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Ed Steenman

Ed Steenman CEO Integrated Automotive Advertising Agency

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Is promoting an ‘unassisted test drive’ a good idea for our industry and salespeople?

Please inject some reality into my life.

I’m in marketing and always have my ear to the ground looking for how dealers promote their stores and brands.  Last night, I heard a radio ad for a local car dealership (Volkswagen Subaru in Bellevue Washington) that disturbed me.  The ad was almost exclusively promoting the idea that this dealership offered what they termed ‘AN UNASSISTED TEST DRIVE’ meaning that they are promoting the fact that you can test drive a cars WITHOUT A SALESPERSON in the car with you.

Here’s why it bothered me.  While I believe that most dealerships would probably offer the same thing if a customer asked for it, or even offer it casually at the time on site as part of the sales process (“hey- take it for a spin without me if you want”) - the idea of promoting NO SALESPERSON as a marketing point of difference bothers me because – by extension-   it promotes the idea that SALESPEOPLE ARE A NEGATIVE in the car buying equation.  I feel the same way about statements like NO HASSLE (equals: buying a car is a hassle that should be avoided), NO PRESSURE (equals: get ready for pressure when you go to shop for a car) or any of the NO’s that try to win at the expense of trashing the industry. 

I would hope the presence of a salesperson during a test drive or any other part of the sales process would be viewed as a POSITIVE customer benefit to explain features, answer questions and (dear god) actually develop a relationship with the customer and dealership.  Isn't that what we in the industry want- the opportunity to break down walls- build relationships- earn a customers business and trust?

Really in this age of TrueCar and all the other ways people can try and AVOID working with dealerships don’t we have enough challenges without adding the idea of NO SALEPERSON to the marketing voice?  Especially when we within the industry use our own voice to do it?

I'd like to hear what you think.

Brady Irvine
I agree that our industry has an image problem that we need to fix, but that poor perception from the public is the reason for this type of advertising, not the other way around. If the average person doesn't look forward to car shopping because of the "greasy pushy car salesman" types that they feel they will meet (and there are still lots of them out there) then we are absolutely right to run ads that will speak to those people and get them in. Once they are in the door we can make the experience a positive one, but no amount of advertising will be able to reverse that image until they experience it for themselves.
Mike Fox
I agree that a no in any statement points to the indirect 'yes' about any particular situation. The consumer is certainly wary of a sales person who they generally picture as being pushy and only out there to sell. I would hope too that a customer sees the benefit in having a sales person who can positively help him make a choice.
Larry Schlagheck
Didn't a particular brand (Cadillac?)offer a "take it home for a night" promotion not too long ago? It apparently didn't work because I've never heard of it since. As a consumer I'd like to have an overnight test drive, but I also have no problem with the salesperson riding along on a short test drive. It's expected.
Ed Steenman
Thank you so much for your comments everyone. Brady - I hear what you are saying from an individual dealership standpoint- but if it's about pushy and greasy, let's counter THOSE images, not take the salesperson out of the equation entirely. I would hope the goal of marketing is to ADD value to what a dealership and it's people bring to the process. If we can't do that, then let's just encourage everyone order their cars on-line using True Car or some other service that requires no personal interaction at all. Sure, we'll save the cost of a salesperson but I think long term this would be a disaster. Or am I just too 'old school' here thinking that people still have an opportunity to make a difference?
Brady Irvine
I agree with you completely Ed, the salesperson is incredibly important to the process, and I don't believe there will ever be a time when that won't be the case. All I am saying is that it's not the job of the advertising to counteract that negative association that people have. If I can get people in the door by advertising that they can test drive without a salesperson yammering on while they are trying to concentrate or whatever I would do it. Once they came in of course it would be up to the salesperson to make a good first impression and help them select the correct vehicle. Then before the "solo test drive" I would have the salesperson go with them on a quick demo drive to familiarize them with the performance features of the vehicle. If the salesperson has done their job and built rapport I'm assuming that the majority of people would pass on the second test drive anyways.

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