Automakers step up used-vehicle ads

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An increasing number of luxury vehicles are coming off-lease in the wake of the hot sales during the past few years, prompting ad pitches for certified used cars and trucks.

The efforts, from Mercedes-Benz USA, BMW North America and Nissan North America's Infiniti division, support manufacturer-backed, certified programs with warranties similar to those that come with new cars.

Mercedes and BMW are aiming their pre-owned car ad campaigns at African-Americans. Mercedes quietly hired Omnicom Group's Footsteps, New York, formed in January, as its first diversity agency, and that shop created 60-and 30-second radio commercials for Mercedes' certified pre-owned program, dubbed Starmark. Ella Fitzgerald sings "Our Love Is Here to Stay" in the spots, set for select markets including Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington. Ads breaking this month in magazines such as Black Enterprise will carry the headline "What endures? Nothing endures like a Mercedes-Benz."

BMW's all-print push will start this quarter or next, from its new diversity agency Washington Daniel Advertising, Chicago, hired in July.

POINT OF ENTRY

"African-Americans like to trade up to luxury as fast as possible, and one point of entry is used vehicles," said Charles Wimbley, chairman of Wimbley Group, a Rolling Meadows, Ill.-based African-American shop. African-Americans' buying power will be $500 billion at the end of the year, Mr. Wimbly said. African-Americans with annual household incomes of $35,000 or more control more than 60% of that, and their mean incomes are roughly $75,000 -- well able to afford luxury vehicles.

HISTORY LESSON

Scott Keogh, brand strategy manager at Mercedes, said the overall ad theme is "Before you buy a used vehicle, be sure you know its history."

According to Competitive Media Reporting, Mercedes spent $64,000 in measured media for Starmark in 1999. Mr. Keogh said the brand will increase its spending 10% this year, although he declined to give specific figures.

Mercedes also breaks a 30-minute infomercial for Starmark tonight on national cable TV from Rapp Collins, New York, its relationship marketing shop, with a media flight of three weeks. The

infomercial will be preceded by a 30-second spot for Starmark; a national radio spot and magazine ad from Merkley Newman Harty, New York, will support. All the spots were filmed before the Screen Actors Guild strike.

BMW dealers also have embraced the pre-owned program because it helps them expand their buyer prospecting to consumers who couldn't afford new luxury cars. Bill Bates, pre-owned marketing manager at BMW, said the brand sold 28,253 certified pre-owned cars in 1999, adding, "We're going to sell a ton more than last year." The brand's dealers already have sold 23,008 during the first half.

Publicis in New York handled BMW's first national, certified-used campaign for the mass market in newspapers late last year. That has since been expanded to magazines.

"We needed to advertise to build awareness because our competitors were advertising," said Mr. Bates.

EDUCATING CONSUMERS

Consumers seem to need educating about the certified programs, which blossomed in the later half of the 1990s. Consultant J.D. Power & Associates surveyed 48,000 used-car buyers in November and found 53% of them weren't aware of certified programs.

BMW spent $5 million on pre-owned print ads in measured media last year, according to CMR. But Mr. Bates said the media buy is augmented by regional dealer ad groups and individual dealers, backed with BMW co-op funds.

Lexus also spent $5 million last year on its certified program, according to CMR. But regional dealer ad groups for Toyota Motor Sales USA's luxury arm also spend about that amount on media for the program annually.

LEXUS BOOSTS SPENDING

For several years Lexus' national media spending on the program has been rising 8% to 12% annually, said Marvin Ingram, national certified pre-owned manager at the division, adding that about 60% of Lexus pre-owned vehicles get certified.

Lexus will advertise a lease deal through September for a certified 1997 ES 300 sports sedans on national cable TV, regional radio, in newspapers and via the Internet. Team One, El Segundo, Calif., handles.

Nissan North America's Infiniti Division, meanwhile, next month will launch its first ad campaign for certified used cars since the first quarter of 1998. TBWA/Chiat/Day, Playa del Rey, is creating the all-print effort.

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