How CarMax Turned a Viral Video into a PR Win

How CarMax Turned a Viral Video into a PR Win

November 10, 2017
by Louis Vazenios

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Have you seen the recent car commercial spoof that a filmmaker (Max Lanman) produced to help his girlfriend sell her 1996 Honda Accord?

Well, CarMax did, and they just offered US$20,000 to buy it.

Why would they pay so much? And how did they do it?

Well, let’s go back a few days to November 2, 2017, when the Honda got listed on eBay.

The video is also posted on YouTube.

Affectionately known as ‘Greenie,’ the car has over 141,000 miles (yes, miles, not kilometres) and gets listed on eBay with an attractive price tag of only US$499.

The small print states that the cat and coffee pot shown in the spot are not included, but the bug shield, rubber duckies, and tape converter are included.

The sale also gets its own tagline: ‘Luxury is a state of mind.’ Funny stuff.

The video has since gone viral – thanks to being posted to the front page of Reddit and garnering 112k upvotes. Add to that more than 5.2 million views on YouTube (as of this post).

The eBay bids pour in, exceeding US$150,000.

November 5, the bidding is closed. eBay cancels the bidding, apparently thinking that the post was fake. eBay realizes it’s mistake, then restates the listing, and the bidding goes up again.

November 8, here’s the new twist. After watching this story unfold on Reddit, CarMax decides to jump on the chance to promote its own brand and take advantage of Max’s video with a personal video message tweeting directly to Max with a genuine offer to buy the car for $20,000.

This is the Alt text.

Follow the tweets.

CarMax’s own video gets over 200,000 views on YouTube (as of this post) and also makes the front page of Reddit – generating 30k upvotes in less then 12 hours. And CarMax wants everything, including the cat and Mexican coffee mug.

Was this merely a creative attempt by a seasoned filmmaker to sell his girlfriend’s car that went wildly viral? Or a genius marketing ploy by CarMax?

Basically, Max’s effort to sell the car with a video also became (and inadvertently) a “commercial” for CarMax. Really!

Think about it. CarMax, the largest used-car retailer in the U.S., saw Max’s video success as an opportunity to promote themselves, and at little cost. Yes, $20,000 isn’t chump change, if Max accepts the offer. But for CarMax, it’s a drop in the advertising expenditure bucket. Its response was brilliant.

All they had to do was spend some time lighting and filming a guy at the CarMax office (probably at very little expense to them), then posting the video on Twitter and YouTube (again, at very little cost to them).

Meanwhile, Max is getting inundated with requests from the news media, and making appearances on shows like “Good Morning America.” The media attention Max is getting is also giving CarMax incredible exposure (again, at very little cost to them – actually, no cost to them), generating increased a PR push for their brand and traffic to both CarMax’s Twitter and YouTube accounts, and hopefully their web properties.

The PR push and results for CarMax – and their ability to see an opportunity and take a risk at increasing reach and awareness – are incredible.

A great example of how a brand responded quickly and creatively, taking advantage of the digital space with actions that are leading to positive outcomes, as we’ve seen thus far.


Like CarMax, your brand can do the same, especially in this very dynamic space we call digital:

  • Watch — and very closely — what’s happening in your product/service category;
  • Be prepared to take risks that will hopefully generate positive attention for your brand;
  • Don’t let your inhibitions hold you back and spend a little, if necessary;
  • Be human and let your audience know you have emotions, that you’re real, and make them feel like they’re being engaged by an interesting, intelligent, and funny person;
  • Be creative, be fun, have fun, and use humour with how you’ll respond with target audiences;
  • Don’t be afraid to leverage the power of your audience itself, even if the initial idea was a jokey user-generated content (UGC) video for a crappy 21-year-old car; and,
  • Spread the media love — take a holistic approach to communications and don’t silo your efforts when it comes to digital, social marketing, advertising and public relations, especially in today’s very competitive space.

Nicely done Max, and, of course, CarMax.

About the Author

Louis Vazenios

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