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Ian Cruickshank

Ian Cruickshank VP of Sales and Marketing

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The Great Photos, White Space, and 2 Other Ways to Keep Your Ads from Sucking

ec0960387c4ee6df46654df84768e020.jpg?t=1The Great Photos, White Space, and 2 Other Ways to Keep Your Ads from Sucking.

There really is just one way to mass broadcast your vehicles to potential buyers. Luckily it’s also very effective. Yes, I’m talking about inventory advertising.

You can argue that word of mouth or some other methods are more efficient (when measured by cost per lead), but you simply can’t beat the volume of leads that inventory advertising brings. Honestly, that’s why it’s still around - Transitioning from the inventory ads that were prevalent in the local papers to the state-of-the-art behavioural-based programmatic digital ads that hover in cyberspace.

All things being equal, it stands to reason that the more effective your inventory ads are, the more likely they’ll attract the right buyers and turn over cars on the lot.

And therein lies the problem - as with many things in life, not all inventory ads are created equal, and the "less equal" ones perform very poorly at attracting auto buyers.

Previously, we chatted about how to create a compelling and competitive message to differentiate your dealership, but those words or phrases don’t magically arrange themselves into beautiful ads ready to attract prospective car buyers, they’re just words.

Now, I’m a data guy, a marketing guy, a sales guy, and most definitely a car guy, I even fancy myself to have a little design skill, but those skills pale in comparison to our own super design juggernaut!

I’ve interviewed our own Creative & Co-op Advertising Manager, Danielle Borisoff, about what makes an ad attractive to a car buyer, and as a result, effective.We also talked about what not to do… like the age old giant Starburst!!

Here’s what she said:

Ian Cruickshank (IC): So Danielle, throughout your career you have created thousands of  ads and designed the creative behind all of our customers’ ad templates. What is the single biggest piece of advice that you would give regarding inventory ad creative?

Danielle Borisoff (DB): I believe the phrase “The car is the star” sums it up very nicely. It’s important to remember that people choose cars before they choose dealerships, so advertisers need to be aware and play on that fact. By making the car the focus of the ad, you can better attract and pique the interest of the buyer thus making the ad more effective.


IC: I like that, “The car is the star”, so what are some ways to make that happen?

DB: The easiest way is to use real photos and not stock photography. This applies to both new and used cars. Car buyers now are so inundated with information that they gloss over stock photos. Even if the stock photo is of the same car and same color, people won’t trust the stock photo. Incidently Doug Demuro - a columnist for wrote a great piece specifically about the annoyance of stock photography (Attention Dealers: For God’s Sake, Take Pictures Of Your Inventory).


IC: Any tips on how to take the right photos?

DB: The quality of photography of the car is vitally important. To resonate with the buyer, you need to capture what the buyer wants to see. Almost all buyers want to see the car as if they are about to pick it up for delivery. This means a clean front quarter shot and without any distractions such as a busy background or dealership brand graphics placed over the frame of the image.



A clean photo without any busy graphics makes the car more attractive to the buyer.


IC: Why are dealership graphics on the image not recommended?

DB: Two reasons actually.  First, graphics often obscure the top or bottom of the vehicle preventing the buyer from seeing the full picture. Second, and more quantifiable, you run the chance of not passing the Co-op or Compliance program guidelines of the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) compliance agencies. For example: if your dealership sold Ford and Lincoln, and the photo of your new Ford F150 has “Ian’s Ford and Lincoln” banner on it, the Lincoln logo would violate Ford's branding guidelines and the OEM agency would then refuse reimbursement for this particular ad.

IC: Wow, that’s great advice. What about the ad creative itself? Are there ways to design the ad to further complement the car?

DB: An effective way to stand out in the actual ad creative is to embrace white space on your inventory ad. Many dealerships that we work with will, understandably, want to maximize the number of vehicles they can have on their ads. However, this doesn’t always work in their favor. Many automotive ads are placed on busy, high traffic websites. Having a busy ad on a busy site detracts from the experience. Like a piece of art, including some white space in an ad will give the inventory some room to breathe and will draw more eyes to it.

example_smith_160x600.jpg By framing the ad in white space, you give the ad room to breathe and allow it to become more noticeable.



Danielle’s guidance dives into the actual art of marketing and is particularly useful as we live in a world where all dealerships have access to the best technology.

All else being equal, the art of the message and the creative can be the edge in a hyper-competitive industry where we all want to attract new buyers and sell more cars.



Danielle Borisoff is the Creative & Co-op Advertising Manager and has been working at Speed Shift Media for over six years. With a Fine Arts degree from Emily Carr University of Art and Design, she handles the design for and implementation of all graphical elements for Speed Shift Media and many of their clients.

What kind of creative rules does your team adhere to? Add them in the comments.

Dave Hicks
Hmmm. Best idea winner at DSES this year was "showing the steering wheel first" Thoughts?
Shawn Long
This article is spot on with what i see converting. The only thing i would point out is i keep my text on even a bit more of a minimal level to make sure i am in compliance to the 20% Text Facebook Ads TOS . Great read, thank you for it.
David O
Steering Wheel first is a great idea... Anything to stand out is a great idea... Starbursts, cheesy image would stand out. The key is to determine your placement first... If you are looking for more VDPs, then the steering wheel as the first shot would work to get people to click onto your VDP. BUT if you want to make sure the person clicking SEES your message (banner ads,etc...), then a clean visible message on the ad copy is the way to go. Great points IC
Ian Cruickshank
Hi Dave H. - great question, and I think Josh Pogue (a great Canuck) would agree, that it's about the context in which you are using the images. In a listings environment where all other players are going for the 3/4 view you can standout with the steering wheel shot. That said, when you are trying to distract a consumer with a display ad the Steering Wheel is not likely to have the same effect. I don't think I would be incorrect in suggesting that few car buyers, in the milliseconds required, will recognize the steering wheel of the cars they have been considering. Shawn - Thanks for your comments - Compliance with FB is important for sure, additionally you have to consider OEM compliance when seeking Coop. Happy to help on both anytime. David O - you're right on the money with your comments, Cheers.

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