NEW YORK: Major advertisers such as Ford, Starbucks and JCPenney have all benefited from placing a heightened emphasis on digital media, a strategy which has enabled them both to engage with consumers and build their brands on the web.

In April, Ford, the automaker, asked 100 influential US bloggers to test drive its new Fiesta for a period of six months, and regularly post their opinions of the car on portals like Facebook and Twitter.

By October, it estimated that the resulting material had received 4.3 million hits on YouTube and 3 million comments on Twitter, while 540,000 people had viewed photos hosted on Flickr.

According to Jim Farley, Ford's group vice president of global marketing, recognition rates of the Fiesta have grown rapidly, despite the fact it won't be available until mid-2010.

"If you would have told me that we would have 100 vehicles in the US ... and we would have 60% brand awareness in the segment, I would have said there is no possible way," he said.

"To get 60% awareness in traditional media, it costs somewhere north of $50 million (€33.6m; £29.9m)," continued Farley, who added that the web is now a viable, and more low-cost, alternative to these channels.

"Online has become mass media. A Yahoo or Google page takeover actually gets more eyeballs than a network TV commercial now. That hasn't happened before."

In a similar fashion, Starbucks, the coffee chain, mainly used TV spots in the run up to Thanksgiving in the last two years, but has now shifted its focus to the internet, such as with display ads on Meebo and

It has also forged a tie-up with Pandora, the music website, to promote All You Need is Love – a CD produced in support of the charity Red – via advertising, a branded playlist and through its iPhone app.

Furthermore, the Seattle-based organisation will donate $1 to the not-for-profit organisation each time a customer spends $15 or more in its stores, alongside its on-going sale of a range of Red-branded goods.

In 2008, it encouraged people to have their photos taken stood "inside" the brackets of the charity's logo, mock-ups of which were hosted in its coffee houses, and upload them to a campaign website.

This year, it has developed a page on Flickr where consumers can post images on a similar theme, and created a tool allowing members of Facebook to send virtual Red/Starbucks "cups" to their friends.

Furthermore, the StarbucksLoveProject will ask web users to produce a "love drawing", with the company giving five cents to Red for the first million such digital pictures submitted.

Chris Bruzzo, Starbucks' vp, brand, content and online, argued "people are saying this is going to be a big year for social media and we're a microcosm of that. Whereas last year it was a curiosity, this year it's a core part of the program."

"It's like we've taken the version 1.0 of last year and now we're really doing it at scale and going to a lot more places where our customers already are."

JCPenney, the retailer, announced this week that it will stop publishing the bi-annual Big Book, replacing it with "timely speciality catalogues", an enhanced website, social media tools and iPhone apps.

Tim Lyons, of its corporate communications division, said changes in the industry landscape meant this decision "was right for our customer and for our business."

In preparation for this transition, the mid-market specialist integrated its marketing and merchandising units over the course of two years, with this group now covering both its online and offline activities.

It also has "millions of opt-in e-mail subscribers

Data sourced from Detroit Free Press, AdAge, Multichannel Merchant; additional content by Warc staff