AUTO MARKETING: ADS SHARE MESSAGE: A BETTER WAY TO SHOP THE CHALLENGE FOR ALL CHAINS: 'CONVEY TRUST'

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The leading used-car superstore chains use different approaches and themes in their advertising.

But their ads have the same message: their superstores are a better way to shop for vehicles.

"The challenge . . . was to convey trust without saying it," says Ellis Verdi, president of DeVito/Verdi, New York, the agency for Circuit City Stores' CarMax. "You can't tell people to trust you. You have to be able to convey it."

FOCUS ON QUALITY

The ads, he says, focus on the quality of the products and the quality of the experience.

CarMax uses the tagline "The new way to buy used cars." All spots have an element of humor and try to demonstrate that buying at CarMax is smart, Mr. Verdi says.

Certain CarMax TV spots focus on specific points, such as low prices and no haggling. One spot conveys these two points by showing a montage of people getting bad driver's license photos. The lesson, as explained by the voiceover: if you pay more for a used car than you should, you'll look even more ridiculous than your license photo.

The introductory spot for Republic Industries' AutoNation USA, dubbed "Bill of rights," outlines a customer's rights when buying a used car at the chain. These rights include a choice of up to 1,000 vehicles per lot, no-haggle pricing and no salesman confrontations.

'EXERCISE YOUR RIGHTS'

The spot, from Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston, welcomes "citizens to AutoNation USA," urges them to "exercise your rights" and carries the tagline, "The better way to buy a used car."

"The auto industry needs a lot of enhancement-better value, better procedures and better treatment [of] the customers," says Thomas Gruber, senior VP-chief marketing officer for Republic.

Driver's Mart Worldwide is going with a tagline similar to its competitors: "A nearly new car. A brand new experience." New creative, from Warwick Baker O'Neill, New York, is due this summer, says Driver's Mart President Tom Eggleston.

Warwick, which won the account last May, is creating an integrated campaign that will include TV, radio, newspaper and outdoor, says Jane Richtsmeier, the retailer's director of marketing.

BUYING CARS IS FUN

The advertising will emphasize the company's vehicle variety, no-pressure sales atmosphere, car inspections, warranty and peace-of-mind vehicle exchange, she says.

"The ads will show that driving a car can be just as fun as buying one and that we are dedicated to the people who buy them," Ms. Richtsmeier says.

Not all entrants in this industry are using a centralized ad strategy.

United Auto Group currently uses different ad agencies for its used- and new-car advertising and doesn't have a unified ad message. To best meet the needs of each dealership's local selling areas, general managers of each operation set their own ad, direct mail and promotion budgets and also select agencies.

Even though a major selling point of these superstores is that their cars cost less than new vehicles, observers say price-centered campaigns won't work.

Mr. Verdi says campaigns that centered on price would be "absolutely wrong" for CarMax because "that's what every car dealer, especially every used-car dealer, does, and we have to get across the message that CarMax doesn't do business like everyone else."

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