Penske Auto Centers powers ads up to build awareness

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Penske Auto Centers wants to create a brand awareness worthy of its founder, racing legend Roger Penske.

Consisting of car service sites previously owned by Kmart Corp., the 800-unit chain has operated quietly since it was created three years ago. But in mid-January, Penske will kick off a national network and cable TV campaign.

"We're really going to blast off and launch it," said Bill McStay, who joined the marketer several weeks ago in the new post of senior VP-marketing and communications.

The new ads from Campbell Mithun Esty, Minneapolis, will be tied to Mr. Penske.

Mr. Penske's "values transcend everything he does," Mr. McStay explained. "You can trust Roger."

He hinted that Mr. Penske may appear in the ads.

The existing tag, "Proven performance at every turn," will likely be axed because it's too vague, Mr. McStay said. Under consideration is "Penske Auto Centers. The quality carcare system."


The media buy includes "hefty doses of national TV and network cable to build brand awareness," plus spot TV and local radio for a more retail-driven message, Mr. McStay said.

He declined to reveal the budget, saying it hasn't yet been finalized.

The marketer spent $7.3 million in the first half of 1997, but a mere $1.4 million in measured media during the first eight months of 1998, according to Competitive Media Reporting.


"That's a drop in the bucket," said Fred Marx, partner and founder of Marx Layne & Co., a retail consultancy and public relations company, of Penske's ad spending.

Penske's competitors spend considerably more on advertising. Midas, with nearly 1,900 U.S. locations, spends $25 million annually.

But Penske also competes against car dealers, and General Motors Corp.'s Service Parts Operations spends $20 million annually nationally for its Goodwrench Service Plus, available at over 2,000 GM dealers.

Jim Wheat, Penske's president-CEO, recently told Crain's Detroit Business the chain's per-store sales were less than $500,000 and lower than many competitors'. But he said the chain is in for a turnaround.

On its side is the fact that, according to J.D. Power & Associates, about 46% of car owners defect to non-dealer service providers once vehicle warranties expire.

Copyright November 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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