All car dealers are exposed to two inherent and interrelated forms of risk, creative and financial. In managing risks, what all successful auto retailers have in common is having the capacity for both and a willingness to periodically step outside the comfort zone to take calculated risks, probe opportunities and seek greater gains.
In auto retail, the most difficult assessment for risk is in the creative, as judging the value of creative work is very subjective. Rarely, if ever, has there been universal acceptance for creative work, which is to say, not everyone will like an ad. It’s human nature and can’t be avoided; it’s one of the marketing facts of life.
Creative approaches are many: hard-sell, soft-sell, humor, brash, zany, spokes-guy/gal/celeb/dog, but the fact remains, any one of these motifs will work — or not work. Why is this? How is this so?
The Shape of the Message
Auto-retail advertising is very different than typical consumer advertising.
Appealing to “consumers” often relies upon the feature/benefit story; however, auto-retail advertising relies upon an entirely different set of principles. If the message does not address the common objections people have when buying a car — price, credit, down payment, monthly payment and trade value — the message will falter. That’s when media becomes an expense rather than an investment; ROI is never fully realized.
Most Often, it’s the Media Plan
Good creative, even great creative, will never overcome a weak media plan; however, a strong media plan will often overcome so-so creative.
A robust media plan can partially mitigate the risk of uninspiring creative, but do not get the idea that creative doesn’t matter … it matters a lot. A robust media plan plus a powerful message — always lead to success.
The trick is to recognize failure quickly. All too often, advertisers become married to an idea and are reluctant to abandon it for various reasons, do not fall into that trap.
In auto-retail advertising, a dealer will see that the campaign is working within a week to ten days, and at the end of a month the results are clear as to whether or not the effort was effective. If not, examine the media plan first, the creative second. Always keep in mind that proper frequency is fundamental to selling cars and once firmly established, then it is time to increase reach to sell even more cars.
The Greatest Risk is Underfunding
The renowned ad man Morris Hite summed it up in one sentence, “There is more money wasted in advertising by underspending than by overspending.” The one thing he could’ve added is that if you do overspend, overspend on media, not creative.
The way to minimize risk is sticking to fundamentals; have a strong media plan with the focus on frequency, and always address the common objections people have when buying a car.
Maximize Your Ad Strategy
Make sure your ad agency understands that consumer advertising is very different than auto-retail advertising. If the pitch focuses too heavily on creative, be wary. If the plan focuses on franchise branding, be wary. If the pitch fails to emphasize frequency, be wary.
Auto-retail advertising is not very complicated; however, it does require discipline.
Always address at least two of the five major objections your prospects have when buying a car:
• Down payment
• Monthly payment
• Trade value
To sell cars, make sure your media plan emphasizes frequency, frequency and frequency:
• To sell even more cars, increase reach
• Keep the message clear
• Be consistent
• Resist the temptation to be overly clever
• Keep your people fully informed
When you stick to these central principles, improved sales will always follow. Kevin Baumann
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