Why Automotive Advertising Is All Wrong
Do you believe advertising?
TV advertising has less effect on me every day. Heck, I worked as a creative director at an ad agency, and I still don’t trust 90 percent of the ads I see. This is because companies don’t seem to sell their best attributes anymore – they’ve turned to using tactics designed to sell product regardless of how far the truth is stretched.
Advertising for the auto industry is especially complicated, because it seems to have its own set of rules. How can any company properly advertise something that has no real set price and many different features that appeal differently to many different people? It’s a tall, tricky order, and I think it’s being done wrong for these reasons:
1. The price can’t be clearly stated
Consumers are confused and on guard right away, because we know a car’s price is never set in stone.
- We know the price the manufacturer thinks a car is worth (the MSRP).
- We know we don’t ever need to pay that much.
- We look online and at newspaper and TV ads and see all kinds of special offers and prices.
- We go to the dealer and find out they would like us to pay more than the MSRP.
This is a pricing nightmare that is specific to the auto industry (you sure don’t see it at the grocery store).
2. No car does it all
When consumers start car shopping, we look at the selling points of cars (and carmakers) we are interested in. Some of us are looking for the best performance, while others want the best fuel efficiency. Some want cars that are visually appealing, while others would rather have a car that can comfortably haul a family. Some want cars that will hold their value, while others simply want the lowest price up front. Some of us want all of that in one package, as promised by some car ads, and are disappointed when we can’t find it.
3. Advertising messages fall flat
We are bombarded with car ads every day. We see ads from Ford, Chevy, Toyota, and more that strive to make vehicles look amazing while artfully showing off features and performance. But minutes later we see ads from car dealers that scream (literally) about insanely low prices. From a consumer’s point of view, this is confusing, because we are having two very different experiences with the same brand. In our eyes, dealers are extensions of the manufacturers, and any sales schemes they create are reflected right back onto the automaker, which cheapens the brand message instead of reinforcing it.
I think dealer advertising tends to cancel out manufacturer advertising, leaving consumers to trust only their judgment and the opinions of people we trust.
How to fix it
The first issue, price, is something we can’t do anything about. When taken with the other two issues, though, that works itself out. We pay what we feel the car we want is worth to us.
Which brings us to the second issue: No car does it all. You know what kind of car appeals to you and why. If you’re a speed freak, you might want a Cadillac CTS-V simply because it was a few seconds faster around the Nurburgring than a BMW M5.
If you have a family, you might be in love with the Honda Odyssey because of its reputation for reliability and for holding its value. The fact that a Kia Sedona might be less expensive or a Ford Flex might be more attractive has no impact on your purchase decision.
Instead of trying to be everything to everyone, carmakers need to give it up and just honestly say what they are best at and why. Instead of searching for a new agency to produce a new gimmick every time sales take a dive (which GM is doing with Cadillac), why not work with the agency to identify core values and then build up the brand around those?
When a company focuses on its core values, the advertising falls into place (at least on the corporate level). Going a step further would be controlling dealer advertising and forcing it to conform to the corporate brand, which I think absolutely must be done.
Car consumers are smart. We know what we want. Automakers: Just tell us what you stand for, tell us what you do best, and we’ll buy your cars. Simple as that.
Does automotive advertising influence you, or do you rely on reviews and opinions of others when car shopping?