Thou Shalt Stop Yelling

And Other Commandments for Local Auto Retailers

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Note #1: I will attempt to write this without any ellipses. It is my biggest crutch.

Note #2: Last week's winner of the best Flash games contest (and a $25 gift card to either or Red Lobster) goes to Alexandra Berks. She also has an enjoyable blog, Agency Tart.

Doug Zanger Doug Zanger
When I left Entercom in February, a colleague said, "Boy, I bet you're glad you don't have to do any more car commercials." I thought there was some truth to that until I started getting phone calls from car dealers and agencies working with car dealers in Portland. Since I have a pretty decent track record (and some awards) in the business, it was inevitable and, to be honest, kind of flattering that they would call on me. Like any client, some car dealerships are really good and some are the clich├ęs that we agency guys like to poke fun at. Fact is, the car business is the most robust and active local category I work on.

Luck smiled upon me after that day: I am currently working with car dealers, agencies and people I really like. As an added bonus, we're actually doing some interesting work!

Sadly, there are plenty of dealers who still pollute every possible breath of air with that used-car smell. For those egregious offenders, I propose some local-car-advertising commandments. I'll start with five-ish and invite you to contribute your suggestions to complete the list.

(Since I am the Small Agency Diary (SAD) resident game-show host, there will, once again, be a prize up for grabs for the best entry. This time, I think we'll go with a $25 gift card to Auto Zone or Red Lobster.)
  • 1) Thou Shalt Stop Yelling
    This isn't an air raid. The world won't come screeching to a halt because the factory authorized an incentive. We know you have to sell cars, but just talk with us about it for goodness sake. Rick Dalbey, creative director at Livengood/Nowack, in Portland, put it best when he said this about auto dealer radio ads: "Think about someone sitting next to you in the car. If they started yelling at you, you would tell them to shut up, wouldn't you?" Good point.

  • 2) Thou Shalt Stop Using Some Kind of Mascot
    OK, Trunk Monkey from R-west in Portland for Suburban Auto Group doesn't count. That campaign was just flat-out funny. What I'm talking about is an untrained goat, Pickles the family kitty or some college intern dressed as a lobster, all designed to sell cars. Worse yet is animated clip art or a creepy, superimposed mouth on an animal. Unless it's a dog with opposable thumbs that can actually drive the car, argue with the cop after being pulled over for going 12 miles an hour on the freeway and fight the ticket in court, please stay away from it.

  • 3) Thou Shalt Stay Away from Humor and Your Own Commercials (Unless You Can Pull it Off)
    You might fancy yourself funny. Your inner haberdasher may think you're a riot. That joke about the penguin and the bale of hay always kills at the local watering hole, but we prefer you keep it to yourself. You may also be great in front of a crowd after a few samples of Novortsky Prospekt's finest, but a fair number of people freeze up like Charlie Brown in a spelling bee when the little red light on the camera blazes up.

  • 4) Thou Shalt Stay Away From 40-Second Disclaimers
    I know, you have to use them. But can't we just keep asking the attorneys general in our states to cut us all some slack and allow you to put all of that crap somewhere other than a radio spot? You hate it. We hate it. If I want to hear someone talk that fast, I can dial up my former intern, my cousin Abby or go to Aqueduct and listen to the call of the fifth race.

  • 5) Thou Shalt Be Proud of Customer Service
    If you've won an award, cool. Tell us why you won. Those things aren't easy to win and they shouldn't be bungled in with the rest of your message. Take pride in the achievement and make that the main point of your message if this is the route you choose. Anyone can find the car they want, but finding honest, good service is another issue. Parker Johnstone, CART driver and owner of a Honda dealership in Wilsonville, Ore., put it best when he once explained to a group of us: "We're in the service business. We just happen to sell cars." Johnstone's shop backs up its claim every time I bring my (paid-for) '92 Accord in for service. It's not "just about the deal," fellas. We're human. We like to be treated well.

  • 5.5) Thou Shalt Give Us a Shot
    Most of us like cars. Most of us are pretty good at advertising and marketing. Let us help you, the dealer, come up with something mind-blowing. There's some remarkable work out there. ( RPA's work for Honda Element in L.A. is a personal favorite.) It can be done just as well locally if you let us try for you. Ask yourself if what you're doing is working. If it's not, give us a call or read "Purple Cow" as fast as possible.

  • 5.75) Thou Shalt Turn Off the Grill
    A friggin' hot dog never sold a car. Neither did popcorn nor balloon animals. Clowns are creepy. A petting zoo may interest me as long as the local health department clears it and there is an ample amount of hand sanitizer for everyone.
Quick Hits

What are your "commandments" for local auto dealers?

Have you seen or heard any good local car ads? If so, please tell us what they are.

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Parker Johnstone's Wilsonville Honda

Suburban Auto Group


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