Choosing your Dealership Advertising Message is More Important Than Where You Put It

For automotive dealers, GMs and marketers, getting “pitched” by local media to advertise is a near-daily experience. The local cable provider has a great New York Yankees package for you to buy that includes a 2:30 commercial spot in every Yankee game. The local FM radio station wants you to sponsor their $1,000 a day cash giveaway contest. It’s a familiar scenario.

Even when you’re not getting pitched, there is no shortage of places to advertise. You’ve been thinking about advertising on Pandora because your competitor is. You want to get back into the newspaper because the sports section is still popular with customers. As automotive dealers, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to get in front of people and where. We tend to spend a lot less time thinking about what we’re going to say once we get there.

Sure, deciding where to advertise is important. It’s important to be sure you’re hitting the right people at the right time at the right price. But what about hitting them with the right message?  The message is at least as important – probably more – than the location. Shelling out marketing dollars to get viewers to watch your TV commercial during the Yankees game is worth the money only if what they’re seeing causes them to remember the commercial or take an action in response to it.

Following is a list of important steps when developing creative material for television, radio or print advertising.

What Are You Trying to Accomplish?

Think about it: what message are you trying to “plant” in the minds of consumers with your campaign? Don’t try to do everything at once, or your message will become muddled. Perhaps you’re looking to get a laugh or provoke a nostalgic feeling. Perhaps you’re looking to portray your dealership as modern and high-tech. Think about how you can most effectively attract viewers’, listeners’ or readers’ attention to your store and tell people your story. Before you can proceed to the creative part of the process (writing the copy), you need set a goal.

What Is Your Differentiating Factor?

Once you’ve set your goal, you need to think about what makes you different from your competitors. It’s not the cars you’re offering for sale. Other dealers are selling the same cars.  So why should a shopper purchase from your store instead of one across town? Do you have a sterling online reputation? Are you family-owned? Have you been in business for 30 years? Has your service department won awards?

If you can’t think of a point that differentiates you from the competition, you may need to create one. Perhaps you can offer one year of free maintenance to new customers, or free tires for life. Whatever it is, you will need to identify it in your creative message.

The Creative Session

You know what you’re trying to accomplish now, and you’ve identified your differentiating factor. Now comes the fun part: coming up with the ideas. The best way to do this is to schedule a creative session. Consider including between three and six people at your creative session. With fewer than three, you can run out of ideas. With seven or more, a “mob-mentality” may allow some really terrible ideas through the first round of pitches. The ideal people to include in this creative session are the dealer principal or EM/GM, a marketing person or two (in-house or agency), a manager with a good sense of humor, and possibly your media vendor. During the creative session, you’ll brainstorm ideas and write them on a large board or piece of paper. In this first round of brainstorming, all ideas — no matter how outlandish — should be included. At the end of the session, have someone type up all the ideas for later review.

The Decision Making

After the creative session, you’ll need to review all the ideas, eliminating the unworkable ones and ultimately deciding what you’re going to film, print or record. Ideally, this should be done with a small group of decision makers who will weigh all the choices and pick the ideal message and approach to conveying it.


Now comes the truly fun part: writing your spot or designing your graphics. This can be done by one person or in teams, but be sure it includes professionals (graphic designers, writers, television specialists). Keep the goal of your message in mind and develop a way to take the approved idea and effectively translate it into a print, audio or video message that consumers will remember.


Once your ad is planned, have it reviewed by your core decision-making group to be sure it sets the right tone, achieves your goal and doesn’t attract negative rather than positive attention. (We’ve all seen and heard those ads where we wonder, “What were they thinking? Didn’t anyone approve it first?”)


Once you’ve finished planning and approving, it’s time to film, record or write your finalized spot. Be sure to send it for another round of approvals before you release it to the media. Once the message is out, be sure to track its performance in the number and type of responses you get, so you can measure how effective your ad campaign was.