When It Comes to Advertising, Bashful Car Dealers Have Skinny Children

I was driving through Alabama this past summer on the way to the Redneck Riviera for our annual family beach vacation. As I drove down I-65 listening to the radio, every city I passed through had one thing in common—TrueCar radio commercials.

Huntsville, Birmingham, Montgomery, Enterprise. In every city, on every station I listened to, TrueCar owned the radio. You couldn’t avoid them if you tried. And these weren’t slick Madison Avenue produced spots. TrueCar had hired the morning disc jockey from each station, the hometown celebrity, to do testimonials about how TrueCar was the absolute, best way to buy a new car. No more driving all around town from dealer to dealer. No more haggling. No more back and forth with the sales manager. Just visit TrueCar.com.

When we got to the hotel and got unloaded, I flipped on the TV and no matter what station I switched to, there was AutoTrader. now AutoTrader had spent big money on creative and hired the cast from the ’70s sitcom The Dukes of Hazzard to start in their spot. There were Bo and Luke Duke driving all over Hazzard county looking for a new General Lee Dodge Charger when Luke whips out his iPhone, searches AutoTrader and finds the lowest price in town just in time to foil Boss Hogg’s evil plot.

AutoTrader and TrueCar each spend about a $100 Million a year on national broadcast TV alone. Edmunds joined the TV advertising fray last year and drew heat for their negative portrayal of dealers. The “online auto information” category or what car dealers call “third-party lead provides” spends massive amounts of money on old school, traditional, broadcast advertising. But wait a second.

Aren’t these the same companies sending swarms of salespeople out into dealerships telling them to pull their ad budgets out of old fashioned advertising and put it all into digital media and leads? Now that’s ironic. The truth is these companies know two things that they’re not sharing with dealers.

Offline Advertising Drives Online Activity

Yes, digital media is the heavyweight champion for reaching in market buyers researching their next vehicle purchase. But something happened in the real world that made them start searching in the first place.

The number one online search keyword for most dealership is simply the name of the dealership. Number two is the a combination of the product you sell and the city you sell it in, e.g. Ford Mustang, Nashville. They were looking for you when they found you. Or more likely they were looking for you when they found one of the lead providers who then sells their contact info to you and 17 of your closest dealer friends. It’s like they stole your watch and you’re paying them to tell you the time.

AutoNation’s figured it out. Last spring they announced they were significantly reducing their spending on third-party lead providers. “I can pay them to build their brand,” said AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson. “Or I can build my own brand.” And…

Traditional Advertising Builds Brands Better Than Most Digital Advertising

No one ever walked into your dealership humming your AdWords campaign. But people will come up to you and talk about a radio or TV commercial you ran four years ago.

Traditional advertising sticks better, sticks around longer and, most importantly, starts sticking around before the customers even know they’re in the market for a new ride and long before they ever start visiting the TrueCar and AutoTraders of the world.

No wonder they’re spending so much money. They want the relationship to be with them. They need the relationship to be with them. Your future in the car business demands that the car buyer relationship is with you.

In the last few years, the average number of dealers visited prior to vehicle purchase has declined from five or six visits to just one or two. One or two dealers are on their shopping list…that’s it.

And most cars are still sold to people who just walk in the door without ever making contact by phone or web. They need to know who you are, where you are, and what you can do for them before they need to know it; before they get that promotion and decide to splurge; before they find out they they’re pregnant with Number three and it’s time for three rows and more DVD players; before they discover the neighbors new brick mailbox with their radiators.

If you want to be on their shopping list, they gotta know who are you before they start their shopping list.

Terry Lancaster is the VP of Making Sh!t Happen at Instant Events Automotive Advertising. He’ll be a featured speaker this month at Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+.

Terry Lancaster

1 Comment

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    Les Patterson January 08, 2016

    Before potential car buyers ever show up at a dealer, before they ever start researching online, something happened in their life triggering the need or want for a new vehicle. As stated so well, digital media will only reach buyers who are actively searching for a particular dealer or a specific vehicle model in a specific location. With the significant decline in number of dealers actively searched in the buying process, potential buyers need to know “who you are, where you are, and what you can do for them before they need to know it.” Traditional broadcast advertising will help dealers who want to be on the top of the buyers mental shopping list because it “sticks better, sticks around longer and, most importantly, starts sticking around before the customers even know they’re in the market.”

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