Not a Question of Luck

“If I could just tell when my dealership advertising was working, I’d be thrilled!” I hear this comment from many dealers.

To this point, I offer the same response: “If you can’t tell when your ad plan is working, how will your customer!?”

There’s no getting lucky in dealership advertising. Most dealers spend 1% of sales on advertising and are always searching for new methods to maximize their advertising plan. So here are some proven methods to ensure that you are thrilled with your dealership ad plan.

Do an Advertising SWOT (Strength, Weakness Opportunity and Threat) analysis.
Begin by listing your top three competitors in order of impact on your business and what they are “saying” through their advertising to your customers right now. Then write a six-word description of each competitive positioning statement.

Example: Jones Ford #1: bigger store. Great displays. Poor pricing.

Now design a “visual”-map description of these positioning statements to help visualize the competitor’s message so you see it just as a customer would. Then, design an effective counter-position. This is the “play” you will perform against the competitor. It could be a pricing play, a selection play, a convenience play, or any other advantage that you have over this competitor. Choosing the right play just takes a little common sense.

Record clear campaign goals.
Some dealers want their advertising to accomplish all sorts of goals as if they can keep adding responsibilities to the ads instead of their sales staff! However, don’t be tempted.

Choose one specific success metric to provide a real measuring stick for the campaign. These metrics can include, but should not be limited to, store traffic, sales, market share, profitability and brand development index (BDI).

Build the marketing campaign “house” from the bottom up. By this, I mean that the campaign message needs to include the key elements for an effective retail message including a:

  • Clear dealer identification.
  • Clear merchandise impression.
  • Bold positioning statement.
  • Sense of urgency.
  • “Tie-breaker.”
  • Web site.

Dealers that miss just one of these are the same ones who worry about whether their advertising is working.

Ensure the proper frequency.
Media professionals often recommend a three-time minimum frequency for a campaign. I’ll argue here that this is far below the required “burn rate”of a message against a targeted audience.

All nameplates have a unique buying window and the figures are somewhat predictable. Knowing this helps to focus a campaign like a laser on the key buying days of this customer.

Create effective, not creative, advertising.
Funny ads are great for the nationals that have the money to burn and have so many corporate initiatives that no one is really paying attention to the ad campaign results anyway. But dealers are spending real profit dollars directly from their business profit statements.

Dealers can’t afford to spend 90% of their TV message amusing viewers.

I suggest a ratio of three parts selling to one part entertainment in the script. The halls are lined with terribly funny TV ads that had no real effect on sales.

So let’s stick to the basics. Present an advertising message that is designed to be measured, and one that customers can use to make a decision to buy.

Adam Armbruster is a partner in the retail consulting firm Eckstein, Summers, Armbruster & Co. He can be reached at

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