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Car Dealer, Heal Thyself

By Landy Chase

Economic news has recently been saturated with the difficult times that the automobile industry is facing. Most of these stories focus on the manufacturing side. While the industry is in re-tooling mode, I will take this opportunity to suggest ways in which the retail side – the dealerships - can also improve.

As a sales person myself, I’ll note that  the stereotypes that exist for car sales people are today neither accurate nor current; in fact, some of the best customer-service and sales experiences that I have ever had occurred when buying a car. There are many superb sales professionals in this business that place customer satisfaction at the top of their priority list.

No, my beef with the car dealership business is the way in which many of the dealers approach advertising – specifically, the way that some seem to assume that car-buyers are, well, morons. This is one area  that surely needs to be a priority as they re-tool for the future. Here are some examples:

Bo-Bo the Sales Dog. Bo-Bo (I’ve changed his name here to avoid humiliating his family) is a  bull terrier who closely resembles another canine pitch-man, Spuds McKenzie. On local TV, Bo-Bo sits on the hood of vehicles and stares vacantly while a poor man whose thoughtless parents named him Mister Unbelievable rants about the day’s deals. Bo-Bo’s local cable production team lacks the budget and/or  technology to make him  speak, so, unlike geckoes and white ducks, Bo-Bo lacks any audible talent. At least at first.

Twenty seconds into the commercial, however, Bo-Bo begins howling and dancing. Actually, that’s not dancing. You see, it’s late August, it’s sunny, and the temperature on that car hood is approaching  285 degrees. Bo-Bo, a devoted dealership employee if ever there was one,  is getting his paws flash-fried on the hood of that van to help move inventory.

Marketing Logic Utilized: Bo-Bo is memorable, professional, clever and informative. Buyers will therefore purchase their next car because of Bo-Bo the Sales Dog.

Giant Inflated Monsters. There is a basic connection, of course, between diplaying a fifty-foot parade prop at the front of a  dealership, and making consumers want to purchase a new vehicle.

Marketing Logic Utilized: “Look honey, there’s a giant gorilla in front of that dealership!  And now I have a sudden, uncontrollable urge to buy a new SUV. Let’s pull in and do this now, shall we?”

Balloons. Balloons are eye-catching; realtors use them to get people to notice open houses. My issue with balloons at car dealerships is that that they don’t go out there and keep them inflated. A few hours after some poor schmo has tied them to every car on the lot, they deflate and stick to the windshields. The place then looks like it was overrun by a battalion of paintball warriors.

Marketing Logic Utilized: Fish are stupid and can be lured  with the use of color. Buyers are stupid too. Therefore we will use color to lure our buyers into our dealership.

The $10,000 Challenge. This one is my favorite! Here’s the offer: “We will beat any deal, or we will give you ten thousand dollars!”

Makes perfect sense! So if I come to this dealership with a competitor’s lower offer, I can expect this conversation to take place in the finance department:

Marketing Logic Utilized: “Okay, so our two choices for this guy are to either knock $200 off of the price of our car to close the deal, or have him walk off of the lot with $10,000 of our cash. Dang it all!  Open the vault and get him his money. I hate these savvy car buyers!”

There’s only one place, and that’s First Place. Ever hear a car dealer say, “we’re the #2 dealership in the area!”? You never will. That’s because there is no such thing! Every car dealership is number one in something – except maybe treating their prospective customers as if they have an ounce of common sense.

Marketing Logic Utilized: People will buy here because they intuitively know that we are the true number one and that all of our competitors who make the same claim are bald-faced liars.

Poor Advertising Strategy. As someone who works extensively with media clients, I am continually surprised at how few car dealerships understand how to use advertising. At many car dealerships, the sole measurement of whether or not advertising works is the tally of how many people showed up on the lot the day after an ad was run. They ignore the fact that , according to industry data, (a) 98% of consumers are not shopping for a car today and (b) most will be buying one in the next  five years.

Take me, for example. I know at this moment that I will be buying a car in exactly eleven months. On that morning eleven months from now, when I go out to buy that car, the only thing that dealerships should be concerned about is this:  when I am ready to buy, do I think of them first? The primary value deliverable of advertising is branding and top-of-mind awareness. When will car dealers understand that?

Well, not to worry. Perhaps I’ll remember the BoBo Torture Shuffle on cable TV and, out of sympathy, buy my next car from him and Mister Unbelievable. As I shake Bo-Bo’s gnarled, hairless paw to close the deal, I’ll give him a fresh bottle of Novacaine and tell him to keep up the good work.

Read other articles and learn more about Landy Chase.

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