"Television is still the best mass medium to help create a brand image-in this case, strong top-of-mind awareness and breaking through consumers' cynicism about buying a used car," says Ellis Verdi, president of DeVito/Verdi, New York, the agency for Circuit City Stores' CarMax.
"We know from research that our customer base is one of the highest television viewing audiences," says W. Steele Gudal, chief operating officer of J.D. Byrider Systems, which targets lower-end sales. "Our target audience is more likely to be sitting at home Friday night watching 'Rocky V' on TNT than going out for an evening's entertainment."
Using TV certainly is appropriate considering where the superstores are in their development, notes Greg Carson, director of marketing at consultancy Moore Response Marketing Services/Automotive Division.
"The used-car and new-car superstores are really in the infancy of their life cycle and their major requirements are to get locations open, get the message out that they are new and different, and to estalbish an image and an identity," says Mr. Carson. "Right now, they're using a classic brand management/brand image strategy that is aimed at a mass audience through mass-media type advertising."
Along those lines, the media schedule for Ugly Duckling Corp.'s account, estimated at $5 million and running in Spanish-and English-language outlets, calls for TV spots to air for two weeks, followed by two weeks of local radio commercials. TV spots from Dieste & Partners, Dallas, feature a 3-D animated yellow duck and are themed "It took a duck to change the business."
"Other media certainly have their place, but we want to create the image of Ugly Duckling as the place to come to for a good, used car," says Warren Harmel, managing partner of Dieste & Partners. "The best way to do that, and reach our target audience, is through television."
FRANCHISEES BUY MEDIA
At J.D. Byrider, ads are created by Pearson Crahan Fletcher England, Indianapolis, but franchisees are responsible for buying media.
To build local-media clout, dealers in markets where the retailer is established have pooled media expenditures, Mr. Gudal says. In Indianapolis, for example, one group is spending $40,000 per month on network affiliate time, he says.
"What we tell franchisees is that they can expect to spend about $200 per car sold per month on advertising," says Mr. Gudal. "So if a dealer is moving 20 cars, he would be spending $4,000 per month in media time."
Still, for all the accolades about TV and other traditional media, superstores are keeping watch on competitors' Internet efforts.
Auto-By-Tel operates an online car-buying and leasing program that links buyers and dealers for new and used cars.
Although Auto-by-Tel uses conventional media, such as print ads in Forbes and Fortune and TV during the Super Bowl, it places great faith in cyberspace. Banner ads hotlinking viewers back to Auto-By-Tel's Web site (http://www.autobytel.com) appear in Geocities and other online automobile computer pricing services, such as Edmund's Automobile Buyer's Guides.
"We plan to spend more than $10 million in advertising this year," says Michael Lowell, chief operating officer, Auto-By-Tel. "Since our target really is the Internet user, it makes sense to advertise on the 'Net .*.*. but other media also are needed to reach people who may not have run into our banners on the Web."
Once more retailers establish a brand image with consumers, Moore's Mr. Carson predicts car retailers will gradually adopt many of the relationship marketing strategies now in vogue.
"The goal overall is to create an ongoing dialog with the consumer," he says. "I can see in the not-too-distant future these retailers moving more into direct