Carfax Ads Provide Lowdown on Used Cars

Lowe gives used cars the third degree in its first campaign for Carfax, a company that provides vehicle-history reports.

An estimated $20 million campaign that breaks today promises consumers “the truth about used cars.” Humorous scenes assert that Carfax can answer questions the cars themselves cannot.

Three 60-second spots show the silent hunks of metal appearing before frustrated human interviewers. In one execution, a mother and father sit in their living room across from their daughter and a potential automotive suitor. “We want to make sure you’re right for our daughter,” the father tells a revamped sports coupe with decals and a spoiler. “Are you safe? Are you reliable?”

Another commercial features a doctor taking notes on his clipboard as he asks his patient, “Any stalling, sputtering, that kind of thing?” In the third, potential buyers watch through a one-way window as detectives attempt to pry information from a sedan. (“Are you a lemon? You smell like a lemon,” one detective accuses.)

“These are very hardworking spots. They do a great deal to describe both people’s frustration [with buying used cars] and [Carfax’s] service,” said Eddie Van Bloem, evp, group head copywriter at the New York shop. “It’s not just 20 seconds of entertainment and then we slap Carfax on the end.”

Each ad ends with the line, “Cars don’t talk. That’s why there’s Carfax.” A voiceover explains that, given a vehicle identification number, Carfax provides information about the auto’s previous transactions, accidents, claims and odometer readings.

Carfax’s closest competitor is the Kelly Blue Book, which offers data on market value and recorded problems with a make or model.

The creative team tried to pick a car that fit each spot’s personality. A souped-up Honda Prelude was chosen as the “boyfriend” car because it was seen as inappropriate but not ridiculous. A family vehicle was picked for the doctor ad to capture the personality of “a middle-aged guy that would go to the doctor for some kind of proctology exam,” Van Bloem said.

Lowe won the account in January following a review that included incumbent and Interpublic Group sister shop The Martin Agency in Richmond, Va.

Martin also used humor in its work for the company. In one ad that broke in April 2000, a dog drove a truck into a pond after getting distracted by ducks. The spots featured the line, “People do strange things to cars.”

“Consumers got lost in the humor a little bit,” said Scott Fredricks, vp of marketing for Carfax, of Martin’s ads. While viewers remembered the jokes, some could not recall what the commercials were selling, he said.

The new executions are meant to address the top three concerns expressed by used-car buyers: accident history, major repairs and odometer fraud, Fredricks said.

The work will run on ESPN Baseball, the National Hockey League Stanley Cup Playoffs and other cable networks, said a Lowe representative. Three radio spots, which break this week, use a similar theme.