Carmaker Aston Martin called for a digital campaign sharp enough to keep up with its new DB11 coupé, could digital agency Mirum produce a website to get all shaken and stirred about?
PROJECT: Aston Martin DB11 | AGENCY: Mirum
If you were to ask James Bond what he’s drinking, Ian Fleming’s iconic spy is likely to give his trademark scowl while ordering a vodka martini. If you need then to ask him what he’s driving then again there’s only one answer – an Aston Martin. Just not after quaffing said alcoholic beverage, obviously. Either way, as car manufacturers go Aston Martin is synonymous with Her Majesty’s finest.
Founded in London over a century ago, this luxurious sports car legend is still engineered and produced on England’s shores out of headquarters in Gaydon, Warwickshire. Its legacy spans countless models including the famous DB series bearing the initials of former managing director David Brown, and of course the DB5 featured in 1964’s Goldfinger. Accelerate forward to 2016 however, and now the DB11 is wowing expectant auto fans with not just a typically stunning set of wheels but also a rather sharpshooting site.
Superbly communicating the DB11’s bold sense of elegance, the URL bears all the hallmarks of Aston Martin’s fittingly sumptuous brochures. Artistically shot imagery dovetails seamlessly alongside embedded videos and subtle scrolling animations, before a 360-degree interactive configuration app lets you pick all but your caviar cup holder.
“We felt that Aston Martin and other peer brands weren’t embracing the experiences that their costumers go through as both buyers and drivers”
Collaboratively built by global digital agency Mirum, the site represents a fabulous opportunity to encapsulate the excitement synonymous with such prestige. Mirum’s own UK office in the heart of London’s exclusive Knightsbridge district is but a stone’s throw from Harvey Nichols, and the team is no stranger to high-class company. Previous clients have included the likes of Baileys, MasterCard, Royal Caribbean Ltd. and Interflora – all names that could easily grace 007’s own bank statement. “We felt that Aston Martin and other peer brands weren’t embracing the experiences that their costumers go through as both buyers and drivers,” the team explains. “So much of the sector focuses on the broader brand and the performance stats. Of course, both of these are very important – being major reasons why they appeal to buyers and fans. But, it was through a deeper dive that we felt the Aston Martin DB11 story could be told.”
Revving on the starting grid
The challenge of telling that story was initiated knowing that a collective, collaborative approach was necessary to achieve a fast turnaround. Mirum was joining the project primarily as digital and design specialists, with the responsibility of building the DB11 launch microsite. However this would also involve the efforts of PR and sports marketing team PRISM (prismteam.com) to devise and produce content, alongside CGI work from Essex-based studio Burrows (burrowscgistudio.com).
As a new client for Mirum, Aston Martin Lagonda (AML) would also be involved closely to first establish a shared vision. “We understood that the turnaround would need to be quick as the site would go live to coincide with the DB11’s launch at the 2016 Geneva International Motor Show,” the team reveals. “We initially sat down with PRISM and the global digital and content lead at AML to go through and demonstrate our understanding of the automotive and the luxury goods sectors. Given that we knew we were working with a tight timeline and a receptive client, we chose to share our early views and insights into what we saw as AML’s strengths and opportunities. This ranged from voice, tone of copy and search engine performance, through to visual tone and experiences.”
Such valuable early client input would crucially “build buy-in and momentum”, all the while gaining valuable insights into Aston Martin’s audience, fan base and global market. From here a formative plan for features and assets could then take shape, pinning down the team and tasks that were needed to realise that vision. “In the next meeting, we presented visual and experience concepts, which the client was really excited by. The principle concept was to split the experience into three parts, each focusing on an aspect of the Aston Martin DB experience – ‘Shape’, being the exterior design, ‘Space’, the interior design and then ‘Sound’ being the audio.”
By setting a collaborative agenda straight away, Mirum could establish and maintain a rhythm of weekly status and feedback meetings, plus any catch-up sessions where required. While it would very much lead the creative and design process, this direct engagement with the client would help each of the new partners meet a shared aim. “Discussions covered all aspects, from tuning of the broad overarching themes of the project to specific interface detailing, features and interactions. Another factor of the tight turnaround on this project was that decisions needed to be made relatively quickly and we were often able to make decisions during the meetings themselves – something that can only really happen when you have the trust of the client and work in a more collaborative framework.”
Designing for an iconic brand
While a close partnership was developed fairly quickly, only a certain amount of talking can alleviate the pressure associated with such high-profile projects. Gaining that sense of trust from a prestigious, and frankly, discerning client like Aston Martin isn’t easy. “Of course, it was an exciting opportunity to be involved with such an exciting brand,” the team enthuses. “You don’t often get to work with a global icon!” the team exclaims, which is equally inspiring and sobering when you think too much on it. So how did Mirum avoid perhaps feeling somewhat starstuck or overawed by the demanding nature of such a famous name? “AML are legendary in their design and finishing standards, known as perfectionists who are understandably extremely precious about its iconic status and heritage. Each aspect of the car – the exterior, the interior and the sound – is lovingly designed by the AML team at Gaydon, each aspect attracting its own level of devotion on top of the overall experience. So, why not indulge that by structuring the site to encourage visitors to dwell on each of those aspects?”
Why not indeed, and such an attitude would prove to be suitably bold enough to pinpoint those elements most likely to resonate with client and audience. This intrinsic understanding of what makes an Aston Martin an Aston Martin, as well as a healthy respect for the heritage of the cars, speaks volumes. “For instance, the audio experience is a massively important element to the brand for fans and buyers alike. We felt we could build on this by creating a sensorial experience highlighting the experiential aspects of the DB11. On the back of this, the site information architecture (IA) was produced to help define which content would live directly within the microsite, and which pages and components would make use of existing components from the parent astonmartin.com website – such as the dealership locator page.”
Looking every inch an Aston
While most of us will hear an Aston Martin coming first, eventually all will want to see it. Known for its sculptural curves and lines that traverse sporting aggression and classic elegance, there’s no doubt that looks matter. The DB11’s site then would clearly lean heavily on visual design, marrying Photoshop work with in-browser styling from the team’s front-end developer. “We also made extensive use of Invision prototyping to help communicate certain prebuild concepts to the client. Again, due to the tight timeline, the full content, including photographic imagery, wasn’t available from the start. While we had the art direction and structure defined, we actually designed most of the site using representative images of previous Aston Martin models. We had to ensure every element and animation adhered to Aston Martin’s elegant brand ethos. Working like this meant we could move fast with adding browser-specific effects such as animations and transitions without having to worry about high-fidelity mockups using other tools. It also meant we could test these against real browsers early on in the process and not end up having to frantically polyfill features from scratch later.”
As the task was to create a frontend the client could integrate into its existing CMS, the team opted for the Middleman framework alongside a general preference for Sass CSS with Bourbon and Neat libraries. Builds would then be produced using a combination of embedded content and flat file DB, then shared with AML’s internal development team for CMS integration.
Driving towards heavy traffic
“The final push to live was painless,” begins the team when describing the potentially nerve-wracking race to the finishing line. “We continued to work closely with the Aston Martin internal development team to ensure that the site went live smoothly.” Given the swift project time, that early establishment of a close-knit and collaborative working relationship would endure from start to finish. Within the crucial final phases the two sides assisted each other in site delivery, CMS integration, localisation, QA, testing and the ongoing post-launch analytics. This lasting support for observing the site in the wild is vital for a promotional project and began with the DB11’s big reveal in March 2016. “The site was heavily promoted during the launch for the 2016 Geneva International Motor Show and was always going to attract a lot of traffic.
It has been steadily promoted across channels since the launch and attracts a healthy mix of organic search, third-party and social referrals. In terms of target audience, this is essentially threefold [and includes] long-standing Aston Martin buyers, new prospective buyers and fans of the Aston Martin and DB brands. In terms of the microsite’s performance, we knew there would be a lot of interest and traffic arriving at the site, but we’ve exceeded expectations by attracting well over one million page views since launch. The idea to separate the primary experience into Shape, Space and Sound has also been well received, with click-through and engagement numbers showing that audiences will engage with a more faceted experience.”