AUTOMOTIVE: NET TV PRICES PUSHING CARS TO TRY NEW AD VENUES

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New-vehicle sales appear headed toward a record, but that doesn't mean auto marketers are in a free-spending mood.

After eight months, vehicle sales were on a pace to total 16.8 million for 1999, which would eclipse the past record of 16 million set in 1986.

While automakers have undertaken a number of aggressive campaigns this year, they are pushing hard to control costs. New media, sponsorships and customer-contact events are likely to draw more marketing dollars in the coming year.

Steep prices for the network TV upfront buys are one motivating factor.

"I am bothered by constantly seeing prices going up and clutter going up, and audience going down and the quality of the audience going down," says A.C "Bud" Liebler, DaimlerChrysler VP-marketing.

Mr. Liebler says Chrysler's ad budget will probably will increase for 2000 because of a busy schedule of new-product launches, including the PT Cruiser and new minivans.

But he says the automaker finds suchm marketing efforts as owner-loyalty events like "Camp Jeep" and "Chrysler Test Track" attractive.

Philip Guarascio, VP-advertising and corporate marketing for General Motors Corp., says integration of marketing efforts needs to become more sophisticated.

It goes beyond consistency of message to include well-synchronized timing and continual reinforcement of a "preferential consumer experience," he says. But the ability to orchestrate diverse elements is still evolving, Mr. Guarascio says.

"Who manages the overall process?" he asks. "I'm hoping it's going to come from our agencies. I expect a lot more from our agency partners."

Mr. Guarascio, who oversaw the reorganization of General Motors' local advertising to move power from dealer groups to regional offices, says that criticism of the move is premature.

He said the new organization will use local media more effectively through combined buying operations.

"We turned the switch on April 1 -- we're six months into this," he says. "Come back and talk to me at the end of the year."

Toyota Motor Sales USA will spend marginally more next year than this year, according to Steven Sturm, VP-marketing. But it's likely to send the money in new directions, largely because of its Genesis Group effort to reach young adults.

The group recently launched its first campaign for three youth-oriented models -- the new Echo subcompact, the redesigned Celica sports coupe and the MR2 Spyder roadster. The initiative is Toyota's way to escape the "my parents' car" trap that might turn off the children of its core baby-boomer buyers. Still,that will require more buys in new media and youth-oriented cable, Mr. Sturm muses.

"Putting ourselves in 'Fraser' with a youth product is not going to do what we want to do," he says.

Toyota will continue event sponsorship such as the youth-oriented Gravity Games and a multimedia music tour of major U.S. cities with Time Warner.

American Honda Motor Co. is also listening more closely to pitches involving Internet, database and customer-relationship marketing, says Eric Conn, assistant VP-national advertising.

"Those three new media are beginning to encroach on the more traditional media," he said.

One compelling reason to look at new media is cost, Mr. Conn says. Inflation in traditional media "far outstrips any other inflation," he says.

Also, he notes Honda isn't impressed with the level of ideas coming out of traditional media companies.

Honda will put major emphasis on giving the Acura division a more distinct identity.

"We need to separate Honda and Acura, to better communicate where we want the Acura brand to go," Mr. Conn says. "That's probably our biggest project."

Yukio Kitahora, senior VP-sales and marketing, Nissan North America, says the new Xterra sport-utility vehicle and revamped Infiniti models have improved the company's fortunes.

Nissan had suffered in part because of heavy use of incentives. Internally, Nissan will explore new ways to use the Internet, especially to coordinate its e-commerce efforts.

Overall, the company, which has said it will seek to hit 1 million units in combined Nissan and Infiniti sales, will "be aggressive in communicating to our customers," Mr. Kitahora says.

Robert Rewey, group VP-marketing, sales and service, pushed Ford Motor Co. to pursue efficiencies and new advertising ideas in the past year -- among them live advertising for the new Focus subcompact.

Other innovative marketing ideas included the Internet launch of the new Sable last spring, sponsoring the Experimental Aviation Association and establishing

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