SmileDrive is an app that lets drivers capture moments on the road and share their adventures with others. It not only engages Volkswagen enthusiasts, but introduces potential customers to the brand.

Launch the campaign
June 2015
The Challenge

A Companion for Every Driver

"It's not the miles, it's how you live them." From the everyday commute to the family road trip, Volkswagen wanted to reward these journeys, infuse them with a little more fun and make them worth sharing.

The Big Idea

Getting Personal in Digital

Americans are spending more time in their cars with their phones by their side. 144 million people spend an average of 52 minutes in a car each day, 76% of them alone. How could mobile make this time more enjoyable? What if we could safely invent a "social network" that lets drivers share fun moments and connect on the road and beyond?


The Creative Process

An App that Goes the Distance

We started deep inside the Volkswagen brand itself, and first hit upon an idea to digitize Punch Dub, the game where you punch someone in the arm when you drive past a Volkswagen Beetle. This sparked a bigger platform idea: a social app that offers entertainment and utility.


The Prototype

Getting the Greenlight

First, we set out to prove that two Volkswagen vehicles could connect with a "punch." To do this, we created a Minimum Viable Product - a prototype designed to showcase the punch detection feature. After a nerve-wracking few days of testing in the streets of Austin, Texas, we unveiled the prototype at the SXSW festival - the perfect backdrop for this combination of creativity and technology. A successful demonstration, and a lot of industry buzz, paved the way for the addition of other features: Bluetooth™ to automatically turn the app on and off with your engine, SmileCast to record and share trips, and SmileScore to recap time on the road.


The Technology

SmileDrivers are Safe Drivers

Our primary challenge was ensuring that drivers keep their eyes on the road, not the app, while driving. So, we built a passive Bluetooth™ connection to lock users out of the app while their engine is on. At the same time, it collects GPS data that feeds into SmileCasts and SmileScores. We test drove the app hundreds of times, iterating constantly until launch, to confirm that data collection was accurate.


The Ad Strategy

Stories from the Road Fuel a Campaign

To drive awareness and downloads, Volkswagen created fun and engaging content showing the app in action. We invited social media influencers such as Hilah Johnson, Tim Johnson and Charles and Alli Trippy to share their drives—or SmileCasts—and showcased them in HTML5 Lightbox Ads, which immerse you in these stories the moment you roll over them. To ensure that each ad reached the most relevant audience, Volkswagen utilized Google's Custom Affinity Segments to find the perfect intersection of Volkswagen loyalists and Android fans.

The Impact

More Smiles per Hour

For more than 20,000 users, SmileDrive has made road trips more entertaining than ever. Download numbers exceeded expectations by 100%, with an average engagement of over eight minutes. Even more surprising is that 66% of downloads were by non-Volkswagen drivers, showing that SmileDrive builds awareness of the brand.

The Next Steps

SmileDrive 2.0

SmileDrive's value to the Volkswagen brand has not gone unnoticed. It is now expanding into a fully interactive "owner" platform with more utility, such as scheduling or communicating with your local dealership. The SmileDrive app is a living, breathing thing, continuing to evolve.

The Takeaways

Prototype, One Feature at a Time

Prototyping remains one of the most effective ways to sell in ideas, but remains underused in advertising, and can be used to steal the advantage. Be careful not to overwhelm - rather than building the whole thing at the start, prototype one feature at a time. See here for easy ways to get to the build.

Think of Your Marketing Like a Product

Supplement ads by creating a platform like an app or product that provides additional utility and entertainment for consumers. While a typical ad is more polished and tends to be something brands 'launch and leave', an app can constantly be updated and bring new customers in as you expand its functionality.

Identify What Makes the Brand Special, Then Add Interactivity

Select an aspect of your brand that is core to its heritage or DNA, and play with ways to create a digital experience around it like Volkswagen did with the iconic Punch Dub game.

Bring Your Tech Stars to Kickoff Meetings

Include creative technologists, digital producers and UX teams in initial briefing meetings. Stack the deck with tech-centric thought starters, or share a toolkit with APIs relevant to the brief. The answer might not be the usual ad, so give different kinds of brains the chance to come up with solutions.