Automotive Sponsors Rev Their Engines

Car dealers get a bad rap. I may be unusual, but I actually enjoy shopping for a vehicle. Let me explain my fondness. As a kid, I always looked forward to the Detroit Auto Show. What a spectacle! My father, who worked for GM, got VIP passes. We’d dress to the nines for the occassion. I recall slipping into a Rolls Royce once and opening all the little hand-crafted compartments made of polished wood. It was delicious.

We’d play a fantasy shopping game. We had to pick three. Three cars you’d want to have.

Car 1: You win it, are given it, it doesn’t cost you a penny. Choose!

Car 2: The car you wanted when you grew up.

Car 3: The car you’d buy today. If you had the dough, that is, which was a totally imaginary proposition.

On the drive home we’d compare notes. It could get heated defending your choices.

Well, despite the storm clouds over the auto industry, the news out of the marketing departments is that car dealers are planning to start spending on sponsorship again. This bodes well for arts and culture. Auto makers have always had a sixth sense about the cultural consumer. Truth is, they were first lured in by the luxury automotive buyer. But the Internet has bred a new type of auto sponsor.

Allow me to introduce you:

1. The average car dealer spends $365,000 per year on advertising, more for a chain of dealerships.

2. The Web rules. In markets big and small, dealers are driving resources into the Web.

3. Culture means community. Dealers want to emulate local banks before the days of the big bank mergers. Nice guys, local feel, contributing to community aspirations.

Let me stress that the local angle. Ford and GM are really getting this. Web or no web, cars are still sold locally. The Web just facilitates purchase intent, but it has not replaced the purchase destination, which is still the dealer’s show room. That’s why Ford and GM are pushing more marketing dollars down to the local level.

How to cash in? Ask questions, listen, brainstorm. Get to know your local dealers. Pay a call to your local dealer. Ask about new vehicle launches (more $$$$ available for launches) and ask about their plans to liquidate older models in the fall. Cook up some plans together: ticket promotions, radio and web promotions, test drives, VIP preview and behind-the-scenes events for their customers. Talk about how your Website can drive traffic to theirs.

The main point is that national marketing offices are being generous again with local sponsorship dollars. Local libraries, museums, theaters, education, community and public art projects all have a crack at these sponsorship dollars.

Caveat: Are you in a smaller market? Or a market that’s currently depressed (high unemployment rates?) If so, your local dealer may be targeted for a shut down or a merger. American car manufacturers have too many dealerships, period, so consolidation is on the way.

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