But after years of rising ad budgets, many automakers are looking for ways to reach consumers more efficiently. None of the five biggest spenders plans to give up traditional mass media.
"We said no to a couple of major sports opportunities," says David Pelliccioni, VP-marketing for Toyota Motor Sales USA's Toyota Division. He was promoted to his post-a newly created position-from corporate marketing manager earlier this year.
Toyota's 1998 ad budget will rise just slightly over last year's.
To get more bang for its marketing buck, the carmaker combined its "Everyday" brand ads with product ads last fall.
Mr. Pelliccioni is directing Toyota to build its relationship marketing program including an evolutionary direct-mail program stemming from last fall's launch of its new Sienna minivan.
General Motors Corp., hit hard financially by labor strikes that shut down production this summer, significantly cut ad spending during the seven-week walkouts after a smaller ad budget cut earlier in the year. It's now reviewing nearly every way it does business.
"We're clearly going to get the focus of our brands down to the dealer level," says Philip Guarascio, VP-general manager, marketing and advertising, North American Operations. GM is consolidating its five national marketing and sales divisions at headquarters and pushing brand management into its reorganized field offices.
Mr. Guarascio comes from an agency background as senior VP-director of media management at what was then Benton & Bowles. He is leading the effort for GM, the nation's No. 1 advertiser last year, to create a new program to better manage its customers, improve its owner satisfaction and keep them loyal.
Mr. Guarascio says there's a database element and modeling of customer behavior to help GM predict a customer's next purchase.
Ford Motor Co.'s 1999 ad budgets will be a little stronger than 1998's, says Robert Rewey, group VP-marketing and sales, Ford Automotive Operations. But, he added, "a lot of that has to do with spending on incentives."
Under Mr. Rewey's leadership, Ford for the first time this summer ran national ads for service specials at its dealers to better compete with non-dealer repair chains. Ford plans similar promotions in the coming months.
The marketer in July started rolling out its consolidated multi-brand dealerships, dubbed Ford Retail Networks. The four agencies handling the Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Jaguar and Mazda brands formed a coalition for ads in the five markets where Ford has bought dealerships. Ford is negotiating with dealers in several other markets to expand the program.
Chrysler Corp. continues to use more non-traditional media to reach prospects and retain owners, including event sponsorships and owner gatherings. The carmaker just extended for two years its fall 1996 contract with Mall of America, Bloomington, Minn., for its Great Cars Great Trucks store, says A.C. "Bud" Liebler, VP-marketing at Chrysler.
"There's so many more sophisticated ways to reach customers these days," he says, adding that Chrysler won't abandon mass media.
He says he believes Chrysler's partnering with its dealer body to run national ads regionally with the help of matching funds from the carmaker extends brand messages better than competitors.
DATABASE AT HONDA
American Honda Motor Co. is updating its database of owners for improved customer retention, says Eric Conn, senior manager, national advertising overseeing Honda and Acura.
"Our database is the center post of our relationship marketing," Mr. Conn says. "We call it the Honda garage."