“There is no bad press!” has been attributed to a multitude of famous, and pseudo-famous, people that were usually getting bad press at the time but none-the-less were still profiting from the exposure.
Is the same true in automotive advertising? Can you effectively throw money at any form of advertising and still sell cars? Yes, you probably could, but how much of that spending is useful to the dealership and how much is just not bringing value at all? Let’s break down the main forms of advertising that automotive dealerships generally and historically have engaged in and why they maybe should not be the top priority for your advertising dollar.
Disclaimer for Full Disclosure
I am the VP of Sales and Marketing for Speed Shift Media and we work with customers in these fields of advertising. We also have many friends in companies I may be relating to. So in all fairness, many of these advertising products hold value at the dealership level and can be used effectively to advertise their business.
Typical or Traditional Display
I’ve written at length about the inherent difference between typical display and inventory display advertising, so I’m not going down that rabbit hole again. Instead, I want to go into this by demonstrating where traditional display works and why it just doesn’t deliver for your dealership if you’re trying to sell specific cars.
I often refer to traditional display advertising as the McDonald’s or Coca~Cola style advertisements. Simply put, these types of ads are great at building brand recognition or announcing events. You’ll often see the banner or billboard ads online, and they’ll read “Ford Family Pricing EventⓇ” or “Mercedes-Benz S-Class: Benchmark in SophisticationⓇ” or “Hummer: Everyone should get one.” Not one of these banners told you where to buy one, how much or if your favorite trim package was in stock. This is not the intention, the point of these ads is to evoke a response, a feeling or emotional connection with the brand.
This should help you understand why this type of advertising doesn’t help you sell individual cars on your lot. If you are one of three dealerships in your city that sell Mercedes-Benz cars, then the S-Class banner would inspire an enthusiastic shopper to visit the first dealership they could find, not necessarily yours.
A piece of advice, as banner ads are usually just part of the marketing mix, use them. Just don’t count on them to sell more cars. Use them to do what they do best, build your brand recognition or showcase a make & model specific sale your dealership has going on. To target in-market buyers on a very granular level traditional display advertising just falls short, and you could spend your advertising budget more wisely elsewhere.
Print Advertising? Do people still read print?
This is one of those industries that falls under the full disclosure above. I worked with a print media company to help them transition to a more digital world. I have a soft spot for print whether it’s newsprint or magazines. Print transcends generations when it comes to delivering information to the masses but let’s be clear, like traditional display advertising, it too has a time and place.
First, let’s address what and who print advertising works well for. If you live in Austin, TX, then taking out a full page in each of your local weekly papers is probably quite expensive and likely goes (for the most part) unnoticed. If you live in Lexington, TX, on the other hand, taking out a full page in your local weekly may be a good spend. Why is that, do you think? Let’s talk about demographics and population size for starters. Austin is very plugged in, metropolitan and modern so it can be assumed that most people in Austin don’t read the printed newspaper and would be more aware of advertising in the digital world. Whereas Lexington is a good distance away from the big city, has a smaller geographic footprint, and it stands to reason that its’ population likely relies more heavily on their local weekly newspaper to deliver the events and coupons the residents need.
Print is not dead; it’s simply aging. Not as many people read the newspaper in print form anymore. For this reason, your advertisements here simply won’t carry the same impact as they did before. National dailies like our Globe & Mail deliver a vetted collation of the information you should know. The local dailies like our Vancouver Sun carry the information of local interest in the same way. Both of these publications though are much like typical display advertising, the amount you would spend advertising on their pages cannot be justified by the few people the ads would reach.
In the long run, if you have a special event and a little money left over in your ad budget, why not take out a print ad. It can’t hurt and may serve to reinforce your digital messaging.
Premium Listings: To List or Not to List?
Listing sites fall under that umbrella of the most recent additions to Traditional media. They have been around for a long, long time, and now it’s become a question of the value you get vs. what you can get from your site. True, but listing sites were and still are the best place to put your inventory in a safe, unbiased environment for customers to search and discover. A lot of consumers still discover their local dealership from a listing site first. For this reason, alone, I would keep advertising on listing pages.
The question is whether premium listings (or other upgrades) provide you with the best bang for your advertising dollar.
To answer that let’s look at why listing sites became popular in the first place. Let’s look to the stereotype of the pushy car salesman trying to get you to buy the car with his best margins, not necessarily the one you need or want. With listing sites, buyers can browse, unfettered, with no pressure and find just what they want. When you look at it this way it’s no wonder that listing sites and their predecessor, the listing catalog magazines, became so popular. Of course, the savvy dealership always wants to be the top of the list to sell the most inventory, and this ushered in the premium listing.
This was a great add-on until the online consumer became savvier as well and realized that these so-called “premium listings” were becoming no different than the pushy sales guy. As a result, now, even the consumers you were capturing previously with a flashier car listing are now ignoring these advertisements and moving deeper into the listing pages to find the vehicle they want.
Listing pages are a valuable spend. No question. Paying for premium is likely not something you need to do as aggressively as once thought.
The Best of the Rest?
TV commercials. Billboards on the interstates. The inflatable flappy arm guy. Paying your niece or nephew to dress up as the mascot to wave at motorists. There is no shortage of places to throw money to sell just one more car. Let’s consider what is a good practice if you’re having a difficult time sorting where the spend should go.
As the dealership marketing manager or team or even GM, you know what has worked for you in the past but let me give you a fairly simple template to follow.
- Your priority in advertising is to get as many people as possible to view your inventory, your Vehicle Detail Pages (VDPs). As the marketing person or team, this is your priority and likely where you are going to spend the bulk of your ad dollars. Once you’ve exhausted all these avenues and you have budget remaining…
- The next focus should then fall into getting people to your Search Results Pages (SRPs). This is the equivalent of bringing people to the dealership door and having them cruise the lot. Once you’ve exhausted this avenue, then…
- Focus on driving as much quality traffic as possible to your website through SEM, SEO, and other promotional methods.
- If you still have some extra money in your advertising budget, then and only after all other higher converting avenues are exhausted, look into direct mail, TV, billboards and other forms of marketing that you feel are giving you a positive return.
Follow this funnel and you will always be able to justify your advertising spend to your leadership. Obviously, success is measured differently at different dealerships but following these basic premises will at least ensure you are spending your advertising budget appropriately
The big wrap up
I don’t like to say this is the right way, or this is the only way because it assumes that I know your market better than you. This isn’t the case. In my experience, though, certain types of advertising have historically been successful regardless of geographic market. As technology has evolved and delivery mediums have changed, these historically successful means of delivering advertisements have improved and only gotten stronger which is why I take certain stances.
Over the course of an advertising year, there will always be a place for some, if not all, of the technology discussed in this overview in some form. My goal is to use my experience to help you determine where the best use of your ad dollars are. It is up to you to determine what will bring the buyers to your door, ready to drive away in the vehicle of their dreams.
Author: Ian Cruickshank
Ian Cruickshank has spent over 10 years in Marketing and Digital Advertising. As the VP of Sales & Marketing for Speed Shift Media, he is the head of all revenue generating activities. With a Master’s degree in Business and IT Management and as an Adjunct Professor at the University of British Columbia, he is regularly called on to present and lecture on a variety of Information Technology and Digital Marketing concepts.