Agencies Shore Up Relationships As Car Dealers Increase Spending

By Tanya Gazdik

DETROIT — Automotive dealers are spending an increasing amount on advertising, and officials at several advertising agencies said they are responding by trying to build better relationships with dealers.

Franchised dealers spent more than $5 billion on advertising in 1996, about 10 percent more than the previous year, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association’s Industry Analysis division.

In some cases, dealers have started outspending their respective automaker on advertising, said Dick Johnson, president of BBDO in Southfield, Mich., which handles both national and dealer advertising for Chrysler Corp.’s Dodge division.

The agency continues to put an emphasis on having a nonadversarial relationship with the dealer network, but Johnson acknowledged that such non-combativeness is rare in the automotive arena.

Friction between dealers and agencies occurs for a couple of different reasons, he said. In some cases, dealers try to dictate which ads must run. Other times, the factory and its agency puts together commercials and forces dealers to take them if they want matching funds.

BBDO attempts to counter this attitude by trying to be an ‘advisor’ to the dealers, rather than just an ‘order taker,’ Johnson said. The agency meets regularly with dealer groups, hosting educational forums on marketing strategies and explaining the rationale behind its product-driven spots.

Campbell-Ewald Advertising, Warren, Mich., which handles national advertising for General Motors’ Chevrolet division, has undertaken several programs to facilitate communications with dealers.

The most recent example is a Chevrolet Dealer Internet Chat, coordinated by CEA, in which about 40 dealers participated in an on-line discussion.

‘We detailed several pioneering projects we’re developing with Chevrolet to use the Internet, CD-ROMs and interactive kiosks,” said David C. Scott, senior vice president and Chevrolet car account director at CEA’s sister company, C-E Communications in Warren.

As part of its relationship with Chevrolet, CEA has designed a Web page for each of Chevrolet’s 4,200 dealers as a part of the Chevrolet Web site. CEA also has sent videos to dealers on marketing services available to them.

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