Marketing Campaign Case Studies

Sunday, September 7, 2008



In 1995 eBay Inc. was founded in San Jose, California. It was an online site, located at, that enabled users to buy and sell items from other users. Rather than sell items itself, eBay made money by charging fees on completed transactions and by charging for advertisements on its website. In 2003 more than 900 million items were posted for sale on eBay. These items included automobiles. Because of their relatively high prices, automobile sales generated larger fees than many other kinds of sales. In the arena of used-car sales, however, the company faced competition from online search engines such as Google and Yahoo! as well as from traditional newspaper advertisements. EBay charged the ad agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, based in nearby San Francisco, with developing a radio spot that would inform consumers of the benefits of using eBay to sell automobiles. The result was a humorous 60-second spot called ‘‘Abbreviated.’’ The spot featured a narrator using an ‘‘abbreviated’’ language culled from newspaper classified ads. Rather than just telling listeners that classified ads did not provide enough space to adequately describe an automobile, the narrator demonstrated this through his own speech. Then he touted the benefits of selling cars on eBay. The spot was a hit with critics. In 2005 it won a Silver Lion at the International Advertising Festival, a 2005 Bronze Clio Award, and the top prize at the annual Radio Mercury Awards. These awards, however, came after eBay’s decision in March 2005 to part ways with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. The company elected to work with BBDO on future campaigns. EBay felt that the larger New York–based agency was better equipped to handle integrated campaigns that combined online, televised, and radio elements. Both agencies were part of the larger communications company the Omnicom Group.


The San Jose–based eBay was created to capitalize on the increasing expansion of the Internet into everyday life in the United States and around the world. The company provided sellers and consumers a platform where they could find each other and conduct transactions. Sellers offered a wide range of goods via the eBay website,, including sneakers, automobiles, furniture, clothing, and collectibles. The site was best known for the online auctions that it enabled. Sellers posted an item on, and buyers could view the item and bid on it. The highest bidder purchased the item.

As the Internet became more popular, eBay was able to expand quickly, and the company set up companion sites around the world. Soon eBay began describing itself as ‘‘The World’s Online Marketplace.’’ The company’s profits came via fees it collected on each transaction as well as from advertising it sold on its assorted websites. The approach was largely successful, and in 2003 alone more than 900 million items were listed on eBay. By 2004 eBay was offering the PayPal service, which enabled buyers to pay sellers through their credit cards or via secure account transfers. There were several subsections to the eBay site, including one for automobile sales, labeled ‘‘eBay Motors.’’ Consumers could search cars by make and model or by price. Because higher-priced items generated higher fees, the company made more money from automobile sales than it did from many other items sold via

At the outset eBay relied on word of mouth to promote its business. As the company became more successful, it branched out into print and radio advertising. In 2002 eBay conducted its first television campaign, ‘‘Do It eBay,’’ which was developed by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. The San Francisco–based agency had been responsible for all of the company’s radio advertising through 2004 as well. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners was best known for its award-winning ‘‘Got Milk’’ campaign on behalf of the California Milk Processor Board. The agency was founded in 1983 by Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein, who had previously worked together at the Ogilvy & Mather agency.


EBay usually aimed for a very large target market. The company wanted to be the destination of choice for anyone shopping online. The website had always been especially popular with collectors, who used the site to track down rare and hard-to-find items, such as out-ofprint records or idiosyncratic household goods. The site listed many types of items for sale, however, and it was also a major attraction for bargain shoppers and consumers who were comfortable doing their shopping online. The company also allowed people to sell automobiles on the site. These were expensive items, which meant that the company collected higher fees on such transactions. The kind of shopper that bought an automobile on eBay was a typical used-car shopper: younger and on a budget. The company saw automobile sales as a prime candidate for growth.


The most serious competitor for eBay, especially for bigticket items such as automobiles, was the search engine Google. Like eBay, Google did not sell anything itself. Instead, consumers used Google’s website to search for items online. For example, a used-car dealer or an individual would post on a website the vehicles they had for sale, and buyers would find the site via Google. Other search engines, such as Yahoo!, offered similar services. In fact, Yahoo! even allowed sellers to post ads that would appear in the Yahoo! Autos section of the search engine’s website, Although neither of these companies provided online auction services, they competed with eBay by providing an alternative way for consumers to buy automobiles online. The company was even more concerned, however, about its off-line competitors. While certain products, such as music files, collectibles, or books, seemed to attract online buyers easily, most consumers were accustomed to buying automobiles through off-line means, such as classified advertisements in newspapers. To grow its automobileselling business eBay needed to lure more of these people into buying (and selling) automobiles on


Goodby, Silverstein & Partners was the agency of record on the 2004 radio campaign, which consisted of a 60-second spot titled ‘‘Abbreviated.’’ It was part of the $250 million in U.S. advertising that eBay purchased in 2004. Later that year eBay augmented its radio efforts with a television campaign, also engineered by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. This campaign, which carried the tagline ‘‘The Power of All of Us,’’ ran in the fall and winter shopping season. It did not focus on automobiles. The ‘‘Abbreviated’’ radio spot was fairly straightforward. It featured a man speaking directly to the audience, without any music or sound effects. In the ad the speaker communicated in short, abbreviated words, like those used in a typical classified ad in a local newspaper. He explained to consumers—especially potential sellers—that the abbreviated language used in newspaper classifieds was too unclear to give potential buyers an idea of what the car was actually like. In contrast, eBay allowed sellers a chance to post more detailed text and pictures, so buyers knew just what they were getting. ‘‘Abbreviated’’ was distinctive both for its message and for its quirky vocabulary, which entailed shortening words by leaving out most of the vowels and many of the consonants. By referring to a car as ‘‘cr,’’ for example, the spot captured the listener’s attention. It began with the announcer saying, ‘‘If YR FMLR with the CLSIFDS section of the NWSPPR, you PRBLY understand this MSSG quite well.’’ This strange-sounding language was scattered throughout the spot, driving home its central thesis—that classified ads offered too little space for sellers to describe a vehicle properly—by demonstrating it. At one point the speaker described a car using the abbreviated language of newspaper ads, and the results sounded like gibberish.

The commercial also touted eBay’s Vehicle Protection Program, which guarded consumers against being stuck paying for a car that was not in as good a condition as the advertisement had claimed. Finally it reminded listeners that eBay offered a nationwide customer base, as opposed to the local reach of most newspapers. Even when describing eBay’s own services, the narrator still slipped into abbreviated words occasionally, using them sporadically enough that his meaning was not lost but often enough to keep the spot’s humor going. ‘‘Abbreviated’’ referred specifically to ‘‘eBay Motors’’ instead of just ‘‘eBay’’—even though ‘‘eBay Motors’’ was only a category on, as opposed to an actual separate entity. This distinction was made for consumers who were used to thinking about eBay as a place to buy smaller items, such as household goods or clothing. It also reinforced the idea that eBay was not only a place where automobiles were available for sale but also a natural place to go shopping for these kinds of items. This subtle gesture allowed the spot to concentrate on the benefits of selling cars on eBay without having to clear any hurdle the listener might have about shopping for an automobile that way. The commercial was recorded at the GSP Post studio in San Francisco. It was produced for Goodby, Silverstein & Partners by Brian Coate and was written by Tyler McKellar. GSP Post served as the production company.


The spot was a success, although it also marked the end of eBay’s account with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. In March 2005 eBay ended its relationship with the agency, replacing it with the New York–based BBDO. The company believed that BBDO, a larger agency, was better equipped to provide integrated marketing campaigns that would combine Internet, television, print, and radio elements.

Regardless, ‘‘Abbreviated’’ was particularly successful with critics. It received a Silver Lion in the Radio category at the 2005 International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France. Called the ‘‘Olympics of Advertising,’’ the Cannes festival was among the most prestigious in the world, with campaigns and agencies from all over the globe under consideration. ‘‘Abbreviated’’ also won a Bronze Clio that year; the Clios were one of the largest international advertising award programs. In addition Goodby, Silverstein & Partners won the $100,000 first prize at the 2005 Radio Mercury Awards for the ‘‘Abbreviated’’ spot. Based in New York, the Radio Mercury Awards were begun in 1992 to offer an exclusive recognition for excellence in radio advertising. All of these awards were announced after eBay had terminated its relationship with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. The effort contributed to a solid year for eBay. The company finished 2004 with consolidated net revenues of $3.27 billion, a 51 percent improvement from 2003. The company also reported a record 1.4 billion listings during 2004, up more than 45 percent from the previous year. More than $34 billion of transactions took place in 2004 via eBay’s online auctions and listings. Therefore, the ‘‘Abbreviated’’ commercial appeared to succeed in helping traffic at continue to grow.

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