Dealer image overhaul

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In a world that is increasingly politically correct — which in itself is a really good thing since the world has been incorrect for too long — it seems there’s still one person that can be unfairly targeted, maligned, bullied and made a mockery of.

Yes, it’s the car dealer.

As a society we have made great progress in learning to respect the rights of others, treat people justly, and not unfairly characterize other’s traits and behaviours.

But if you watch TV, surf the web or look at auto industry marketing, car dealers are often placed between the crosshairs of mean-spirited, unfair and malicious attacks.

So, why the double standard?

Well, for starters, the auto retail industry is a big business and there are lots of people who are trying to build their own businesses on the backs of car dealers.

Case in point, the aftermarket service sector has been beating up on dealers in its marketing for generations. We are all familiar with their ad campaigns that portray dealership service teams as lazy, incompetent and unresponsive.

The net result? A public perception that the aftermarket service is comparable in quality, cheaper and more convenient than service performed at a dealership.

As new business models emerge, new market entrants are now nibbling away at other areas of the auto retail business — other than service — that weren’t previously as vulnerable.

Now dealers are getting it on all sides including new and used vehicle sales, financing and credit, and F&I products.

The gloves are off and dealers are being depicted as yesterday’s news, not innovative, no longer keeping up with the times.

Consider some of these taglines and marketing messages that exist online right now with companies targeting consumers at the expense of dealers:

“We believe you have the right to a great car deal without spending hours haggling.”

“Welcome to the easiest, fastest and most fun way to get the best price on your new car.”

“The most convenient way to buy a car. Pick a vehicle, pick a payment, get approved.”

“The new way to buy a car. Delivery to your door. 7-day test own.”

“Stress-free customer experience. We always explore ways to bring our brand into customers’ lives in a harmonious way, realizing a stress-free environment through challenging the status quo.”

“The new way to buy a car: Wave goodbye to car salesmen, confusing jargon and feeling pressured when buying a car. Instead say hello to friendly, straightforward advice and pricing. We’re turning car buying on its head.”

You’ll see that the terms, “the new way,”  “stress-free,” “easiest” and “most convenient” are consistently tossed around, and are not so subtle digs at dealers.

When the anti-dealer messaging is not included in their direct marketing messages, it often appears on these sites as customer reviews, who then echo the general sense that dealerships are old news.

Consider also that one of the messages in the list above actually came from a Canadian OEM site.

Dealers need to fight back.

Maybe it’s time for the OEMs and dealers to join forces and launch their own PR and advertising campaign to showcase how truly modern and client focused their industry is becoming and combat these negative perceptions head on.

If reality has truly changed, then it’s time to change perceptions.

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Canadian auto dealer