AutoNation Pioneers Use of Pick-N-Click for Instant Ads

Advertising, especially local and dealer advertising, is more complex and sophisticated than ever. Media choices have grown.

Advertising, especially local and dealer advertising, is more complex and sophisticated than ever.

Media choices have grown. Creativity is now medium driven, specialized, fast tracked for rapid response and uses metrics for results. Dealers are confronted with increased costs and diminishing advertising budgets. What's an auto retailer to do?

In an interview at company headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, FL, I ask Mike Jackson, president and CEO of AutoNation Inc. how his firm handles advertising for more than its 257 stores. “It must be a logistical nightmare,” I say.

“That's the first time I've ever been asked that question in an interview,“ says Jackson. “The short answer: We computerized everything with Zimmerman, our advertising agency. I'll set up a meeting so you get everything from the source.“

About a month later, I spent a day with the Zimmerman advertising executives and Mike Maroone, AutoNation's, president and chief operating officer, who showed me something that stands to dramatically change the way dealer ads are created: Pick-n-Click.

My first advertising job was in New York City for FW Woolworth with its hundreds of stores in cities across America. Newspapers were the exclusive medium. Over the years, I've been on many retail accounts in a mixed bag of industries from discounters to shoes to supermarkets.

But never have I witnessed seen anything like the AutoNation-Zimmerman operation.

Fact: The majority of ad agencies don't just dislike, they hate retail accounts - especially car dealerships.

Why? Car dealers are hard to deal with. They're results-oriented, want price and item ads not institutional puffs, question production pricing, want everything yesterday and want measurable, quantifiable results. Does that seem reasonable to you? If so, read on.

About 10 years ago, AutoNation retained Zimmerman Advertising, the retail advertising specialist of Omnicom Group.

“Zimmerman is and retail focused and driven,“ the founder and president of the agency, Jordan Zimmerman tells me. “If it does not sell, it's not good advertising.“

Technology was becoming a growing force in advertising when Zimmerman took the AutoNation account.

Technology replaced magic markers for rough layouts. Type is now set instantly. Paste-ups are electronic. Color separations became a breeze. And that's just print ads.

Digital video changed the way television commercials are shot, edited and processed. Same for radio. Advertising has been turned upside down.

Zimmerman was a leading ad-tech force for AutoNation. With time zone, geographic, climate and creative challenges confronting them, Zimmerman created a library of ad themes, sizes and style formats for all media. That includes a computerized collection of events, brand logos, car photos and celebrity spokespersons.

It took almost three years for Zimmerman to developing the Pick-n-Click ad agency program for AutoNation and, with its approval, has modified it for any auto dealer in the country.

Creating a Dealer Ad in Minutes

Creating, much less producing an ad is usually time consuming, with lots of meetings and many changes. The new program is amazingly simple.

All a store manager has to do is sit at his computer, click to open his “account“ which holds key information about his store, brands, location, hours, legal stuff, media closing dates and other information.

After selecting the appropriate medium, that store's approved format example appears. Let's assume it's a print ad. Clicking on specific sections or elements on the format allows for changing vehicles to be advertised, prices and other variable data.

Within minutes, the ad is finished and ready to be sent to the newspaper or magazine.

Broadcast commercials, long the expensive bane of dealer advertisers, are created utilizing another special computer screen that also allows for additions, deletions, new graphics and music. The revised spots are ready for electronic shipment to the approved list of stations in about five minutes.

In both examples, the stores advertising budget reflects the charge for the media, so it's always up-to-date.

I saw demonstrations of how the system works for print ads, television and radio commercials, Internet advertising, direct mailings and points of sale - everything a dealer needs for an integrated, coordinated ad and campaign.

Now You Can Do It, Too

I saw Pick-n-Click ad examples for AutoNation and car dealers in general.

The latter does exactly what the AutoNation program does - allows a dealer to create an ad in any format within minutes - but has its own work pages and creative inventories.

There is a completely different creative set consisting of 150 different creative campaigns, ad inventories and formats.

That includes thousands of variations of headlines, visuals, offers, special events, themes for new and used cars, different voiceovers, jingles, approved manufacturers film, video and custom photos.

Click-n-Pick takes about three weeks to set up and install for a dealer. Training takes a couple of hours. A monthly service fee ranges from $799 to $2,499.

Maroone says the potential savings to AutoNation could be $2 million to $3 million annually after the national roll-out is completed sometime this year.

“But it's not just about efficiency,“ he says. “It's about improved communications and better utilization of a manger's time. We don't need managers playing like they're advertising artists and copy writers.”

Before adopting Pick-n-Click, AutoNation had hired a specialized research firm to evaluate its advertising.

“That included what colors we use, what size ads are used, how big the headlines are, what offers work best, where the phone number should be placed and the linkage or lack of linkage to a manufacturer's program,“ says Maroone. “We took all this information and put it into Pick-n-Click.“

To determine if the advertising is working, AutoNation stores track and measure every contact with the prospective buyer - from showroom visitors to phone calls to web site visits. And it's done every day.

TAGS: Dealers Retail
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