By on June 24, 2007

yeehaw2.jpgEven though automotive advertising is fleeing print for the Internet, national TV ads are still an automaker’s most important showcase– and they know it. From GM’s levitating HHR’s to Jill Wagner’s Mercurial presence, car ads remain big budget productions from start to finish. Automobile manufacturers spend more time, effort and money (per second) to create your average 30-second car commercial than the networks spend to make an entire 30-minute sitcom. So why are viewers subjected to local dealer ads – touting the same products – that look like they cost a buck ninety-five?

Start with this: there are three kinds of car ads: manufacturer, zone (dealer association) and local dealer.

Automobile manufacturers’ ads sell the vehicle’s features or promote the brand under which the product shelters. Carmakers spend upwards of a million dollars a pop to produce these all-singing, all-dancing car ads. And then they shell-out ten times as much (or more) to pay for the air time to run these magna opera – usually in heavy rotation to achieve maximum impact. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re a class act.

Zone ads are produced by manufacturers’ ad agencies for various regional car dealer groups. These less expensive, more generic video ads feature loads of manufacturer-provided “B-roll:” beauty-shot footage of generic vehicles wending their way down country roads, plowing through pristine snow, etc..

The ad agencies add an announcer’s mellifluous (or graveled) tones and a regional “tag,” as in “See the new Ram-tough pickup now at your West Texas Dodge Dealer!” 

In comparison to manufacture and zone ads, local car dealer TV spots are complete rubbish. And why wouldn’t they be? The average car dealer spends around $300 per spot in production costs. The price includes on-air talent (if any), video production, royalty-free background music and post-production video editing.

Car dealers feeling flush can buy “donuts:” professionally-produced ads branded with the local dealer’s logo and voiceovers, ready for dealer-specific price/item info inserted into the center of the spot. Sadly, smaller markets seldom eat— I mean, see donuts. They cost a lot more than the sales manager yelling “Our prices are INSANE!”

The average dealer ad reflects the average dealer’s manic depressive/schizophrenic mentality. Sales up? Happy days are here again! Sales down? Where’s my axe? And when times are really bad, advertising is the first part of the marketing matrix to feel the heat. Don’t blame uninspired products, bloated inventories, sleazy sales reps and bad biz practices. Our ads suck.

Most hard-pressed dealers resort to low-ball video production and then SCREAM at their viewers. Since the competition is in the same boat, doing the same thing, most dealers decide that the only way to cut through the noise is to… SCREAM LOUDER. 

Of course, local dealer ads could be different. The economics of television production aside, it’s entirely possible to produce dealer commercials that entertain, inform and persuade without sounding like a come-on for a Monster Truck Jam. The trick: brand the dealership.

Why do you buy a vehicle from one dealer over another? Most people usually answer either “price” or “service.” Marketing folk will tell you that these earnest answers are entirely misleading. Customers buy from people they trust to deliver the best price or service. In other words, dealers ads need to build “relationships” with their customers.

Now I don’t mean that kind of touchy-feely, California-eque crap you see on Oprah. Again, we’re talking trust. Trust makes customers come back time and time again, and even better, refer their friends.

Obviously, building trust takes a lot more than good TV ads (good products and honest transactions can’t hurt). But ads that sell the dealership – not the deal – are an important piece of the puzzle.

Car dealers need to decide what makes them unique in their marketplace. Great service department? Knowledgeable sales reps? Good location? Deep inventory? Focus on that and get the word out.

Forget price. Most customers would pay a premium for better-informed sales reps/honest treatment/higher-quality service. True, this “speak softly and carry a big rep” approach runs counter to the dealers’ alpha-dog aggression. But it works.

At the same time, you have to wonder why carmakers are willing to let hysterical car dealers and their manic marketing men undermine the corporate mothership’s carefully cultivated brand and product image.

While U.S. franchise law prevents manufacturer meddling at the local level, surely it’s time for the manufacturers to take a more proactive approach. They should provide tele-visual support to car dealers to send the right message about their products and services to viewers/customers.

Will dealers ever make this “Bold Move”? I doubt it. The temptation to scream is too tempting. So until they do, thousands of potential customers will keep their thumbs on that well-worn Tivo’s skip button.

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46 Comments on “Why Local Car Dealer Ads Suck...”

  • avatar

    Having been in the middle here, between a car manufacturer and their dealers, I have to add a couple of cents’ worth.

    Dealers, by default, consider the brand marketing department to be snivelling idiots incapable of properly presenting the car to its intended market.

    The brand marketing dept., invariably, is out of touch with conditions on the ground as far as public perception of product is concerned. It will, without fail, try and reflect what management considers worthy about the company’s models – even when this flies in the face of reason or common sense.

    Therefore a complete disconnect occurs, between dealers bent on moving product through hard sell and marketing depts. that should be aiming to move the minds of customers, instead of reinforcing management’s preconceptions.

    In addition, a war exists between car companies and their dealers (with a very few exceptions for those premium brands that have realized the dealership is an extension of the brand, and not an entity it’s your duty as a brand to screw).
    Which is why you get local efforts totally out of touch with what the brand could be. And whatever campaign is launched nationally, at impressive expense, will be shot down at the next dealership conference as ineffective. “Thank God that we put on some of our own stuff. If not we would be drowning under unsold product.” As if they aren’t.

  • avatar

    Interesting article for sure. In our area the majority of the car dealerships are owned by one of the large dealership owning groups, such as Autowest. What is really strange is that these large corporate groups still haven’t caught onto the idea of branding. Carmax is the only large group which has worked to develop a unique and consitent branding based on fixed prices, big selection and generally well reconditioned cars. Carmax, interestingly, pulled way back from the new car business and now is almost completely a used car seller.

    Perhaps if the situation does ever change it will be because some of these large new car dealer groups finally get the message that they need a message.

    Surely some dealers somewhere have hired people with at least a BA in business management with a marketing concentration ????? The colleges turn out such graduates by the boat load and any one of them SHOULD know better than to scream price-price-price.

  • avatar

    Call me cynical, but I think in the current world folks would appreciate that honest and knowledgeable sales staff of the “enlightened dealership” helping them make their purchase decision….then go straight to the megadealer/TV screamer place and get the bottom dollar price. If they feel like it, they might give the honest/helpful sales folks one shot at meeting the price from dealer #2 by waving the paper in front of them, but most likely they will drop the hammer without going back.

    No, I don’t have a better answer to all this mess.

  • avatar

    When customers are confused by conflicting messages, when they’re overwhelmed by Stendhal Syndrome, they chose based on price.

  • avatar

    Another factor contributing to lousy local car ads is ego. The dealer himself, no matter how ugly or inarticulate he may be, feels obligated to appear in the ads. He’s building his own brand, perhaps because he thinks it plays well with the ladies.


  • avatar
    Bill Wade

    Something just occurred to me reading this editorial and the replies.

    I haven’t seen near the number of car ads, both new or used, on TV, radio or the newspaper. Is it just me or is it true? If so has the profits become so narrow that the local advertising budgets are drying up? Even regional ads seem to have slowed down a bit.

    I would like to see the subject expanded on.

  • avatar

    Technology is altering the automotive landscape for all the players, including dealers.

    For the consumer / customer technology increases the focus on PRICE, and for some reason to the lowest denominator.

    Dealer advertising is shifting from print to online, since the available information indicates that there is a tremendous amount of online activity.

    Dealer print ads are a “call to action” and they have no choice but to do print ads to get their share of the “co-op” funds. Since the ads are a “call to action” they must be working for a specific segment of the targeted audience / market.

    The local papers are a driver of print ads, this week bananas are on special at XXXX, coffee at YYY, bottled water at ZZZ, Cobalts at CCC, Nitros at EEE. The following week it starts all over again.

    Why do they open the hoods of the cars lined up along the curb? Why so they tie balloons to the cars? Why do they have all sorts of streamers beating in the wind?

    Why do they put a vehicle on the grass with a monthly payment plastered on the side. Why are the showroom windows full of lettering.

    In some cases as the competition increases, the “tackiness” goes up a few levels.

    Go an additional step “You are credit challenged! You have no credit! Come see us we can rebuild your credit”

    In many instances manufacturers are the ones “prodding” the dealers to behave in such fashions.

    In my area on a particular street which is the dealer strip, one luxury dealer to irratate the other luxury dealer puts one of his cars on the used front line, now the game starts. Then the other dealers put a lease price on the side of a car, the game evolves. There are 3 luxury dealers that are tackier that the Mitsubishi dealer on the same street.

    You can shop for cars while driving on the street.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    Newspapers are getting hit quite hard in most metro markets. Here in Atlanta the local paper decided to make an extensive agreement with one of the larger outfits (Team, formerly Autonation) that highlighted their vehicle’s in the classified’s section. A very strong reduction in dealer advertising volume followed but the trajectory had already been set several years ago.

    The fact that the paper writes several nasty articles about the car industry during the year doesn’t help things either.

    Other marketing outlets are overloaded… especially if they are free. I used to sell four to five vehicles a week on Craigslist during 2005 and the first six months of 2006. Then it went gradually downhill in ALL respects. The sleazeball dealers found it and started using caps and BS throughout their ads, and the typical quality of the Craigslist customer went from working professionals to walking morons.

    Right now I’m still the only fellow who inserts the Autcocheck/Carfax histories in the ads and I also mention my experience and Ebay rating as well (100% positive after 4+ years). It still works to some degree, but for every decent person I hear through CL over the phone I have to deal with at least five to six people who have little cash and dire financing needs. The fact that I don’t finance anything…ever… is a reality that I gladly deal with in this market. For older vehicles, cash customers who have done a healthy level of research are far better to work with.

    These days I use Autotrader (depends on brand), a few lots that specialize in certain marques or types of customers (drive-by’s), and enthusiast sites whenever I find something that’s truly unique and useful. Enthusiasts are by far my favorite retail customers, although commercial accounts tend to be easier to deal with and can surprisingly have a strong level of product knowledge as well. Commercial accounts represent 85% of my business.

    I have a friend of mine that was just given his own dealership. The debt load he’s carrying is already well into the seven figures and his employees and infrastructure are simply astounding. His advertising budget alone is $40,000 a month. I doubt I will spend that much over the next five years and I have several friends who sell 40 to 60 vehicles a month with minimal advertising budgets (less than $1k a month). New car dealers may be highly dependent on their local advertising but independent used car dealers are often far more focused on attracting the drive-by customer.

  • avatar

    “you have to wonder why carmakers are willing to let hysterical car dealers and their manic marketing men undermine the corporate mothership’s carefully cultivated brand and product image.”

    Looking at the big picture, I think this is the biggest problem going on. Many readers on this website have posted comments like, “I’ll never buy a (insert any make of auto) because the dealer was such a (insert several undesirable adjectives).” Being an auto enthusiast, I cringe when I read these types of comments because they are still allowing one or two jerks to heavily influence the results of their car purchase. Rather than stay away from that brand, just stay away from that dealer!

  • avatar

    As was stated earlier, most dealer ads act as the final point of communication between the customer and their purchase. By the time a customer visits a dealer, they are down to 2 choices of car and likely within 1 month of making a purchase.

    By the time a customer notices a dealer ad, they have heavily researched their vehicle online and through other sources as well (friends and family make a huge impact on decision making). In that final month prior to purchase, price and payment become the #1 type of information a customer look for. Thus, a car dealer ad has to heavily skew towards price, payment and added value.

    Manufacturers exert huge pressure on dealers to “maintain and grow share” or in other words, sell as many cars as they can, brand be damned.

    If you happen to be a dealer that is in a market with lots of like-branded competition (that would be any Ford, GM or Chrysler dealer) you are in a downward spiral of declining share, increasing inventory and a “last man standing” approach by both dealers and manufacturers who would like to see weaker dealers close up shop (as opposed to buyouts).

    Import manufacturers, while not overdealered continue to raise dealer sales targets month after month, so they too, feel the pressure to “pound `em out”.

    To the point that Dealer Ads Suck, some do, some do not. Many dealers are coming to recognize that their own brand is important and needs to separate itself from the competition. Additionally, dealers are also seeing big, broadcast media as being less important than a good website with up to date inventory and electronic contact systems. Dealers are also developing very good CRM and DM plans to reach customer targets and keep their current customer base loyal.

    I am likely in the nano-minority here but I think dealers are more capable of developing marketing programs that can work than manufacturers. As a group they are entrepeneurial, nimble and willing to change tactics. Manufacturers with their processes, internal politics, corporate culture and inertia are the ones that cannot change quickly in the face of shifting media preference.

    My two cents.

  • avatar

    I worked for an in-house agency owned by a holding company for 11 different dealerships in Texas. Except for Nissan (who required us to get ALL advertising approved by them prior to airing) none of the domestics really cared what we put on – as long as we didn’t run afoul of the Texas code regarding auto advertising. The budget we were given for each ad was capped at $300 per spot. If we wanted better ads (say, shot-on-film or HD-to-NTSC or those that actually had lighting, professional actors, a script) the only way to get them was to amortize the costs across a long-term campaign or by sharing spots between dealers in separate markets.

    I felt – strongly – that dealer ads would sell better if they looked better. I created several ads that had the look and feel of manufacturers ads for our one Nissan dealership. Interestingly enough, one of the ads got killed by Nissan because it looked TOO MUCH like their ads – they didn’t want anybody confusing local dealer ads with their own. (Pity – I spent hours animating that 3D red line thing. But I digress…)

    One series of ads I created had a soundtrack (no voiceover – hard-sell or otherwise) and fast-paced, montage style graphics. The spots practically forced you to stop what you were doing and watch them. The dealer hated them – he wanted hard sell, so we had to go back and overlay a voiceover on top.

    Know what a “camel” is? It’s a horse, designed by committee. (Ba-dump, BUMP.) An effective, engaging spot was turned into crap by a general manager who didn’t trust customers to watch a spot without shouting at them.

    One GM allowed me to create a series of ads that featured the sales reps (who could kinda, sorta act) in scripts that were both funny and appropriate, in that they told a compelling story that made you want to come in and meet the guys in the spot. Six months after the spots aired, they still had customers coming in talking about them. Not once did any customer EVER talk about a spot where the sales reps screamed at the viewer.

    By the way – I don’t disagree with CSJohnston. Some manufacturer ads are awful. Until GM starts selling cars that levitate, I don’t see that flying cars motivate me to buy. Same for Ford. I can’t tell you the last time I wanted to ride on two wheels around a building’s ledge. (Hint: NEVER.)

    The industry saying is “manufacturers sell the brand, zone ads sell the discount, dealers sell the deal.” Sad but true. Dealers would be better off if they communicated why anybody should buy from them, as opposed to the guy with the lowest price. Until they do, customers will always seek the lowest price, because they’ve been given no compelling reason to do otherwise.

  • avatar

    I’ prefer to order my next car online from Amazon or something similar than spend even a nanosecond inside a dealership.

    The sooner the car dealer goes the way of the dodo, the better.


  • avatar

    # chuckgoolsbee:
    June 24th, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    I’ prefer to order my next car online from Amazon or something similar than spend even a nanosecond inside a dealership.

    The sooner the car dealer goes the way of the dodo, the better.


    Will Amazon service the car too?

  • avatar

    Oh man, this post couldn’t come any sooner. An upstate/central/western NY dealership chain, Fucillo, has the absolute worst local dealership ads eeeever!

    and a parody of them:

  • avatar

    The challenge with most customers is their lack of focus on quality and value.

    There are too many messages out there, and as R.F. mentioned to make it simple the customer defaults to price.

    Regarding used vehicles, the same vehicle is quickly advertised on AutoTrader – ebay – Craigslist – Kijiji. The private seller is given several free tools to advertise a used vehicle.

    Has technology is the past 5 years improved or deteriorated the automotive industry, especially the retail aspect?

  • avatar

    Long as we’re complaining about marketing, I’d like to add that automaker websites SUCK. Most seemed designed to discourage you from readily acquiring useful information about any car.

    They’re nearly all bloated with junk flash animation, it’s difficult and extremely time consuming to navigate your way to specific features. Even among the same brand the webpages for different models are surprisingly inconsistent — if you figure out how to find out about one model’s sound system options, the next model’s web pages are often structured differently.

    And why can’t they give me a photo gallery in simple HTML? Why do I have to slog through some advertising firm’s $60,000 Flash production boondoggle just to see what the car’s grill look like?

  • avatar


    As a guy who’s day job is creating Flash animations for websites (and I’ve done my fair share of Flash pieces for auto dealers) the problem is NOT with Flash. Adding Flash to a site doesn’t make your site suck any more so than any other technology. Flash is a tool, and like any tool, it can be used properly, or ABused.

    The big advantage to using Flash is that you can pump significantly more pictures, video, and data down a user’s bitpipe than you can with HTML/CSS/PHP. In other words, it’s a benefit to the USER, because they see more pics, with a shorter, smaller downloads.

    I’m the first to admit that there’s a LOT of useless Flash out there. (If I see one more 3D spinning logo…) However, a huge benefit to Flash is that you can allow users to see a bunch of photos without forcing a download time between each pic. That makes for a better “user experience.” Flash, when used well, makes for some great websites. Flash, used poorly, is a pain.

  • avatar


    I hadn’t been subjected to those commercials ever before; that just hurts my head. I don’t know if I should thank you. The links were definitely… informational, though. Ugh.

  • avatar

    when Chucky gropes the bumpers( melons) of jennifer tilly, it is still more realistic product testing, than the best shakespeare tongue chanted commercial of virtues of the god enlightened vehicles.

  • avatar

    “Know what a “camel” is? It’s a horse, designed by committee. (Ba-dump, BUMP.) An effective, engaging spot was turned into crap by a general manager who didn’t trust customers to watch a spot without shouting at them.”

    Goodness yes. Having worked in TV, I’ve experienced numerous occasions of know-nothing clients barging into the edit suite demanding asinine changes and adjustments. Trusting local dealerships to produce their own ads is necessary but awful. Every time I see some schmuck sell me a ridiculously discounted Cadillac, GM’s flagship takes another hit in my estimation.

  • avatar

    I don’t know if this commercial runs in every Time Warner cable crooks markets, but by far and away the most annoying auto commerical (it shows a plug for a dealer at the end) has to be the horrid commercials. Granted, 99.99% of Time Warner commercials for their services look like they got some change back from their $10.00 bill, but this one takes the cake. Blurry auto stock footage, the strange eyebrow lady, the iBook with a fake screen with the person typing a senior thesis but it doesn’t match the screen and as much as I like Wile-E-Coyote and the Road Runner, they are dead to me until that wretched ad campaign ends.
    Besides the robo-troll that hawks JG Wentworth, local car commercials must be the primary reason DVRs were invented!
    If there are any Cincinnati-natives that read these comments, agree or disagree – one of the worst is for that car dealer owner who sits at a bar in the dealership with a hot dog (I guess they broke the bank with food while you wait forever for your car) telling you that “I run a business of trust!” Personally, he looks like he’s going to meet Chris Hanson face-to-face in some kitchen after entering a house with the creepy “Heeeeyyy” voice of America’s favorite decoy.

  • avatar

    Great article/info Brad!

    Cars have become so good and reliable that dealerships can hardly add value. What does a modern car need in terms of service in it’s 100K service life? A couple of oil changes and a set of tires…Maybe brakes and warranty work (try to find a dealer that does not state “No problem found, customer on drugs” on the warranty service work order).

    The only value a dealership adds is a test drive, warranty work, and maybe to look at different color combinations…The Internet provides the rest.

    More and more people are finding value in websites like CarsDirect, Fitzmall, TTAC (Have you clicked a TTAC ad lately?), Edmunds, Intellichoice, AutoTrader, eBay, etc. I tell people to buy off the Internet and sell their trade-in to Carmax. There is no better value.

    How can dealerships compete with this?

  • avatar


    I “grew up” in Upstate NY and between the car dealership ads and the Lawyer “Did you fall off a ladder at work? It’s not your fault! It’s your employers fault! We will sue for every penny you deserve….” ads, I had to move away.

    I like the parody ad “What? Are they out of season?”…Excellent! Thanks!

  • avatar

    “The fact that the paper writes several nasty articles about the car industry during the year doesn’t help things either.”

    That comment goes directly to one of my complaints for nearly twenty years about newspapers and dealers. The dealers have been such a huge source of ad dollars to the newspapers that it usually means that the papers never actually report on the scam artist dealerships (at least not until there’s some prosecuting going on). It’s a conflict of interest — ad dollars versus useful info for their readers. The same thing for local TV news — their consumer reporters aren’t going to go after the dealers either.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    “I tell people to buy off the Internet and sell their trade-in to Carmax. There is no better value.”

    The second part of that statement I have to strongly disgaree with. Carmax lowballs it’s trade-in’s for the same reason that all other dealers do so. They do it because consumers simply don’t know any better. This is the same reason why they currently charge a $149 documentation fee in Georgia when it only costs $18 in Georgia to transact a title and $5 to transfer a current tag.

    Carmax has to handle a very high level of overhead just like all the other new car dealers. In fact, their overhead is probably far higher than most folks realize which is why they use Kelly’s Blue Book extensively as a frame of reference for their prices.

    I do like many aspects of Carmax’s model; especially the back-end organizational and statistical tools they use to handle their inventory and employee training. They also do have a lot of good people throughout the company. However the overwhelming majority of consumers would be far better off selling their vehicles for a RETAIL market than a (lower than) wholesale price.

  • avatar

    mmmm….Jill Wagner….

  • avatar

    By the way – I don’t disagree with CSJohnston. Some manufacturer ads are awful. Until GM starts selling cars that levitate, I don’t see that flying cars motivate me to buy. Same for Ford. I can’t tell you the last time I wanted to ride on two wheels around a building’s ledge. (Hint: NEVER.)

    I can still remember last fall, seeing the GM commercials with people jumping out of high-rises and on to cars on moving car carriers. It was during the national news, following news stories about the anniversary of 9-11 and stories about people leaping from the twin towers. It was just weird and I can’t imagine what the ad departments were thinking.

  • avatar

    As often as I disagree with many of you on this site, I have to give you all a compliment.

    You are all smarter than the target of dealer advertising!

    I believe dealer advertising is targeting people who actually respond to it. Seems to me that people with an IQ over 116 are somewhat immune to advertising gimmicks, and the only value the advertiser will get is name recognition.

    Car dealers are commodity players, and they would like our business, but they need the average idiot to walk in expecting a deal that is really not a deal at all. The average idiot actually responds to the shouting, and when he shows up, he actually responds to their other sleazy tactics.

    Sad but true.

    The fact that most of us here can put together a reasonably logical post made up of sentences, paragraphs, and understandable points (however wrong they may be) puts most of us well above the 116 mark. (IIRC, scoring at or above the 87th percentile on most national tests, like the SAT, corresponds to an above 116 IQ).

    So, the reason dealer ad’s seem stupid is not because the dealer is an idiot, it’s because you aren’t :)

    It’s tough to get a better response by being clever. It costs money to hire talent to get that way (or you can get lucky), but the “DEAL, DEAL, DEAL” method has a pretty well known ROI. At least it must, or I can’t believe it would still be going on. Dealers have gotten fairly sophisticated in tracking effectiveness on stuff like this. Some even track the cycles of the moon.

    I believe dealer ads are the way they are because they actually work. :(

  • avatar


    I have to agree. If it wasn’t working, they’d do something else.

    A local furniture store has a sale that absolutely ends this weekend. Of course, they have a sale every weekend. As silly as it sounds, it must work for them.

    I find that the mute button is the best response to dealer ads.

  • avatar

    ‘They cost a lot more than the sales manager yelling “Our prices are INSANE!”’

    Ah, it’s been awhile since I heard those words. Brad you must be from New York or New Jersey for I believe you are referring to none other than Crazy Eddie and his discount ads for electronics. They were quite well known in the region. Some of the local businesses could make some unique and entertaining commercials. I still remember the wimpy little guy surrounded by buxom beauties in the ads for Krass Bros. Mens Store in Philadelphia (anyone know if that place is still around?).

    I have heard some radio spots for dealers that don’t scream. The worst though always seemed to be Mitsubishi. I had to change the station every time one came on.

  • avatar

    Well I’ll be damned Landcrusher dynamic 88 and me all agree on something.
    Its all about apealing to the lowest common denominator.
    I personally find the dealer ads entertaining.
    Here in canuck land we don’t have as many local tv dealer ads as the US but we get lots of radio stuff.We get the upstate NY TV ads fom the cable feed though.I find it quite amusing to watch these guys.
    I wouldn’t buy a rollerskate from any of them but I.ll betcha lots of folks do,or they wouldn’t do it.

  • avatar

    Was at the local Ford dealer a while back(only one in town); buying an overpriced, “dealer only” item(I hate having to buy stuff from the dealer!). Anyways, it was a weekday afternoon and I pull up, and it seemed like I was the only one there minus the sales people. I walk into the parts department area and no vehicles were being worked on anywhere.

    I wanted to crack a few jokes about the situation but the mood/atmosphere really didn’t seem right. Plus, I didn’t want the parts guy to pump up the price anymore.

    I was going to say “do you guys still work on cars here?”. “Hey, is that space for rent back there?”. “What’s that empty area back there used for?”.

    I’m tempted to go back for a second look. Is there a chance they no longer have a service department there?

    I don’t know how some dealers keep the lights on. Does Ford underwrite them? Do they get money from Ford each month to pay bills/salary?

    It must be near impossible to sell 2.5 cars these days. The price sucks, the fuel mileage sucks, the performance sucks, and they have a 37 year in the making reputation for not being reliable vehicles. Ask anyone that owned one.

    There might be a way to fix all that with the current models that are out. Do a mid year model change immediately.

    Make different models of each vehicle so each model excels at SOMETHING. THIS model gets great fuel mileage. THIS model gets great performance. THIS model is extremely low priced. Because right now, every model is just plain average, and average is not exciting nor compelling.

    Chevy Volt and Camaro could be good sellers, but they really, really need to come out this fall. There is an idled and shuttered GM plant in OKC that doesn’t build anything right now but the union employees show up everyday and sit in the cafeteria to collect a paycheck. They could be making Camaro’s or Volts in there instead!

  • avatar

    Now I don’t mean that kind of touchy-feely, California-eque crap you see on Oprah

    Please don’t disparage my state. We’re not ALL touchy-feely, just as I know not all Texans are like G.W. Oh, and Oprah is from Chicago…

    Here’s my favorite dealer ad and it’s definitely not touchy feely: Chick Lambert

  • avatar

    Chick Lambert was… refreshing.
    My peeve was the series of Chevrolet (regional?) ads a year or two back for a summer car push. I sent GM an e-mail saying “If I hear ‘Walking On The Sun’ one more time, I’m going to lose my mind (and never consider buying another Chevy)”. This “Saturation Bombing” type of advertising purely reeks of desperation.

  • avatar

    If “Saturation Bombing” type of advertising purely reeks of desperation, then Toyota must be desperate to sell Tundras. I could not watch any station ( and there are 50 of them) for an hour without seeing that Tundra has better towing capabilities and better braking capabilities than any other pick-up. Of course, given the failing cams I would not want to tow much. Maybe that is why they stop faster.

  • avatar

    Hello, I’m Tom Park for Lynn Hickey Dodge.

    You know folks, if Lynn Hickey doesn’t sell a 1000 vehicles this month he’s going to slit his throat right here on TV. Come on down today, Monday, and we can get you into this beautiful Town and Country for $129 per month! That’s right, zero down and your credit problems are no problem.

  • avatar

    I can ignore specifics, it’s the damnable “hook” music that they just loop over and over; it’s not advertising, it’s psyhcological warfare.
    Give me the “Trunk Monkey” type stuff anyday!

  • avatar

    “The second part of that statement I have to strongly disgaree with. Carmax lowballs it’s trade-in’s for the same reason that all other dealers do so.”

    Sorry, but I am going to have to disagree with you on this point. My wife and I checked out the local Carmax when we were thinking of selling our 2005 Infiniti FX35. I had already done my homework and knew what the local Autotrader market was, as well as KBB and Edmunds values. Carmax came back with an offer that was right where it should have been: around $1200 below private party but $1500 above trade-in. In the end we did not sell the FX35, but the experience was helpful.

    I’ve sold a number of vehicle via private party and will do so in the future. However, I would not hesitate to recommend Carmax to a friend.

  • avatar

    Re Most hard-pressed dealers resort to low-ball video production and then SCREAM at their viewers. Since the competition is in the same boat, doing the same thing, most dealers decide that the only way to cut through the noise is to… SCREAM LOUDER.

    As they say in the retail car business — If you ain’t Yellin’, you ain’t Sellin’

  • avatar
    Ty Webb

    So glad somebody brought up the Trunk Monkey…brilliant!

  • avatar

    While I agree that most TV ads are aimed at the lowest – not the highest common denominator, I beg to differ that they are on the air “because they work.” Compared to what? I’ve created many and ad (under duress) that screamed at the viewer. I’ve also created some (for the same market/dealership) that were funny, and made the point that shopping at dealership X was going to be an enjoyable thing.

    Guess which ad pulled in more customers?

    The ad where we didn’t scream.

    It’s easy to say that playing to the cheap seats is a winning strategy. What’s important to note, however, is if you don’t try to rise above the noise, you’ll never know that there is a better way, and that better way is treating your customers as if they have enough sense to know when they are being treated with respect.

  • avatar

    The TrunkMonkey spots are brilliant – PETA’s response be damned. When you watch them, all you can think about is what a great sense of humor the dealership must have. That may not seem like it relates to selling cars, but think about this: who would you rather buy a car from – someone who screams at you, or someone who has a sense of humor about their work, who’s willing to take the time (and money!) to share something funny with you.

    I vote for the funny guys every time.

  • avatar


    The only problem is that to get consistent humor takes effort, for which someone must be paid. If you can quantify the success of your funny commercials, then you should be able to start going around selling the idea to dealers in every market. We will all be glad when you are successful and rich.

    Go for it.

  • avatar

    I rarely watch television, and loathe most advertising, but I actually enjoyed and laughed out loud at the Trunk Monkey ads. As testimony to how popular these ads are, I don’t even live in that market, but a business associate of mine who does emailed the series to me, insisting that I watch them all.

    That being said, I’ll be damned if I know the name of the dealership featured in the ads, or what kind of cars that the dealership sells. I haven’t a clue why I would buy a car there (assuming it was conveniently located for me), given that I don’t know its name, what it sells or what benefits that it may provide me, aside from its ability to hire ad agencies with a sense of humor.

    Which may be the problem. The screamer ads with the sleazy pitchman may be tedious, insulting to one’s intelligence, and more cheesy than an overturned truckload of Velveeta…but the ads will generally make it clear where the dealership is located, what kinds of cars it sells, and that it is capable of financing anyone (at an undisclosed absurdly high interest rate, of course.) All probably useful information for someone who is actually in the market for a car purchase.

    In my mind, the latter ad is probably going to be more effective most of the time, particularly for a dealership that specializes in churning-and-burning used cars and soaking naive buyers in the F&I department. Probably not a terrific method for peddling shiny new Porsches, but for pushing out well used Pontiacs that were ridden hard and put away wet, the low-rent guy-in-a-leisure-suit ad just might be a winning strategy.

  • avatar
    Terry Parkhurst

    This is an excellent and thought-provoking piece. I especially like the comment about how dealers try to turn whatever has occurred into a plus, ei., too much inventory becomes a cornucopia of choices. (Although I think it would be more accurate to file this under “dealer multiple-personality disorder.”)

    Dealer radio ads are perhaps the worst, as they compete to scream the loudest, making the late Sam Kinison seem sedate. (For those too young to remember, Sam Kinison was a comic, whose heyday lasted from his first appearance on David Letterman’s show in 1985, until Sam’s passing in April, 1992. He was known for giving full vent to his frustration at various ex-wives and people who he considered foolish. His voice seemingly lives on as the frontman is various metal thrash bands today.)

    The television commercials now are all seemingly trying to outdo Cal Worthington’s animal tricks ads of the late Sixties (a Southern California Dodge dealer, who also acquired various other makes over the years) or Dick Balch’s “little devil” ads of the Seventies. (Mr. Balch, a Chevrolet dealer, would dress in a devil’s suit, come onto his lot and declare, “It’s that little devil me” and then, smash a windshield with a hammer. It got him on the old “Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. I met Dick Balch in 1994 and, at 62, he was still as fiesty as ever.)

    The problem is how the entire auto industry, but most especially the American one operates. It’s all about volume, and has been ever since 1955, when the Big Three plus two (Studebaker-Packard and American Motors) sold 6 million cars (give or take). The key to purported success is trying to match and, of course, exceed that.

    Then too, there is the fact that car sales associates are usually paid by commission. Put it all together and you get more rank desperation than a singles bar at closing time.

    It would be great to have the model Porsche has, or maybe even Lotus. But then, how many $40,000 two-seaters can you sell, as does Lotus? Additionally, from what I gather, Lotus has made fair money doing research for others.

    And even Porsche had to add sport-utes to the mix, and as soon as 2009, a sedan. But still, neither Lotus or Porsche have screaming banshee dealer ads saying, “We have to have slash prices this weekend, to make room for the 2008s!”

  • avatar

    I AGREE COMPLETELY! And this is why….
    Above you will find a link to a Branding campaign I developed for a local dealer here in Mobile, AL 4 years ago.
    It speaks exactly to your concerns. It has been a tremendous success for them and if you watch the ads in chronological order you can see the development to what it is now.

    Below is a good example of what you are talking about I think, if you get the time to check it out.
    [vimeo 115599383 w=640 h=360]

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