Confessions of a Car Dealer Advertiser.

Okay. I admit it. For a year and a half, I created ads for car dealerships.

It’s funny. When I began writing and directing car ads, I quickly discovered that there are reasons that most car dealers have ads that…how can I put this delicately…um…bite.

First of all, the budget for car ads is about $300. That covers talent, videography, post-production, and everything from script to screen. That’s not much money, and it doesn’t allow for much in the way of wiggle room for talent, props, sets, or anything else.

Next, let’s add to this mix the fact that most car dealers want to use their sales staff in the commercials. It’s been my experience that most sales reps aren’t really comfortable in front of the camera. And it shows. Lastly, lets examine the “we’ve always done it this way” phenonmenon as it applies to car ads. The industry mantra is that the manufacturer sells the car, the dealer association sells the promotion, and the dealer sells the deal. That’s why you see dealers running ads that show one or more vehicles with payments or “off-MSRP” pricing, instead of ads that try to convince you why you should deal with a specific dealer.

Why? Selling cars is a low-margin, cut-throat business. Most Dealer GMs I know are either divorced or are on their second or third spouse. When times are good, they live well. When times are bad, their job security is only as good as their last month’s sales figures. As a result, they tend to go with what they know – the hard sell. They want to put as much info (and as many vehicles) into each spot as they can.

Over the year and a half I worked for an in-house agency, I had the opportunity to create a few ads that attempted to break the mold on car ads. Ads that emphasized why you would want to deal with a specific dealer, instead of hammering prices. These ads worked – and worked well. Unfortunately, it was too easy for the dealers to jump right back into the same old “pushing prices” mentality at the first opportunity.

The next time you watch TV and see a local dealer’s ads come on, think about why the ads look the way they do. And if you see an ad that’s paticularly bad, do us all a favor, call the dealer, and tell them how you feel about it. Maybe then, dealers will think about changing their advertising for the beter.

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