Shlock new-car advertising is bad for America's premier retail industry. False and misleading newspaper advertising by some dealers gives a black eye to the whole industry.
Franchised dealers are constantly searching for ways to improve their image in the world of marketing. That helps them attract quality sales and service personnel and improve the gross profits in their products.
There has been significant improvement in the manner in which owners' warranty problems are handled by servicing dealers. There have been great improvements in customer satisfaction. During my half-century career as a dealer and a dealer magazine columnist, I've continually looked for ways to improve the sometimes poor image of car dealers.
I've suggested that a partial reason for that poor image lay in the side-by-side comparison of the Sunday comics with the full-page color ads of some new-vehicle dealers. In some cases, it's hard to tell the difference.
One goofy dealership ad character who comes to mind was bespectacled “Nearsighted Norman.” He was notorious for over-appraising trade ins, but he had tenure because he was married to the dealer's daughter. It may sound cute, but were the real appraisers so liberal?
Another full-page ad in color portrayed an old wreck and the caption: “Drive your trade-in. Tow it in. Bring the wrecked parts to our dealership for the best trade-in price.” Are they serious or just baiting customers?
Finally, the bait and switch where a popular model is displayed accompanied by an unbelievable low price; the problem being the car is chained to the showroom floor and is unavailable for delivery before six months.
All this phony advertising was sanctioned by domestic manufacturers. As long as new vehicles were being sold, it didn't matter how.
Currently, leading import manufacturers require a code of ethics in their selling agreements in order to maintain a franchise.
There is little doubt among new-vehicle dealers that Honda is one of the finest franchises in America. Honda's ethical advertising guide demands that dealers strictly follow it or they could be bypassed in distribution of funds for local cooperative advertising. Worst case scenario: they could lose their franchises.
The Honda marketing compliance guide is very direct in its expectations of its dealers. If dealers violate the tenets, they could lose out.
If schlock advertising finds its way into a dealer's practices, it may cost the perpetrator serious bucks.
The guide's opening statement is, “Honda Motor Company considers local advertising to be a vital aspect of our combined advertising strategy.”
- Advertising must be for new Honda automobiles, must identify the Honda name, and must maintain the high quality image of Honda automobiles.
- The advertising must not state or imply the dealer is in any better position (has a favored status or preferential standing) to sell a new Honda automobile than any other dealer.
- The Honda name and correct description of the Honda automobiles advertised must be prominently featured and no competitive product may be advertised in the same announcement.
- Advertising containing wrongful or fraudulent claims, or that is misleading or disputable, or that violates any law whatsoever, may not be paid for with any advertising funds provided under this program.
Nat Shulman is a retired Massachusetts dealer now living in Hawaii.