THE MARKETING 100: AUTONATION USA: TOM GRUBER

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Little more than a year ago, Tom Gruber showed Republic Industries shareholders his marketing plan for what was then a planned auto-retailing brand: AutoNation USA.

Playing off a patriotic "Bill of rights" theme, a spec ad told of consumer rights in buying a used car. Yellow directional signage would steer patrons to specific areas within the company's 1,000-car lots. Company signage would resemble interstate-highway signs, with red, white and blue shields atop bright green rectangles.

"Millions of free advertising impressions are delivered to our customers and potential customers every day of the year, all courtesy of the federal highway system," Mr. Gruber, senior VP-chief marketing officer of parent Republic, mused at the time.

Working with Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston,

AutoNation last year launched its first TV campaign in the select markets where the company has its nine stores, including cities in Florida, Texas, Arizona, Michigan, Nevada and California. National network TV ads should break within three years, Mr. Gruber says.

AutoNation is more than a name. It represents a "passport" for customers, who within the company are called "citizens," says Mr. Gruber.

"The name is a metaphor for everything that we do," he says. "We have a whole nation of citizens belonging to AutoNation USA."

Though Mr. Gruber would characterize current budgets only as "adequate," one day, he says, "they may be overwhelming."

Similarities abound between the Blockbuster torn ticket and "Wow! What a difference," slogan, the "Two all-beef patties. . ." catch phrase for the McDonald's Corp.'s Big Mac, and the AutoNation name, logo and slogan, "The better way to buy a car." Not only do they feature clean, simple logos, highly visible and colorful signage and an image relevant to the industry, but Mr. Gruber worked on each effort.

The goal now is to steer AutoNation to the top spot in the $365 billion used-car industry.

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