The Bentley Brooklands finished first among the read-most campaigns of 50 words or more. But some more affordable marques weren't far behind. (chart) CAR AD READERSHIP KEEPS DETROIT ROLLIN'

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Detroit automakers will likely hold on to their recent gains and may even take another small bite out of import nameplates this year, based on a new study of magazine reader reaction to auto ads.

"There's a real commitment among people who say they intend to buy domestic brands," said Philip Sawyer, analyst for the Starch Automotive Advertising Study.

As recently as two years, the commitment of those domestic intenders was "kind of flabby," Mr. Sawyer said, comparing Big 3 automaker customers to someone who went to a dance and looked over everyone else's date.

"U.S. makers made some nice inroads in 1993, and they seem to be really solidifying their hold," Mr. Sawyer said.

The survey also indicates continued growth in auto sales in 1994, but at a slower rate of growth than last year, Mr. Sawyer said.

The interpretation of survey results is based on other studies that indicate that consumers pay increased attention to print ads when they prepare to buy a new car or truck, Mr. Sawyer said.

The Starch survey is building a reputation as a predicter of auto buying behavior. In its study published a year ago, Starch affirmed growing interest in all auto ads and noted that the upswing was especially true for domestic brands.

When 1993 sales were tallied, the overall industry was up 8% to 13.9 million cars and light trucks, and Detroit makers had picked up 1.7 points of market share, to 73.9%, according to trade publication Automotive News.

Published by the Mamaroneck, N.Y.-based Starch division of Roper Starch Worldwide, the study was based on 33,326 personal interviews with magazine readers who had been exposed in total to 1,371 ads from 54 publications. The in-home and in-office interviews were conducted during the 1993 model year.

Magazine subscribers were asked to identify auto ads they recalled seeing, and, separately, ads where they read at least half the copy.

Among readers who said they planned to buy a domestic auto, 19% read most of an average domestic car ad and 15% read most of an average import car ad. Domestic car ads have picked up ground relative to import competitors every year since 1990, when import ads were read by 13% and domestic ads by only 12% of consumers who said they intended to buy a domestic vehicle.

In the group of magazine readers who said they intended to buy an import, 17% read most of the average import car ad, up one percentage point from 1992, and 13% read most of the average domestic car ad, the same as the year before.

The ad campaign that scored highest among magazine readers who said they intend to buy a new vehicle in the next year was for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars' Bentley brand, created by Mullen Advertising, Wenham, Mass. Mr. Sawyer said that reflected fascination with "dream cars."

In the rankings, the Bentley effort was followed by campaigns for more mainstream vehicles. No. 2 was a Mazda MX-6 campaign by Mazda Motor of America agency Foote, Cone & Belding, Santa Ana, Calif.; placing third was a Chevrolet Lumina sedan campaign by Lintas Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., agency for General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet division; and No. 4 was a Chrysler LeBaron campaign by Bozell, Southfield, for Chrysler Corp.'s Chrysler/Plymouth.

Mr. Sawyer said many ads scored poorly because copy was presented in a hard-to-read fashion, or because the ad didn't show the profile of the car.

"Another big problem with car ads is that many of them fail to discuss how a car's features will benefit the consumer," said Mr. Sawyer. That was an especially important factor for women magazine readers, he said.

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