Why do car companies advertise so heavily in proportion to other companies?
October 19, 2004 4:41 PM   Subscribe

Tonight I am watching my daily dose of the Simpsons and Seinfeld. At least 50% of the commercials are for automobile companies. My Marketing 101 question: Why do car companies advertise so heavily in proportion to other companies? The average American buys a car once every few years, and a traffic jam can give you all the brand recognition you need. Why the hard sell on tv and in magazines?
posted by tlong to Media & Arts (9 answers total)
1) Cars are planned years ahead of time. By the time they come out there is already a huge sunk cost in terms of planning, design, manufacturing and distribution. The only way to increase sales now is to advertise, advertise, advertise and hope that your brand/model is more popular than your competitors.
This is in contrast to other products that can react quickly to market conditions. The only hope of auto companies is to *shape* market conditions.

2) Manufacturers and retailers (dealers) operate as separate entities. Their only real common cause is to sell you Brand X (e.g. Honda) But the local dealer wants you to buy from *them* not from the competitor across town (which they dont make any money on!) so you get:
-Ads from Manufacturers
-Ads from your local dealer #1
-Ads from your local dealer #2
etc. which can be large if you are in an urban area.

This info comes from having friends in the auto industry.
posted by vacapinta at 5:04 PM on October 19, 2004

If you look closely at the content of car ads shown during shows like The Simpsons and Seinfeld, it seems to me (from what I rememeber from a couple of months ago) that they are specifically targeting a demographic.

Using Flaming Lips songs in car ads watched during shows appreciated by twenty-somethings seems like a pretty clear plan of attack to me.

As for why there are so many car ads in general, I'll always remember the words of my father:

"Advertising is around to convince you to buy things that you don't actually need."

Of course, this is the same source that gave me the cryptic "the more keys a man has, the less important he is", but I still think it's mostly true.
posted by interrobang at 5:05 PM on October 19, 2004

Probably obvious, but the larger and more well known the company, the more they tend to spend on advertising. Coke for example is one of the world's most recognizable brands, with very close to 100% recognition I'm sure in North America, but they still spend a shocking amount on advertising. You have to keep your name out there.
posted by sinical at 5:23 PM on October 19, 2004

The average yearly spending on automobiles is probably higher than almost every product. It seems like the advertising should be appropriately high.
posted by smackfu at 5:48 PM on October 19, 2004

Well, doing some back of the envelope math (and keeping in mind that I'm too tired from working out to bother to check my work), if the average American buys a new car once every five years, then approximately 20% of the total population of the US could be in a buying window in any year.

If the typical buyer is in a buying window for 2 months, then that means that more than 3% of the population is in a buying window every day. That's a whole bunch of people looing to buy a car, and you have to hit with with a lot of repetition while they're in that window since they probably won't notice your ads when they aren't.
posted by willnot at 7:01 PM on October 19, 2004

my theory is that the less difference there is between products, the more advertising is used to create a reason to prefer one company or another. i believe this applies to cars - given a price point and "type" (sedan, sports, suv), different makes are pretty much the same. hence the need for "something else".
posted by andrew cooke at 9:50 PM on October 19, 2004

I heard that it's the opposite of what Willnot says.

A friend in advertising tells me that car advertisments are not primarily named at car purchasers, but at car *owners*. Car ads are so that you, the 1996 Jetta owner (or whatever), see ads for current Jettas or other Volkswagen models and love Volkswagen more. This has two main brand loyalty benefits. First, you'll be more likely to be a repeat buyer if you continue to have good associations about the brand and model you chose. Second, you'll recommend this brand to friends/family more often and more forcefully.
posted by zpousman at 9:51 PM on October 19, 2004

So the advertisements are basically a means of creating evangelists. Interesting idea.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:15 AM on October 20, 2004

I think a factor here is also interchangeability. When you think about it, generally the process is:

Open your car door.
Start car.
Drive to where you're going, obeying traffic laws.
Get out.
Close car door.

All new cars, even heavily advertised ones, can do the above, and when you compare it to other things that cars can do, isn't this really far and away - I mean by a Texas mile - the best feature of cars?

So now Joe Automaker has a car to sell that will do the above, and it's on him to convince you that it has some marginal feature that makes it better than all the other cars that do the above. I'd argue that the marginal benefits of one car or another are so tiny that they require a very large magnifying glass to make them visible to your consumer mind.

This magnifying glass is called 'advertising.'
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:47 PM on October 20, 2004

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