The appeal of social media is growing rapidly for the auto industry. Sites such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook give brands the chance to communicate in a much more direct manner than mainstream advertising allows.
In the best cases these new forms of media are helping brands, and the individuals who work for them, to build relationships and open dialogue with existing customers and potential future ones. While marketing teams lead most companies' social media engagement, 'Inside Project M' stands out for its car design focus, tracking Jason Castriota's first project as design director of Stile Bertone.
Castriota intended to set up his own design consultancy upon leaving Pininfarina last autumn, until, as he points out, "they [Bertone] made me an offer I couldn't refuse".
Part of the appeal for Castriota was the opportunity to realize a dream project, now known as 'Project M'—a one-off supercar to be unveiled at the 2009 Shanghai Auto Show in April.
Inside Project M follows the build up to this unveil, offering what Castriota calls a "long-awaited foray into the top-secret world of supercar design." It sees the weekly release of videos on a dedicated YouTube channel and constant updates through a Twitter account, where "@InsideProjectM" engages with the people it is following and those that are following it.
The innovative media project also reflects a changing of the guard at Bertone. "The idea is to become a leader in the consultancy segment; a center of reference," was Castriota's comment when we spoke to him recently. Clearly this project is a first step in that strategy, reflecting the ideals of a rejuvenated, more youthful Stile Bertone.
Of Project M's Twitter popularity (it added nearly seven hundred followers in its first two weeks), Castriota is enthusiastic: "I think a lot of them are completely new—perhaps they're car-centric, car-passionate people, but previously they didn't have a relationship or a direct way to interact with such a project. I think that's what is so interesting about our decision to do this and to use this new medium."
The project came about after Castriota met Bradley R. Farrell of Kinetic Fin at Pebble Beach four years ago. Farrell directs, films and edits the videos for Inside Project M, and leads the push to build a momentum behind the scheme.
The film crew is an integral part of the project. Farrell emphasizes the importance of content feeling wholly authentic and non-corporate. He believes that right now "social media is the most important piece in building brand loyalty", yet he advises the many brands currently jumping in to exercise caution: "You have to be able to deliver an authentic message to people... and show their interest is being appreciated, even if it's the simple thing of giving them pictures of what is going on that you don't put on your website."
Is there more to it than this though? Castriota, Farrell and Bertone say they want to create insight into the process of car design and excitement around their project. While social media has its detractors, its immediacy and viral nature make it ideal for engaging a generation some say are growing up to appreciate PlayStations rather more than Paganis.
For a company with such a long and illustrious history, but which last year came so close to disappearing altogether, it could prove a bold and crucial step towards a sustainable future.