Anyone in the car business or the advertising business who knows me has probably heard me say that retail car advertising sucks.

Let’s face it, for the past thirty years or so not much has changed in how dealers advertise cars. What puzzles me however, is that dealers continue to follow the status quo despite a never-ending glut of sob stories about declining sales.

If you had millions of dollars invested in a car dealership and your sales just kept falling short each year wouldn’t you try and make changes to correct the slide? Not that responsible dealers don’t make changes, I know they do. But, the one thing they never seem to change significantly is their marketing. To get change you have to make change and it’s usually uncomfortable.

I’ve always said I’d be rich if I could come up with a totally new, dramatically changed and effective way to advertise cars. I’ve been searching for this answer my entire thirty-year career in the car marketing industry. From ad agency to ad agency where I’ve worked on car accounts, the retail car ads never change. It’s always a “Clearance Sale” or a “Red Tag” sale or “the best time to buy.” That’s not to say my colleagues and I haven’t come up with some brilliant ideas. We have. It’s our clients, the car dealers and industry executives who have been afraid to make a change. In some cases, overly cautious ad agency execs scuttle the great ideas just because they’re “not what the industry is used to.”

Nobody seems to listen to the consumer. Hey, I’m not a research expert but I’ve read my share of interesting research data and the one thing it tells us is that consumers are not saps. Clearance sales, Red Tag Days and March Madness events don’t fool them. Let’s be honest, there is no lowest price or best time to buy a car. You don’t get a discount even when the ad says you get a discount.

What I’ve learned over the years is that there isn’t going to be a Eureka moment for retail car ads – at least not within the realm of current marketing knowledge, although understanding and using social media has potential. But, there can be a glorious awakening to the techniques and tools that, when used knowledgeably, can influence people to go to your dealership.

All it takes is an understanding of the way consumers’ minds perceive advertising messages. That amazingly sophisticated organ we all have, our brain, is the key. Once you board the mystery train to understanding how the brain works the rest is as incredibly simple as selecting the right tool for the job.

But, caution first. There aren’t many car industry people out there who want badly enough to make it happen. No dealer I’ve ever met, save a couple, has ever demonstrated that they are willing to come up with the investment and the time commitment to see a difference. Time is essential to building the branding that will bring customers through your doors for their lifetime.

There is a massive sub-industry made up of companies and people whose very existence depends on the retail car industry and its resistance to change.   Jingle houses sell “out-of-the-box” jingles to car dealers throughout North America. Jingles that curiously come “oout of the box.”

Newspapers employ scores of people who do nothing but assemble clip art car ads that look like bingo cards.

There are freelance advertising consultants, web masters, nephews and brothers of dealers, radio reps, the wife, and even some customers, all telling the retail car industry how to promote and advertise. Dealers listen to all of them except the most important one – the Consumer.

Take it from me – I might be a marketing communications guy, but I am a customer too.  And I am in touch with my customer side.

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