Why do dealerships still run display ads even though they suck?

POSTED BY Ian Cruickshank

If I told you 50 years ago that in 2016 newspaper ads would be virtually useless, billboards only served to distract motorists at 60 mph, and almost everyone tunes out or skips radio and TV spots - Would you have changed your advertising habits? Probably not. These are the mediums that were known and accepted, so they took hold. I’m certain someone wrote an article about “why newspaper ads sucked” for a marketing journal at some point in the past, and they likely talked about clutter and starbursts. Is this the reason dealerships still run display ads even though they typically don’t produce significant results (in other words - they suck)?

Display ads just aren’t well suited to promote inventory.

Let’s temper this for a moment. Display ads themselves don’t suck. It’s how they’re used and measured that makes dealers feel like they hold little value for their local dealership. Display ads, like billboard ads, are similar standing on top of the tallest building in your town and shouting through a megaphone. Some people will hear you. Some may act on your speech and maybe one or two may buy what you’re selling.

Is it worth it? That’s the real question.

As a GM, you want everything you spend your advertising budget on to generate opportunities and revenue (Leads and Sales). This is exactly where typical display ads have fallen short at the dealership level. They are great for advertising the big events, building up your brand and presenting evergreen ideas - Like: “Family owned for 45 years!” OR “The best service”. What they don’t do well is promote an ever changing and variable set of inventory. Is your goal to drive car buyers directly to the inventory of Big Jim’s Ford Emporium on Main Street and show them what cars are available today? You’re going to have a challenge doing that with traditional display advertising.

Display Ads passes the ball to Adwords, Adwords SCORES! The crowd goes wild... for Adwords!

For years, this has been the bane of all Display Ad sales people. Big Jim invested in Adwords so when a buyer searches for Ford F-150, near Main St … Big Jim’s Ford Emporium text ads pops up all over the place.

Big Jim wants to grab the attention of every single potential Ford buyer around and let them know he’s open for business, so this result is significant. Over time, the dealership’s SEM success begins to diminish, and the marketing team suggests trying another channel to help bolster results. Big Jim finally gives in, and his team decides to invest in some digital display ads.

Now, Jim’s organic traffic is increasing, his search ranking has improved, and there is more traffic from the text links. Have the display ads contributed to all this? Darn right, they have contributed, but the method of directly measuring the performance of the display ad campaign doesn’t show it. What the display ads did do is help lift the SEM and organic traffic.

So Big Jim is stuck, has the money he just spent on display ads had a positive effect? From a whole marketing perspective, you could say yes. But is he convinced to keep spending? Buyers would see the display ads because they meet certain criteria even if they haven’t specifically searched for Big Jim’s Ford. There is the assumption that the display ads helped initiate the search for Big Jim’s dealership, search his VDPs and eventually come to his lot. However, there is very limited ability to attribute it directly to the display ad campaign.

You just never know for sure if the display is directly contributing to the success of the online advertising efforts - enter Ad Technology, the world of data driven advertising.

If you’re going to spend money, spend it effectively.

Big Jim now realizes what display ads are good for. Display advertising will boost the performance of existing search efforts. Display ads help build brand recognition, and now they can add another layer of tactical advertising successes.

If Big Jim is going to spend a portion of his budget on display advertising, he should invest in dynamic inventory display ads. Dynamic inventory ads will help build his brand’s recognition and also drive low funnel activities like VDP views. In addition, Big Jim’s advertising must be measurable and trackable to understand what is and isn’t working. Big Jim should be able to look over analytics and know that the investment in dynamic inventory display ads contributed significantly to his brand recognition, VDP traffic, buyer engagement and inevitably, vehicle sales.

It seems a lot to ask from your advertisements, but we now know that not all display ads are created equal.


No one is saying ALL display advertising sucks. Companies today are pioneering modern display technologies that are having positive and measurable effects for dealerships.

Consider Big Jim’s Ford; he invested in inventory display ads that don’t suck. He gets more VDP traffic because he did his homework, he knew what he needed, and he had clear goals for his ads while looking for a solution. Big Jim’s display ads don’t suck because they’ve helped increase website traffic, drive low funnel activity and produce measurable results.

Big Jim won’t run with display ads that suck. Big Jim runs with dynamic inventory display ads that convert.

Be more like Big Jim.

*Big Jim - is a fictional character based on the many happy customers that are making the most out of Display Advertising that doesn’t suck.


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