themselves. Therefore, they don’t “need” traditional media companies in order to get their messages out, and since they are the ones with the money, they can actually do some rather amazing things along the way. Witness the latest venture from Ben Boles and the Jerry Damson Automotive Group in Huntsville, Alabama, arguably the most creative new media marketing mind in the car business.

The Damson group is pulling off the media event of the summer in Huntsville — Car Survivor — simply by using free tools of the personal media revolution, UStream, YouTube, Google Blogger, Google Analytics and Facebook.

The idea was birthed at a meeting on the dealership’s partnership with the Huntsville Stars minor league baseball team. The idea was simple. Put five people into a car in the stadium parking lot during the dead heat of summer and give the car to the person would could “outsit, outplay and outlast” the others. A 2004 Honda Accord was selected, and five contestants were chosen from the Stars’ fan base. Applications were on the Stars’ website and the promotion was announced during games.

The event began at a Stars game last Wednesday. The rules are simple:

The five contestants must remain inside the car for the duration of the contest. There is no air, no radio, no time limit…Its over when the fourth contestant throws in the towel. Every six hours, the contestants will get a 15-minute break. They can use the restroom, freshen up, grab a bite to eat, get a drink, stretch, etc. Each contestant must drink 128 ounces of water, soda, lemonade, coffee (or any other liquid they prefer) every 24 hours. If they fail to drink one gallon in those 24 hours, they are automatically eliminated. Anything that enters the car (phones, music players, food wrappers, etc.) must stay in the car. If a contestant tries to exit the car, they are automatically eliminated. This is a family-friendly event. No drugs, alcohol or any other inappropriate material can be taken into the car.

the two remaining contestantsTwo contestants bolted after the first night and a third left after a sleepless third night. The final two are in it for the long haul. Both are young men. One, 18-year old Jeremy Hatley, is a broke college-bound student with no car; the other, 28-year old Daniel Rice, is a husband and father with only one car. My money’s on Hatley.

It didn’t take long for the whole town to realize that something interesting was going on. Other advertisers jumped on board, and the prize list for the winner-take-all has grown substantially. Damson upped the value of the free car by offering a 2007 Accord to the winner. Then came a 55-inch HDTV, gas for a year, window tinting, an in-car DVD system, a Triple‑A membership for a year, and diamond earrings.

The event is streamed live using Ustream on a free Blogger website. The only cost to Boles was the $10 a year for the domain name,

By running the promotion themselves, Damson has attracted the attention of every traditional media company in the area. The event has given the local stations something fun to include in nearly every newscast. Morning show live shots are the norm. Media websites are framing the site or taking the Ustream feed themselves.

I caught up with Boles for a few online questions:

  • What results were you anticipating and have you achieved them? We knew it was going to be big, but had no idea that we would deliver over 30,000 video streams. What’s fascinating is the amount of time folks are spending on the site. And with Analytics we can see the increased traffic to, because we put a Nascar like sticker promoting our URL. We can actually measure folks’ interaction with our web properties, like our FaceBook fan pages, and unique visitors to our main websites where we actually sell cars!
  • Why didn’t you go to one of the local media companies and ask them to host it? If we had done it, it would have added yet another layer of bureaucracy to the mix, and the media companies would have charged us. We decided to do our own event, make it spectacular enough to warrant coverage from a human interest perspective, and then give the stations our embed codes so they could use that however they wanted.
  • What lessons have you learned? Biggest lesson: You do not have to have a local media company to command a huge, fiercely loyal following on a savvy, well thought out promotion.
  • Are you going to do it again? Yes. In fact, while the contest is still going on, we are soliciting applications for Car Survivor 2011 while the iron is hot!
  • What’s your favorite little story or anecdote about the event so far? Upgrading the prize was a hit, as well as how willing local businesses are to ante up prizes when the publicity machine is pumping!
  • There are many lessons in this for media companies and those observers of the cultural disruption of the Web. The biggest, of course, is that anybody can be a media company, and that cannot possibly be overstated. When advertisers can reduce what Boles calls the “bureaucracy” in a promotion, they will, for it is, after all, their money. Gordon Borrell has long noted that one of the fastest growing ad categories in the local revenue pie is “promotions,” advertisers spending money that used to go to media companies on events just like this one.

    Another important lesson is in how well Damson has used the viral nature of word-of-mouth to boost the promotion to event status. Friends of friends passed the message via Facebook, proving again that people will do your marketing for you, if you give them something fun and interesting to pass along. This promotion has been the talk of Huntsville for a week!

    For people currently working in “the media,” events like this reveal potential careers downstream, because people paying to create their own media will need skilled people to help them. Ben Boles is a former TV guy, and I fully expect to see other TV people move into similar marketing positions in the months and years ahead. Again, the people formerly known as the advertisers are the ones with the money.

    EDITOR’S NOTE: The Jerry Damson Automotive Group is advised by AR&D.


    1. Thx, interesting website

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