Automakers are some of the savviest event marketers in the industry. They practically invented the product launch, and their trade show activations raise the bar on experiential year after year. But you don’t have to go to an auto show to see what brands like Ford or BMW are all about. Top automakers are upping the ante on traditional-ride-and drive events, inviting consumers to get up-close-and-personal with their vehicles, their technology and their character like never before. Buckle up as we take a spin through some killer examples of next-gen ride-and-drives.
It may be hard to imagine safely blending gamification and test drives, but Ford managed to accomplish the feat by activating the first-ever drivable Escape the Room experience. Using a 35,000-square-foot space as its playground, the brand challenged small teams of consumers to embrace the escape room trend by solving a series of puzzles based on a fictional storyline devised by Ford. Each challenge highlighted one of the 2017 Ford Escape’s features, like its enhanced active parking assist tool, and gave participants a chance to interact with and learn about it. A leaderboard, green screen experience and photo op were also part of the mix. Combining a pop culture phenomenon with an immersive test drive? Well played, Ford.
The rubber really does meet the road for the sports car fans and auto aficionados who participate in Porsche’s Destination Drives Experience. The event begins with a 20-minute classroom session that educates participants on the vehicles they’ll be testing and the rules of the road. Next, attendees strap on their helmets and take a turn on a specially-built, on-track course featuring hair-raising curves and straightaways. There’s also a timed autocross event and an on-road driving experience. And the kicker—a hot lap around the racetrack with a certified Porsche Driving School instructor. To boot, there are a variety of Porsche models on hand, giving participants a feel for which vehicle is best suited to their needs.
After a brief hiatus, BMW hit the road again in 2017 with its Ultimate Driving Experience, a multi-city ride-and-drive tour featuring a vast assortment of BMW vehicles, including the new 5 Series and hybrid electric models. The tour offered drivers of all experience levels a chance to participate—something traditional ride-and-drives often lack. Activities for more advanced drivers included a two-hour, closed-course autocross competition and an eight-hour clinic focused on the handling and performance of BMW’s M Series vehicles. For less experienced drivers, the brand offered a driving school for attendees under the age of 21, and shorter, on-road test drives. What’s more, BMW-certified instructors led each engagement, adding an educational layer to the overall experience.
Jaguar & Land Rover
This one is not for the faint of heart. The Jaguar Land Rover Ice Academy is just what it sounds like—an educational ride-and-drive experience that takes place on a frozen lake in Sweden just a few miles from the Arctic Circle. The goal is to teach drivers how to handle driving in icy conditions while showcasing the performance benefits of Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles. Each Ice Academy experience takes place over three to four days, with one event for regular drivers and another for more advanced motorists. In addition to driving a variety of vehicles and getting the chance to master the art of “ice driving” on specially designed ice tracks, the experience includes views of the Aurora Borealis, curated culinary events, a chance to visit the Arctic Circle and a cocktail reception at the aptly named Iglootel. The multi-day adventure is a far cry from the 10-minute lap around the block often associated with traditional ride-and-drives.
Fact is, today’s consumer expectations are higher than ever when it comes to live experiences, and ride-and-drives are no exception. To compensate, brands are adding more value to their test drives by extending the length of the experience, giving participants access to educational content and certified drivers, and offering engagements that don’t always take place behind the wheel. Take a cue from these modern ride-and-drive pros and you’ll be lapping the competition in no time.
Check out brand activations and sponsorships designed and produced by Sparks.