Sell Your Shop With Attention-Grabbing Ads

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Advertising. Everyone is subject to it. I read somewhere that the average American is pummeled by thousands of advertising messages a day. From sunrise to sunset our sensory inputs are besieged by messages suggesting or asking us to buy cars, insurance, vegetables, beer, computers, TVs, even motorcycles. We hear so many ads during the course of the day that we tend to shut them out.

Think of an ad or commercial that you saw or heard today that sticks in your mind. If you're like me, it's difficult to think of one. Why is that? Is it an issue of too many, or is it more an issue of how they're crafted? Perhaps it's what they're selling? Maybe it's a combination of all three elements.

I recently helped judge the 2009 Top 100 Dealer competition. This year I was one of the judges who weighed in on the various TV and radio commercial submissions. There were few that struck me as memorable or compelling. (You're now probably asking yourself, "How is Vaughan qualified to pass judgment on commercials?" The answer is 30 years of experience working with some of the best ad agencies in the United States to put together advertising programs for Polaris, Kawasaki, Kia and Triumph as well as reviewing dealer ads submitted for co-op reimbursement at all those companies. While not every campaign or ad I was involved with was successful, I think we had more successes than failures.)


There are a lot of aspects to advertising. They include media, timing, the message, visuals and possibly most important in this day and age, creativity. It's creativity that we're going to talk about. As your budgets squeeze down, creativity becomes an increasingly important aspect of your advertising. When times are fat, you can offset creativity somewhat by sheer repetition. A small dealer, though, has to rely on creativity in order to get his message heard among all the babble passing through our lines of mass communication.

Most dealer advertising that I've seen, and this is true for most of the OEMs, is pretty generic. You could take one dealer's (or OEM's) ad or commercial and insert another dealer's (or OEM's) name and copy into it, and it wouldn't make much difference. It would be virtually impossible to tell which company created the original.

Finding a creative hook — something unique and compelling that you can make your own — is difficult, and typically isn't something that "just pops up." There are lots of fundamentally good ideas, but they usually don't spring to life full-blown. They need to be nurtured and finely honed to become truly great advertising concepts. Usually they're the result of an exchange of ideas between highly creative people (the agency), and a well grounded, knowledgeable client (you) who is willing to consider off-the-wall ideas and still able to keep everyone aware of the realities of the business, the audience and the budget.

The creative is the framework that contains the message you need to deliver to your target audience. As a result it needs to be flexible — it must properly deliver messages about product, an event, service, sale, or whatever it is you want to communicate, and ideally it must work with a variety of mediums. The creative must be capable of breaking through the media clutter and maintain the target's (your customer's) interest throughout the message. The creative must leave your target with a good feeling about you, even if your specific message doesn't interest the target at the time.


I can think of a few campaigns that had outstanding creative frames; Isuzu's Joe Isuzu, Southern California's Cal Worthington and his dog Spot. Then there's Kawasaki's "Let the Good Times Roll." It's a tagline Kawasaki has been using since 1973, and though the company has tried to walk away from it several times over the years, dealers, consumers and common sense keep bringing it back — because it works. Motorcycling, ATVing, and Jet Skiing are Good Times activities, and that's the Kawasaki promise if you buy one of its vehicles.

Finding the right framework, whether it be a spokesperson, a jingle, or a tagline, isn't easy, but the rewards can be great. It can separate you from everyone else out there trying to sell something, and in the end pay for itself many times over.

Mike Vaughan is the former publisher of Dealernews. You can reach him at or via