COVID-19 Update: When Is It Ok to Go Back to Traditional Advertising Again?

By Desiree Homer

One aspect of getting back to normal includes dealer advertising. Right now, you may have shifted your messaging to offer help, with relief or incentives. The goodwill and community support has been the common theme among all campaigns in recent weeks. But when is it a good time to return to the traditional lures for customers to buy cars?

Jeff Dyke, President of Sonic Automotive, talks with Dave Cantin in a recent Dealer News Today podcast about projections for third and fourth quarters. He suggests the “worst is behind us,” and it may be time to “take advantage of the market.” As with any predictions during this pandemic, the timing for your dealerships may depend entirely on the consumer confidence within your neck of the woods.

The Risk of Polarizing Your Audience

You may be eager to reopen and get back to selling cars and having jam-packed service lane schedules. However, just because you’re ready to open doesn’t mean the consumers in your market are prepared to join you. Because the safety guidelines and the regional leadership efforts vary and tend to be politicized these days, rushing back to traditional ads in your backyard could polarize some of your audience. Some of your regions may be struggling with public fear and continued virus mitigation. Jumping back into the public eye with traditional ad campaigns could signal that you’re impervious to those concerns. On the flip side, being overly cautious in a community that has already begun to return to retail normalcy, could mean you’re missing an opportunity to join the local movement.

Boston Consulting Group Takes Consumers’ Temperatures

Consumers are changing their minds daily, as do the latest headlines. But the Boston Consulting Group conducted a series of surveys, asking the public about their sentiments during the last week of April. The data suggests that 81% believe the economy is headed for a recession. More than 60% are convinced the pandemic has changed their retail behavior permanently, while 36% were hopeful their buying habits would resume to normal. And 56% of those questioned were actively concerned about their household finances. The results of this taking of the public temperature is an indication that traditional advertising campaigns may need to be a gradual process, much like your operational reopening plans. Lara Koslow, one of Boston Consulting Group’s senior partners, says it will “depend on how consumer sentiment evolves.”

Don’t Abandon Your Community Goodwill Messaging

If you’re ready to get back to advertising, one key strategy is to keep your messaging thoughtful and in line with the pulse of your local community. Maybe don’t abandon some of the campaigns you’re currently leveraging, about support, being there to help, and providing safety best practices. Keeping those sentiments as you trickle in some of the more traditional ads, will show you’re both ready to move forward, yet caring and supportive of any continued pandemic related situations and mitigation efforts. Keep strands of health and safety in tandem with direct response-style ads, and you can adjust with your market, should the landscape change.

Some of the experts suggest holding off on those former ad messages entirely, or at least until the economy fully recovers. But again, the temperature in your dealership regions may dictate differently. Economists predict a full recovery won’t happen for years, and you certainly don’t want to wait that long to get back to former advertising formulas. Instead, consider a gradual reintroduction as your customers are ready for it.