By on October 27, 2010

As surveys go, the Morpace Omnibus Study [full results in PDF here] isn’t perfect. But even though it’s based on only 1,000 online respondents, it’s chock full of provocative insights. Of course Automotive News [sub] misses the best one, in its haste to trumpet the headline

Buyers usually don’t consider loyalty when choosing dealerships
Fine, that pulls uniques out of the dealership bullpen. The real news: when asked to rate how “influential” different media sources are on their “likelihood to visit a dealership,” respondents gave the category “magazines” the weakest scores. A mere three percent rated magazines as the top rating “high influence,” the lowest such number in the survey. A whopping 32 percent gave it the lowest “low influence” rating, the highest result in the test. And all this from a sample in which only six in one thousand rated “an effective marketing/advertising campaign” as the most influential factor in their dealership selection process, while giving top marks to “best deal offerings” (40%), “positive prior experience” (20%) and “referrals from family and friends (10%). But here’s the twist: respondents were asked to assume they already had a brand and model in mind. The plot thickens…
So, what does this have to do with the Buff Books? After all, if a consumer’s mind is made up about the car they want to buy, this survey is focused on the influence of dealer rather than brand or model advertising. Dealer advertising tends to be local, so the national glossies have never gone after their business. In fact, the Buff Books are merely the lowest point of a mainstream automotive media that’s going down hard. In a surprising twist, “the internet” came out with the most “10” and “9” scores in the media comparison, barely edging out “television” 12% to 11%. Even the dread “special advertising sections” that make up most newspaper automotive “coverage” received a mere eight percent of “9” and “10” scores, while bargain-basement radio advertising took only 6%.
And the effectiveness of online advertising isn’t surprising. Effective ads are ads that reach consumers as close to their active decision-making processes as possible, and for most consumers, deciding on a car means doing research online. Whether the conscious decision-making process takes place while reading reviews at a site like TTAC or doing more in-depth research and comparison at sites like Edmunds, Autoguide or TrueDelta, the ability to match imminent buyers with local advertising options is giving the online media opportunities that Buff Books have never had access to. And because decisions come in groups, former buff book advertisers like automakers, insurers and aftermarket firms are also flocking to where decisions are made, namely the internet.
Obviously, a lot of this sounds like self-congratulation at the expense of a struggling industry, but it’s actually a warning. Large amounts of advertising dollars are what brought about “special advertising sections,” and the internet already has plenty of online equivalents of those newsprint “pimpatorials.” What this survey doesn’t address is whether the growing influence of online advertising is a product of sheer convenience for the consumer, or if a sharper contrast between content and advertising plays a role as well. Because only .6% of respondents thought advertising consciously made a difference for them, it seems safe to assume there’s something to that possibility. More than even the ability to put connect local ads with a global audience, the ability to allow readers to conduct valuable independent research and then click ads based on the decision they came to independently (or at least the decision they think they made independently) is the “killer app” of the new automotive media. For up-and-coming online auto media outlets, providing independent content of the highest integrity isn’t just a question of principle… it’s the pragmatic thing to do.
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12 Comments on “Dealership Choice And The Death Of The Mainstream Auto Media...”

  • avatar

    Speaking for myself, after I choose which car to buy, I survey the dealers that sell what I want and try to choose the best one relative to where I live and work and based on quality of service. Fortunately, there are good dealerships that I take my vehicles to. How you interact with a dealer may also be a factor in what kind of service quality you receive. After all, we’re all human.

    Print media? I haven’t bought a magazine of any sort in years – I get to read them at the doctors’ offices, waiting for my wife to finish her shopping at Kroger and such, when I go. Have you seen what magazines cost these days?

    I look to the internet for just about everything – but still take most information with a grain of salt. Even TTAC writers, because everyone has their unique take on what they report on. One must use one’s intelligence to discern the best option and what works for them.

    Local TV dealer advertising can be very entertaining because it’s so bad. Many years ago when I was stationed north of Sacramento, all the major car dealers in Roseville, Ca. got together and made several TV commercials, calling themselves “The Roseville Gang”, each ad being a different skit, in one, they were cowboys, in another, on a golf course, etc. Absolutely hilarious! Nowadays, in Cincinnati, they’re just as corny.

    • 0 avatar

      Mag subscriptions are at an all-time low. The most popular mags are under $15/yr, with most of the mid-range stuff as low as $5/yr if you shop around online. It’s almost ridiculous NOT to subscribe to something at those prices. The content delivery is much more appealing than the web, even if it’s not as timely or diverse.
      But I still skip all the ads.

    • 0 avatar

      I got a free subscription to AW.  It’s worth what I paid for it, but gives me something to look at during my “gotta sit down” time.  I can’t imagine actually spending money on one of those things.

  • avatar

    The inevitable shift away from huge advertising sections in local newspapers is what will eventually (soon) kill the hard copy newspaper industry. A quick count through any big local paper reveals to even the numbest mind that local car dealers are their single largest source of revenue.
    Regarding dealer loyalty: It is the competence, attitude, and pricing of the SERVICE department that buys or loses my loyalty. The sales department has nothing to do with it.

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      The death of newspaper classified advertising, which dealers also traditionally were big buyers of, has been the single biggest revenue loss for print media. I was shocked to learn that in days not that far gone by, classifieds brought in 50% of the advertising revenue even they were far less that than 50% of the square inches sold.
      Craigslist, Autotrader and eBay have taken massive revenue away from print newspapers, and it is never going back.

    • 0 avatar

      Autotrader may be the only print publication (Tradin’ Times) that successfully made the transition to a revenue producing presence on the web.

  • avatar

    I tired to buy from my local dealer, but he gave me the run-a-round. So I went to a dealer further away and was treated better so they got the sale, a friend also recommended them so that helped. However their TV ads are horrible, stupid on a whole new level but I could care less.
    As for advertising, I’ve worked in the ad world for years so I’m immune to its effects. However the people that say ads doesn’t influence them are wrong. Ask them about a particular vehicle and then ask where they got their info and most likely you’ll hear: I saw a commercial or I heard on the radio that this car gets the “best” mileage in its class. Doubtful they did the research on the internet themselves and learned the real deal. Proof in point: people buy Dodge Nitros, a vehicle that gets terrible ratings anywhere you look, yet I see them all the time. Just ask an owner why they purchased such a POS and they’ll reply with “I got a good deal on it”, thus proving the local newspaper ads do work. A friend of my wife was about to get one for that very reason along with its “safe for my kids” which is completely false since she was comparing it to your average mini-van.

    • 0 avatar

      Newspaper ad? Who reads the newspaper anymore? GRIN!
      Seriously our evenings are busy enough with kid activities, homework and chores that we discontinued our subscription. We don’t get home until dinnertime anyhow. No home to read the paper until dinner at my house. We hit the door and start cooking.

  • avatar

    I wonder how much the decline in dealer loyalty is due to the increasing reliability of vehicles over the last couple of decades?  After all, when your car is constantly breaking down you spend a lot more time with your dealer, either for service or for a replacement, giving them more opportunities to build a relationship with you; and those relationships are where loyalty comes from.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    People claim advertising doesn’t effect them, but it still does.
    What people say and what they do are often quite disconnected.
    Also, advertising trades on the fact that we remember that we “heard” something long after we have forgotten where we “heard” it.

  • avatar

    Buff Books were great back just before the web.  You’d wait for the thick C&D (it was hot), R&T (the staid pipe smoking sportscar guys compared to the obnoxious C/D yuppies) and Motor Trend (recycled ad copy). I still miss L.J.K. Setright….
    That of course changed…C/D lost it’s mojo, R&T took over the recycled ad copy job, and Motor Trend grew a pair and became a decent read.
    Then the internet showed up.  We could suddenly find out that everyone else with our car had a suspension problem, or the fuel pumps spit, or the leak in the dash was a design flaw.  The veneer of BS from the mainstream mags was gone….forever. Suddenly you knew what was only known by your dealership service manager and the warranty department back at headquarters.

    The mainstream books NEVER covered repair problems or defects, any depreciation issues, or admitted that there even WERE used cars, until recently.

    It made it MUCH more difficult to BS the customers on many, many levels. Want to find out holdbacks, used car values or “cash on the hood” ? Google it.

    The magazines have the same problem the music industry found….a top down model is not favored by the customer, rather, this interwebs interactive model is better for us…..not them.

  • avatar

    About 10 years ago it dawned on me: The only buff books worth a damn were the 2 big Brit classic-car mags (“Thoroughbred & Classic Car” and “Classic & Sports Car”) and “Sports Car Market”. Then about 6 years ago something else dawned on me: Online resources had advanced to the point where I didn’t really need them, either (though I’d probably resubscribe to SCM if I were in the market for a classic).

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