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Trillium Automobile Dealers Association

Serving the interest of Ontario New Car
and Truck Dealerships for over 100 years

Auto ads during Super Bowl help to shape customer perceptions of cars, dealerships

Published on Friday, 17 February 2012

Super Bowl XLVI promised and delivered on two fronts: a nail-biter of a football game that went down to the final seconds of play; and a slew of memorable ads for the auto industry.

For years, the auto industry has embraced the mass audience of Super Bowl broadcasts to communicate its brand messages. In fact, according to Nielson, between 2007 and 2011, auto advertising outpaced all other major industries in Super Bowl advertising.
The power of an automotive brand cannot be overstated. Automakers invest millions each year promoting their respective nameplates, through national advertising and marketing, corporate sponsorships and, of course, the quality, reliability and affordability of their products.

Although quality, reliability and affordability are the most important criteria when choosing an automobile, it’s interesting to note these are not the most influential factors in not selecting one brand over another.

In a J.D. Power and Associates study, “43 per cent of people avoided a brand because of their perception of the brand’s quality and reliability issues, while just 38 per cent based their decision not to consider a car on ratings and reviews.”

Clearly, the power of a brand hugely influences auto buying decisions. In most cases, the brand itself represents an idea and a set of values that are widely recognizable in the marketplace.

When you think of successful automakers, their public image speaks volumes about what they represent: Volvo (safety and performance), Toyota (quality and consistency), Mercedes Benz (premium luxury), Audi (sportiness and comfort) and Ferrari (stylish and exotic).

An automaker’s focus on branding extends from the drawing boards and assembly lines right through to the individual dealerships where their products are sold and serviced.

In the 1960s and 1970s, dealership design often didn’t conform to other stores sharing the same nameplate (with the exception of exterior signage). Decades ago, older-style dealerships may have functioned well enough, but they lacked a common style, character and identity.

By the 1980s, manufacturers began introducing dramatic new design features and standardized architectural elements into their dealerships. Rigorous guidelines were introduced, which often reflected a central branding message. Over time, these design changes helped to revolutionize the retail automotive experience.

Throughout my career, I’ve been involved in building and renovating several dealerships. In each case, architectural design, colour scheme, internal and external signage, furniture and building materials were all carefully orchestrated by the manufacturer.

Today, dealerships representing the same nameplate look similar in appearance and design in order to distinguish its lineup of products and services from the competition and to maintain a consistent brand image.

While automakers work hard to distinguish their brands, individual dealers go to great lengths to create distinctive brands of their own, separate from the corporate identity but often tied closely to it.

Branding at the dealership level is not simply a catchy logo or slogan. It's also how we answer the phone, how we deal with suppliers, how customer complaints are resolved and how we get involved in our communities. The look and feel of the premises, the quality and consistency of staff training — the list goes on — all say something about a dealership’s brand.

All new car dealerships hope that the positive branding messages from the manufacturer are complemented by the personal branding messages that take place at the dealership among staff, customers and the community.

While dealers aren’t in a position to hire an Elton John or a Clint Eastwood for local car promotions, seeing these mega stars on a Super Bowl commercial sends a powerful message about the brand, and it reinforces the value proposition of the automaker.

These popular commercials can (and do) play a critical role in helping to shape customer perceptions and influence car-buying decisions.


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