Monday, November 30, 2009 

The Fiesta Movement:  The Start of A Revolution In Vehicle Marketing?

Vol. 5 No. 3

I think that the metrics from Ford’s ground breaking “Fiesta Movement” will reverberate, and effect the approach to “Tier 1,” “Tier 2” and “Tier 3” automotive marketing for many years to come.

Just in case you didn’t catch his article in Automotive News On October 16, 2OO9:

It's Fiesta time on Facebook et al.

Laura Clark Geist

Automotive News
October 26, 2009 - 12:01 am EST

By orchestrating videos and posts on social-networking Web sites such as Facebook, Ford Motor Co. says it is generating lots of interest for its upcoming small car, the Fiesta.

For example, 4.8 million people have watched Fiesta-related videos posted on by people provided Fiestas by Ford.

Social networking sites, widely used by young people, provide automakers with an inexpensive alternative to traditional media such as TV and radio.

"For basically the cost of renting 100 [European Fiesta] vehicles, we have name awareness on Fiesta that is similar to what an Edge or Flex is after two years of traditional advertising," says Jim Farley, vice president of global marketing and Canada, Mexico and South American operations.

The effort began in April when Ford provided Europe-built Fiestas to 100 social media users to drive for seven months. The users agreed to blog and post videos about their experiences on social networking sites while driving the Fiesta. The users were not paid or told what to say.

Each month the users participated in activities, such as visiting a skateboard park or ziplining. Each user posted at least one video a month -- with or without the car -- about those activities on a social networking site or Ford's

The social networking resulted in more then 600,000 photo views on and nearly 3.2 million impressions on, the automakers says.

Spreading the word

Results of Ford's social networking for the Ford Fiesta

• 4.8 million views of videos on

• 3.2 million impressions on

• 600,000 views of photos on

Here are links to a sampling of postings.



Source: Ford

Ford also is conducting consumer ride and drives with the Fiesta at events in 300 cities. They started in May and end in mid-December.

From social networking and the events, Ford says in five months it generated 50,000 hand-raisers, people who have signed up for more information. Ninety-seven percent of the hand-raisers do not own a Ford Motor Co. vehicle.

Ford says its research shows that 40 percent of vehicle shoppers are now aware of the Fiesta, higher than awareness for two Fiesta competitors already on the market, the Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit.

The hand-raiser "numbers are impressive given that this was an underground movement," says Wes Brown, analyst with Iceology, a Los Angeles marketing consultancy.

But he warns that Ford needs to follow through with interested consumers "or they will be on their keyboards blogging about how no one contacted them."

Connie Fontaine, Ford Motor Co. brand content and alliances manager, says Ford learned in the Fiesta social-networking effort not to interfere with the creative process. The users' negative comments about the car gave the campaign more credibility, she says.

Fontaine says the company plans to approach the users to help launch sales of the Fiesta next summer.

Ford hopes images posted by Fiesta drivers drum up enthusiasm.

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Sunday, October 25, 2009 

Vol. 5  No.  2

The Amazing Success of AFLA & the 2009 AFLA Conference:  An Example of How True Leadership and a Team Can Make  Difference!

I know I haven’t written in this blog in a loooong time.  While no excuse, suffice it to say I’ve been on a year long assignment for a vehicle manufacturer that I find very exciting and rewarding, but unfortunately has not left me with a lot of spare time... more on that topic later.

For now, despite my lack of overall time to make blog entries (even the amount of time it took to get this one out is shameful!), I would really be remise if I did not make some comments about this year’s annual Automotive Fleet & Leasing Association Annual Conference, at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, AZ, September 9-11, 20009.  Of course, even time challenged as I was, I would never miss this event if at all possible – since 1986, over 23 years, I think I’ve missed only two AFLA events (geez, I must have started when I was 6 years old).

 course this year had a fantastic schedule of speakers, which included up to the minute industry analysis and forecasts (see the AFLA Web site at for complete detail, and my own contemporaneous “tweets” at the time my twitter page at Car_Esq -; and once again I got to catch up with old friends in the business, some of which I’d lost touch with during this very busy and challenging year or so.  But what really made this meeting, and this organization extra special and noteworthy right now is the dedication and drive of its President throughout this year, who just happens to be one of my oldest and dearest friends in the car business, Mike Antich, the long time Editor and Associate Publisher of Automotive Fleet Magazine.

It’s said that results speak for themselves, and in this case, I think they do tell a lot of the story.  Despite the world wide financial recession, that irrefutably has damaged the US car business (and fleet business) worse than any time at least in the last 40 years or so, and again, despite massive industry budget cut backs, travel restrictions, unemployment, etc., Mike managed something with the AFLA Annual Conference,  unparalleled this year for any automotive industry association meeting that I’m aware of, that is, a fantastic RECORD ATTENDENCE FOR THIS YEAR'S ANNUAL CONFERENCE…the highest attendance on record since the organization’s formation 41 years ago!!  Again, such an achievement would be amazing in an average year, in the midst of possibly the worst car business recession in history, its truly mind boggling.

Then again, perhaps it isn’t a surprise, as throughout the year evidence of Mike’s tireless work and enthusiasm for the organization is visible in all facets of this, my favorite car industry group.  From the state of the art Web site, videos, and podcasts (note: this year’s entire conference was filmed for NIADA’s online TV network, and, in addition, Chuck Parker’s Automotive Digest did lots of individual video interviews… even my old friend, past President, Mark Conroy had his roving “on the fly” video camera for interviews), to the frequently published, members only industry White Papers, to the membership and visibility drives, Mike’s boundless energy and positive force can be seen throughout this revitalized organization. 

I have to say that for the last year or so, I’ve been less active in AFLA then year’s past, but given Mike’s and his team’s influence (the incoming/current President Tom Donato, and the new Executive VP Lori Rasmussen, and of course, all the folks at Ewald Group that manage and organize day to day activities), I am moved, personally, to now get back into the swing, and do whatever I can, whenever I can do it, to keep the momentum going.  More than a few folks I talked to at the Conference feel the same way, which will undoubtedly lead to an even more vital and vibrant AFLA of the future. Mike has set the bar very high indeed.

Congratulations Mike, my hat is off to you, not only for what you have spearheaded at AFLA, my favorite automotive group in the industry, but in proving, beyond doubt that one leader, with the right team, with drive, energy, creativity and enthusiasm, can defy all odds and create vibrant incredible positive growth, support and achievement for an car industry association, despite these very challenging times that seems to have caught everyone else in a mental and energy quagmire (with results like that, maybe you should run for national political office?).

 ...And I Can't Fail to Mention

One last  thing, although I’ll leave the detailed account of the this year’s AFLA Conference to the AFLA Web site (with their write-ups, video etc), I would be remiss too, if I didn’t also offer congratulations to the nine new inductees to the Fleet Industry’s “Hall of Fame,” especially and specifically Ed Bobit, the Founder and Executive Director Emeritus of AFLA (and definitely my oldest and dearest friend in the car business), and the Founder and Chairman of Bobit Business Media (THE fleet industry media resource).  I think everyone in the business would agree that in any fleet “Hall of Fame” convocation, Ed has earned his spot at the head of the table many times over…


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Thursday, August 06, 2009 

Vol. 5 No. 1

Yo! Sorry I’ve gone dark these last few months (so far this year, gulp!)…

I’ll be writing again soon – needless to say the car business is as challenging (and exciting) as ever… more details to follow.

Thursday, December 04, 2008 

Vol. 4 No. 11

The Engine of Democracy!

Go to and Help Ensure that We Maintain an Auto Industry in the US…

Sometimes it becomes very questionable what motives drive Congress. It seems that the approval of a $700 billion bailout for banking and Wall Street passed quickly, without much of a problem, and with few recriminations blaming “management” for a financial meltdown clearly of their own making. Not only was there no long term examination of business plans etc., but, as released just a few days ago, over half of the money has already been disbursed, that is, $350 billion, without very much oversight, at least according to the General Accounting Office report. Yet approval for $25B in loans (not a bailout) for the American “Big Three” US automotive manufacturers is in serious question, on the pretext that the industry set the seeds of their own destruction, in poor management practices? This seems absurd for a whole host of reasons.

FIRST, as to the impact the domestic auto industry has on the nation’s economy, take a look at Even a cursory look paints a very clear picture. This from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (BMW, Chrysler, Ford, GM, Jaguar/Land Rover, Mazda, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Porsche, Toyota & Volkswagen):

  • America’s automobile industry is the engine that drives the US economy; no other single industry supports so much US manufacturing or generates so much retail business and employment
  • 1 out of every 10 US Jobs, or about 13 million, is auto-related
  • Almost 4% of the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is auto-related
  • Every auto plant job generates about 5 jobs among suppliers and the surrounding community (CAR); by comparison, a Wall Street job generates 2 additional jobs (Bloomberg)
  • Auto account for $690 billion of US retail sales, or about 20% of all US retail sales
  • More than 90% of new vehicles are financed with credit, requiring that consumers have the ability to borrow money
    (…I’ll will come back to this last one in a minute)

Now this from a Memorandum from the Center for Automotive Research:

  • The auto industry has one of the largest economic multipliers of any sector of the US economy & in many states, employment in automotive or automotive parts manufacturing ranks among the top three manufacturing industries
  • The rapid termination of the Detroit Three in the US would result in:
    Lost Jobs:
    · Nearly 3 million jobs lost in the US economy for 2009
    · 239,341 jobs lost at the Detroit Three
    · 973,969 indirect/supplier jobs lost
    · 1.7 million spin-off (expenditure induced) jobs lost
    Lost Income:
    · US personal income would be reduced by over $150.7 billion
    · A total of $398.2 billion in personal income would be lost over the course of three years
    Lost taxes (local, state and federal)
    · A loss to the government of $60.1 billion in 2009
    · $54.3 billion in 2010
    · $42.0 billion in 2011
    A total government tax loss of over $156.4 billion over three years

SECOND, I think its disingenuous (and ironic) that Congress’s response to not supporting the auto industry in government loans seems to be the idea that poor management, that is, not making enough energy efficient vehicles, precipitated the need for auto industry government loans, when its clear that the collapse of the credit market (see the highlighted bullet point above as it relates to retail vehicle sales, in addition to the manufacturers ability to borrow funds), and the resulting collapse of the economy (at least for all things financed), was the overwhelming culprit – yet the government saw fit to bail out (not loan) that industry to the tune of $700 billion with apparently few recriminations for what was irrefutably bad management practices, poor ethics, and lack of oversight.

Has anyone noticed, for instance that the price of fuel has nose-dived and yet the sale of new cars last month was still horrendous? Or that car companies that make the most fuel-efficient vehicles also having taking tremendous hits in sales totals (Honda, for instance). The financial crisis that the domestics find themselves in have very little to do, today, with their management decisions, and everything to do with the effects of Wall Street’s crisis.

And finally, I have to say that this popular uprising to auto companie’s use of corporate jets and other management benefits also seems to be the biggest of boondoggles. It seems to me that Congress didn’t really add anywhere near the emphasis to Wall Street’s almost “legendary” past and continued “executive perks?” Could it be that a lot of government and especially Treasury personnel come from Wall Street had some influence on this? I just saw a notice today that said that Merrill Lynch’s annual bonuses will be down 50% this year…and that’s sacrifice?!? I know some very good auto executives and auto vendors that haven’t seen a substantial bonus at all in years…and this, not using the government’s bailout money as the bonus pool.

If anyone reading this feels the way I do, and wants to do something about it or at least make your opinions heard, take a look at the, created by a coalition of organizations representing more than 6 million jobs related to the automotive industry.

As it says from their recent press release:

“Automotive employees, retirees, car owners, auto supplier employees, dealership employees, mayors, state legislators and interested citizens will be encouraged to go on the site and add their stories about America’s car industry and its impact on their lives. Visitors also will be encouraged to write their Congresswomen, Congressmen, Senators, Secretary Paulson, President Bush and President-Elect Obama – as well as legislators from other states – to encourage the U.S. Government to approve a bridge loan for America’s car companies.”

Although the auto industry has always been cyclical, this is the most critical downturn, and critical time, in the industry’s one hundred year history in the United States. To my way of thinking, it is the highest priority that we all rally now to ensure it and our future, and be heard by those who can make the difference in averting a catastrophe.

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Sunday, November 09, 2008 

Volume 4  No. 10

The JD Power Automotive Internet Roundtable 2008…Once Again the Best Event of Its Kind This Year

Or, My Tribute to ‘Gil the Crab’


Due to time constraints and lots of other activities, I’m a bit late with a blog entry on the JD Power Automotive Internet Roundtable which happened October 7-9 (once again in wonderful Las Vegas, NV), but it was, again, one of the most significant events focusing on the automotive industry and emerging Web technologies.  Indeed, given all of the carnage in the financial and automotive world, I am happy to say that both the attendance and the program topics were as populated and vibrant as ever.

The effects, influence and ways to harness the power of social media and mobile communications, also once again this year dominated the topics discussed, but this time took on a closer, more discriminating “ROI” type examination.  This year, it seems uniformly accepted that MySpace, Facebook, and social networks in general can attract attention, but in the “bottom line” thinking one would expect when very survival depends on cash flow, the question was “does this attention sell cars?”

The Wisdom of "Gil the Crab"

Given my time constraints, and the late nature of this entry, I’ll skip the overview of speakers, panels, etc. (that’s best to be found on the very comprehensive run down and video on JD Power’s own blog anyway), and get down to what was, to me, the best part of the entire event and what is representative of the current “state of the industry” as well as anything that could be discussed.   Specifically, this was when Tom Peyton  from Honda, on stage with the leaders in the social media world, recounted how, when his advertising firm introduced a comical animated “Gil the Crab” character spoof, within 24 hours the crab itself had 100,000 MySpace friends -his pointed question (which I paraphrase), “How do 100,000 losers with obviously too much time on their hands, that would befriend an animated crab, help me sell cars?” 

The fact is, while obviously the mavens of MySpace had opinions, this question was never fully answered.  How could it be, when, in fact, over 50% of the folks on MySpace are under 18 years of age, and another 15% are their parents, monitoring these minors activities.  The truth is, while questions as to visibility, brand recognition, impressions, etc. can be well documented with metrics, no one seems to able (or want ) to drill this buzz down directly to true vehicle sales caused by the buzz –that is, I guess one would assume that in this assemblage of the “best and the brightest” in social media, if they “could have” they “would have” and I can tell you that they didn’t…

So what does this observation mean?  Does it mean that the social media/social network wave has already crested?  Certainly not, as the industry continues to grow both in volumes and varieties of media and members (from the giants Facebook and Myspace, to the much more professional and specialized focused sites in various industries), its visibility and influence on adults will only increase, and so the automotive industry will only increase their present spend (indeed, it was said more than once, by more than one manufacturer, that, with overall collapsing advertising and marketing budgets, the only area that will see any increase in spend in the shrinking pie will be Internet expenditures, and of that the area that is projected to have the highest percentage increase in spending is the social media and mobile categories).   Also, what has become painfully obvious is that there is a whole new generation of consumers coming down the road a few years from now who, by there very experience, will garner most of their information from the Web (not from television, newspapers, etc), and in that, mostly from social media platforms – so experience now in how to reach these folks is of value for many reasons.

No, what I think it means, in these very challenging times, is that new marketing and promotion campaigns focused on social media, will overall, take it slow, test frequently, and require a “cleverness factor” in it all; in this new environment, it is not who can come up with the most witty, or even the most “watched,” campaign, but the institution that can mark the most provable ROI, that is, those players or institutions that can design the most effective mechanism to track metrics around a social media campaign, down to the number of “walk-ins,” “test drives” and “sales” (if that is the end objective). 

This is no big revelation or surprise really, its what everyone ought to have been doing all along, right?  But in the age of new media, large institutions in particular tend to get carried away with the hype (remember the “real estate grab” theory of the VC’s in the first Internet bubble at the turn of the new millennium) and tend sometime not to hold their folks accountable in the strictest sense of the word.  [By the way, I would hazard that the small car dealer is much less susceptible to this malady than the larger institutions, even in “free cash flow” times every promotion expenditure is designed to pull immediate traffic, and, if it doesn’t its shut down without too much delay]

At any rate, I think this new focus on direct accountability (albeit brought on by the necessity of the extreme financial circumstances), is good for the car industry, and the social media industry as a whole…it eliminates unrealistic enthusiasm, and grounds everything into a healthy reality.  “Irrational exuberance” or “tulip bubbles” help no one in the long term, and, in fact, set progress back when they inevitably fall down to earth (we are experiencing that now all too well in the credit and housing industry, no?).  

Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3 - Can/Must it all Work Together in Social Media?

At any rate, this current examination of ROI with a microscope may be a bit painful and impede some dramatic spending surge numbers on social media growth, but in the long run I’m confident that the picture these metrics present will, overall, as compared to other media, be correspondingly dramatic and clear.  The fact is, ROI is factor of two things, “return” and “investment,” and, relatively speaking, the investment dollars required to have an impact in new media are so small as compared to traditional advertising that the impact of a well placed effort, with a traceable mechanism in place, I think, can not help but justify itself many times over.  The question I would have liked to ask Mr. Peyton at Honda on the effect of “Gil the Crap” is this one, how much did the crab campaign cost relative reaching that many interactive responses in a more traditional media campaign?  If there are 100,000 “friends of the crab,” generated from what I’m sure was a comparatively small investment, is it not incumbent upon Honda to then have a system in place to reach out to those active participants in the humor and continue, leverage and expand the dialogue to, in fact, see just how many car sales can be grown from these seeds of a relationship.  From my perspective, the activity in generating the interaction was the beginning of the process in identifying just how many MySpace “friends” are at the bottom (as opposed to the top) of the funnel in the car buying experience (by the way, “the funnel” metaphor was used so many times throughout the Roundtable, that the term itself was theoretically “banned” by presenters mid way through the second day).  Indeed, social media means, at best for advertisers I think, that active relationships are seeded, but that, in turn, means that more effort and attention has to happen after interest generated to identify an effective ROI (or how many car sales a campaign has generated).  I would imagine that under these circumstances for the most effective end results, and accountability of ROI, automotive retailers have to be brought in from the beginning, and the traditional division of “Tier 1” (manufacturer), “Tier 2” (regional advertising association), and “Tier 3” (automotive retailer) advertising sectors have to merge together, so that while manufacturers can initiate the social media relationship campaigns, dealers would be brought in to follow-up on the emerging relationships/communications that results.  ‘Gil the crab’s” friends on MySpace can all be regionalized, so, for instance, each Honda dealer in a designated market area could have “befriended” or follow-up up on the program to maintain the identity/communication of the program, which, in turn, would have identified how many ready buyers where influenced in the mix.

But that brings up new issues and ideas, for a new blog entry… 

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Thursday, September 25, 2008 

Vol. 4 No. 9

The Flex Phenomena… Part II

As in the Movie “Used Cars” – You Have to Get INSIDE

I was privileged to be able to study, experience and ultimately educate on all of the unique product feature attributes of the Flex, and drove one for period of time this summer. Although I can tell you that a Crossover is nowhere near the type of car I have always driven (truth be told I’m a luxury car fan, I don’t even like SUV’s), the vehicle grew on me, and for the first time in my existence, I think, I can see myself driving a 6/7 passenger vehicle for more than a brief rental day or two. I have to tell you too, that, at least from the reactions on the road I got, as many people like the new daring design of the Flex as dislike it – when is the last time a new vehicle got thumbs up, horn blowing and “head out to window…what is that?” at even expressway speed? So people do either love it or hate it, but the people that love it, I can say first-hand, aren’t afraid to express themselves.

The real advantage to the Flex though, can’t be understood until someone gets in the car, feels the seats, sees firsthand the size and standard features, peruses a few of the “exclusive” options Ford packed in, and, of course, until one actually drives the vehicle. Again, I drive Jaguars mostly, and this thing drives better, and has better optional features, than a fully loaded up Jaguar XJ sedan, a vehicle that costs 50% to 100% more – I kid you not, it’s true (the GPS system is better, the sound system is better, it handles as well if not better, and those are the first things you notice, I can go on…).

In short, as most reviewers have said, the Flex packs all of the utilitarian features anyone would want, in flexible motif (for instance, it can tow up to 4500 lbs, yet it gets best in class gas mileage for a 6/7 passenger people mover at 24 mpg highway, the seats sit high yet its lower stance and entry construction make it the easiest of Crossovers to get in to and out of, etc.), but also has all of the tech toys found in the “coolest” of luxury vehicles. The thing just reeks cool and high tech inside its boxy euro-type frame (it may not be your style, but it is style).

Social Media and the Flex

Obviously, given my particular interests and observations, I’m very interested in how a new product launch of a game changing vehicle rolls out online these days, as I would have suspected that social media would be a factor and have an effect. The fact is, now, for the first time apart from any other truly polarizing vehicle introductions in the past (as mentioned above), social media, blogging, self expression on the Web is ubiquitous (along with high speed access). Like never before, like-minded “product evangelists” can find each other and congregate on the Web (and not have to physically travel to Spring Hill, when the Saturn was introduced, for instance), so one would suspect that the Flex has already felt some of the effects of social media.

True to form, ironically, while I have yet to see Ford Motor Company embrace the full power of social media for the Flex, a vehicle introduction which seems to be screaming social media if ever there was one, social media sites have grown up organically, quite a while ago, to foster like-minded Flex enthusiasts and early adopters.

Not surprisingly, an “institutionalized” product forum has grown up around the product, at – I say institutionalized because this seems to be the forum for all Ford products, a chronicle for “Blue Over Forum,” the “Fusion Forum,” “Mustang Forum,” the “Taurus forum,” the “Lincoln MKS Forum,” etc., etc. even an “Eco Boost Forum”… it is out of Dearborn, MI, perhaps not a big surprise, so I don’t think that counts as a truly unbiased social media product. Not that it produces bad information, quite the reverse, it’s just that well, it may not produce the most “impartial,” “peer to peer” dialogue anytime soon, methinks.

Flex Fan Orgs Online and FlexFans.Org

Now some think what Flex could use is an easy to use more versatile social network platform, with a visible administrator spokesperson who can actually bring out the best, or worst, in Flex enthusiast’s opinions, emotions, etc. in all forms of Web based media. Add to that a spokesperson for the social network willing to add personally created videos and media “out in the field,” not afraid to be visible and accessible, and, at the behest of online Flex Fans, reach out to the manufacturer, automotive dealers, and consumers on Flex issues. So when the person who thinks all of the above is the irrepressible CarsDiva of, then well, you can count on one more independent social network being created around the Flex, a network with a uniquely woman’s perspective (from a unique woman)…that network is the brand new Flex Fans enthusiast network,

Unlike the few other social media sites that grew up around the Flex,, “A Place Where Fans of the New Ford Flex can Congregate,” has some unique features both in its technology and in its active administrator, Demetra Markopoulos. In addition to having all of the “state of the art” functions of a true online network (the integrated “wiki” feature seems most useful, for an ongoing easy to read dialogue of Q & A on the product), including personal pages that can hold blogs, photos, video etc., the CarsDiva has done some useful things so far not done on any Flex related site. For instance, as I already mentioned in Flex Part I in this blog, you can find the most comprehensive, up-to-date compendium of all media vehicle reviews on the Flex (in newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc.) on the site at

Most importantly, has a visible active spokesman in the CarsDiva, who I might add, being from the retail end of the business, realizes that you can’t fully understand the vehicle or the market unless you get “down and dirty” on the showroom floor, with the Ford dealers that sell the Flex and deal with consumers on a daily basis: before, during, and after their Flex buying experience. To my knowledge the CarsDiva is the only administrator of a social network devoted to the Flex who has already visited a dozen or so varied Ford stores, most during their scheduled Flex Consumer Event introduction parties (the best kept secret parties out there, although I don’t think dealers wanted it to be that much of a secret), to interact with sales associates and managers, Flex prospects and Flex buyers (at some of my Philly favorites, like McCafferty Ford, Springfield Ford and Holman Ford in Mt. Laurel, NJ).

For a vehicle like the Flex, visiting dealers, prospects, customers etc. would seem a “no brainer” right? To fully understand the dynamics of truly polarizing product, you have to get on the showroom floor and get direct source feedback from the people who sell it, and the consumers who look at it and buy it… Simple yes, customary no…it still amazes me how many folks who build and market cars never experience the sales process first hand, that is, how many have never sold on the floor, or visited a dealership for anything other than a handshake and a picture. It always seemed to me that if this “in the trenches” experience was a mandatory step before you became a high powered executive at a car company, you would have a lot less “out of touch” personnel; not to mention an unparalleled credibility with a dealer group who, every day, have to back and sell the product on the front line. Judging from a lot of social media sites and networks, even fewer automotive focused online community spokespeople and administrators have real world showroom floor interaction and experience (most seem to have simply a marketing or technology background and again, have never ever come close to actually selling a car or the true automotive sales process – there is even one very popular automotive site out there that even charges for an instruction package on how to sell cars to females and be female friendly…offered by a Internet technology specialist, no less? It may make great news story headlines, but my bet is it doesn’t sell any more cars…). Alternately, I think has some real advantages, not the least of which is fact that the CarsDiva is out there in the field.

To sum it up, I expect big things to come from the Flex Crossover - taking a little longer to ignite, like most game changers, it has all the style and utilitarian leadership elements of a runaway “category killer” (you heard it here first, ….well, maybe not). I also could imagine that can ride the wave of excitement and be the best place where “Flex Fans can Congregate,” the first (but probably not the last) vehicle enthusiast group or site to grow out of and be hosted by the CarsDiva.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008 

Vol. 4 No. 8

The Flex Phenomena - Part I
Or How I Spent My Summer Vacation…

So the most popular topic in the automotive press now seems to be, once again, “Detroit Bashing” – blaming the current sales/financial automotive crisis that most all manufacturers (except Honda) are now experiencing on their own myopic vision of truck/SUV weighted product offerings, which also is accompanied by those same reviewers extrapolating the data point line for consumer tastes motivated by cheap gas out to eternity. Even industry heavy trade magazines and newspapers have jumped on the bandwagon, with the esteemed trade industry bible Automotive News running successive editorials espousing home company guilt, with Jason Stein’s (the Automotive News Europe Publisher) “A Missed Opportunity” article (July 14, 2008) about GM misreading the market for small cars, and then Kevin Smith’s (August 4, 2008) “Comment” with an essay entitled, “Detroit’s Truck Trauma is Self Inflicted.”

There is certainly some truth in these observations about missing the mark on product line up, but it’s hardly a domestic malady (anyone notice Toyota’s massive investment in large trucks, with the launch of the Tundra and a couple of plants to build them in the US to boot, all launched just about when the market began to collapse?) More importantly, there are exceptions, that is to say, some Detroit manufacturer product introductions that show amazing daring concept and foresight, given that today’s product launch is, in fact, a manifestation of a couple of years of planning - yet I don’t see a lot of ink devoted to these products. In particular I’ve been personally immersed in the product, marketing and retailer roll out of the Flex, Ford’s brand new daring design (read “polarizing”) Crossover. I’m convinced it’s a “game changer” but, while that may be a debatable point, what is irrefutable is that this is an innovative vehicle that proves incorrect Kevin Smith’s assertion that Detroit did not pursue “breakthrough” products for Crossovers in recent year because “they would naturally cannibalize their huge investments in truck-platform SUVs.”

Ford Introduces…The Flex – “Polarizing” Precedes Popular?

While it may be true that not all “polarizing” vehicles introduced in the last quarter century or so where “category killers,” I think it is true that all real game changing vehicles that became high volume world class sales icons did start out with ground breaking style and design, that, invariably, was not immediately recognized by automotive writers and the public as volume winners. Think of the minivan when Lee Iacocca first introduced it for Chrysler Corporation in 1984 (I rememberit very well, geez am I getting old), it was called by the critics a “box on wheels” and not in a complimentary way. A whole new vehicle genre was created with this Chrysler icon, that remained strong for over twenty years, until the “soccer mom” stigma now seems to have fully overpowered the utilitarian features that made the minivan a sales favorite.

More related to Ford Motor Company, how many readers remember when the first Ford
Taurus was introduced in 1986? Again, I remember it very well, and, contrary to some opinion it was hardly an immediate run away sensation. It was called the “Robo Cop” car, the “bubble car” one prominent newspaper review called it a “pregnant roller skate” – it became a runaway best seller for its vehicle class, but it had to first get noticed, and the first reaction was not all unanimously positive to say the least.

Finally, I was a Chrysler dealer (unfortunately not a Dodge store) when the innovative and controversial newly designed Dodge Ram truck was introduced in 1994, and again, even though the introduction of that truck alone boosted Chrysler’s share of the domestic truck market to previously unprecedented levels, it was not an immediate, “I love it” reaction from the critics or the public… I recall one reviewer that called it, not in a “glowing” way, a “mini Mack truck.” Explaining this “polarizing precedes popular” phenomena best though, I think ironically enough was Bob Lutz’s with his comments at the time (back when he was Chrysler’s top design/operations guy, when he said something like (I’m paraphrasing here, it’s been a while…), up until that point, they always built the truck design that the most people “liked” in focus
groups..but also up until that time, the people that liked those designs never seemed to have really “bought” them in quantity…when that radical truck design was introduced, people either vehemently hated it or strongly loved it, and he reasoned that those that loved it would actually go buy it when it was introduced. They did and still do, and for its “radical” design it would seem.

Who knows whether this will happen with the Flex, but I’m telling you after a first-hand observation and product feature study, the Flex has all of the right vehicle “best in class,” category exclusives, etc. to become, from a functional point of view, a runaway best seller in the crossover market. This opinion, by the way, seems to be shared by just about every vehicle review I’ve read - you can see for yourself the best compendium of all of the reviews on the Flex, in newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc. in the Review Section of the new site (created by the CarsDiva, see her blog on the Flex as well).

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Monday, June 30, 2008 

Vol. 4 No. 7

A Contrarian in the Market…for Cars & Trucks

Some of the best market performers are contrarians; those that don’t follow the crowd and buy value when its unpopular…could it work in the vehicle market as well?

It’s true, if you live long enough, you are around to see various market cycles and mass market psychologies repeat themselves. What really is amazing is that sometimes the same “mass hysteria” or extrapolating the line out from just a few data points sometimes happens on a regularly frequent basis, albeit, perhaps, sometimes extending out a bit more extreme than others. Did you ever notice how, despite any government regulation or legal penalties, we seem to have a crisis in business ethics every ten to fifteen years or so (before Enron and Tyco in this century, there was Drexel Burnham in the late eighties, before Drexel Burnham there was Overseas Investment Services in the early seventies, etc.). I read somewhere that this happens because it takes one business generation of executives to forget the infractions/penalties of the past, and so a new crop go through the same “excesses.”

“Never before in the history of the car business had there been such a violent change in the market as the one that occurred that spring”

Now with new truck and SUV sales falling an incredible 25% last month, and large car sales falling through the roof as well (with some car dealers not even accepting a trade in of a truck or large SUV these days), and, correspondingly, dealers out of stock on new small cars and manufacturers unable to meet demand, the phrase above sounds like it was snatched right out of today’s headline, doesn’t it?

Well, it wasn’t, it was actually written by Lee Iacocca in describing the automotive situation in the spring of 1979, in his 1984 autobiography. Then he was describing the large car/small car situation just after the Shah of Iran was deposed and the disruption of Iran’s oil industry threw the world’s oil markets into a panic. Then, as now, almost overnight large cars that had been in demand all of sudden couldn’t be given away, while small cars, which previously carried heavy rebates, and were a glut on the market, were snapped dup “by Americans desperate for fuel efficient vehicles.” Iacocca wrote that in the first five months of 1979, the small car share of the market “rose from 43 percent to nearly 58%.”

Now I wasn’t in the car business back then (believe it or not, I’m not that old), but I was old enough to remember the situation, and how, in fact, it is eerily similar to the herd mentality we are experiencing today, as evidenced by the reversal in new and used vehicle interest and buying patterns. As I recall then, as now, the price of hard commodities and precious metals also skyrocketed.

Will History Repeat Itself?

The fact is, all of the dire predictions of the price of oil only going up, and the world running out of fossil fuel immediately within the decade turned out to be very wrong. The price of oil fell like a stone in the ensuing years (I don’t remember anyone predicting that it would happen in 1979), and within a few years Americans were back to buying large vehicles, then in the mid-eighties Chrysler came out with the minivan, later that decade the SUV was born, and all of sudden the larger the people mover, the higher the demand and status (and the Ford F-150 became the highest volume vehicle for now how many years running?…except of course this year the record looks like it will be broken).

As Iacocca said, “Somebody yelled: ‘April Fool’s! Gas is cheap again, so give us big cars!”


I’m not predicting fuel is going to get any cheaper anytime soon, nor am I trying to assert that the world is not ultimately running out of fossil fuels. All I’m trying to say is that this immediate “panic” on the world oil markets is a representation of a classical cyclical market run, and that, well, frankly the oil producing countries are taking full advantage of this perceived immediate shortage and world turmoil to maximize the price run up (ask yourself, why hasn’t the oil supply run up to meet the immediate demand, it isn’t because the world is now all of sudden out of oil…). This, in turn, has caused the consumer panic, which, in fact, has lead to the crash (yes, it’s literally a crash) in the value of any vehicle that gets less than about 25 miles to the gallon, and the commensurate increase in sales for almost anything small and fuel efficient.

I recently read a story in a trade paper that reported on the run in old economy cars of the early 90’s on eBay Motors and elsewhere. Old Geo Metros, Honda CRX HF and any diesel powered Volkswagens are selling for $1,000 to $4,000 above Kelley Blue Book value! – this despite having even “more than 200,000 miles on the clock and rust holes big enough to drop a wallet through.” This is hysteria folks, pure and simple.

Baring having any of these old fuel beaters in the garage ready to sell, I suggest that the real value these days is in larger more high end, late model used vehicles, the kind that have gone down with the general market but that aren’t that bad on gas.

Now I know this goes against conventional wisdom, and people are talking about $7.00 a gallon gas by next year, but that’s what contrarian trading is all about, right? In securities or cars…

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Monday, June 02, 2008 

Vol. 4 No. 6

Couldn’t Have Said it Near as Good Myself…

A reprint of “The untapped power of owner communities” by Jesse Pickard in the “Headlight: “Digital Automotive Trends and Insights from Avenue A/Razerfish” Blog

Given a very hectic month or so, it’s been a while since I wrote anything in this blog, or have even had the chance to attend some industry events I regretfully missed lately (my loss, automotive fleet and remarketing events are the most informative in the industry and the people attending are the best in the business). I ran across a recent blog however, that was so well done, and spoke on an issue so prevalent on my mind recently, that I thought, with approbation, I’d reprint it in its entirety. Jesse Picard’s observations are not only accurate and insightful, but are far more "literate" presented than my ramblings and come from an authority.

Needless to say I like Jesse’s observations on Mini’s “Owner Lounge” and agree with his conclusions. See what you think.

May 2008: Social influence marketing

The untapped power of owner communities

When it comes to shopping for a car, few things are more influential than the opinion of an actual car owner. A trusted opinion can instantly crush or inflate a consumer’s confidence in a vehicle. Third-party automotive sites recognize this influence by prominently featuring the opinions of car owners through features like user reviews, ratings and discussion boards.

MINI’s Owner Lounge encourages sharing the “motoring” culture

Interestingly, most automaker sites have steered clear from featuring car owner content. As it stands, a vehicle site is usually comprised of one-sided messages that tend to be met by skepticism by empowered shoppers. If a consumer can instantly see what current owners think of the vehicle they are considering, why even pay attention to brand messaging? This has become more apparent as automakers continue to describe their new offerings as the “fastest,” “safest” and “most powerful.” In the mind of the consumer, an OEM site is just a place where the latest raw information is hosted. It is a great place for specifications, but does not actually “sell cars.” In order to become a true selling engine, automakers must use Social Influence Marketing to unearth trusted owner opinions on their vehicle sites.

Step one: Evolving the owners section
The opportunity for automaker sites to fully harness the power of social influence starts with evolving their owner sections, home to a powerful, but dormant, community of current customers. In its present form, the owner’s section is a place to do things like make monthly payments online and schedule maintenance. This might appear sufficient, but the prevalence of online driving clubs indicates that car owners are highly active in online communities and would appreciate a more immersive, social experience. It also shows that there is a strong culture around each car to tap into. The next-generation of owner’s sections is a social network first and a tool second. Mini does this with its Owner’s Lounge, where drivers can connect with one another, post car-related events and share pictures. The entire lounge evokes the playful and hip Mini culture. The Owner’s Lounge also dedicates a section to promoting driving clubs that have developed organically. Recognizing these organic communities is a small, but critical step in the evolution of an owner’s section. Mini could even improve their Owner’s Lounge by offering deeper integration of organic communities. Given the guaranteed traffic from the current set of tools, automakers should be able to quickly develop the critical mass needed for a powerful car community if the tone and feature-set is specific to the car brand’s culture.

Step two: Connecting owners and shoppers
Creating a vibrant owner community is a difficult, yet highly rewarding task. Once up and running, a community will offer customer insights that are often unattainable through traditional forms of market research. For this reason, it is easy to be satisfied with an insular community of owners. But at this point the job is only half-done; your owners might have produced very positive and persuasive content in the owner’s community, but as it stands new shoppers can’t see any of it. In order to maximize the ROI of community investments, automakers must integrate what are currently two silos: owners and shoppers. If done well, the integration will feel natural because car shoppers are desperately in need of objective sources of expertise, and that’s what the owner’s community possesses.

Integrating the owner and shopper silos means building connective features that exist both on the owner’s site and more importantly, in prominent areas of vehicle shopping pages. A baseline example is a feature that allows shoppers to ask questions about car models to registered owners of those models within the community. Owner opinions can also used in a way to support brand messaging.

For instance, if an automaker is looking to communicate that a truck can handle the winter elements, it should surface the opinions of car owners from the northern-most states. Maybe this exists as a photo album of owner’s trucks tackling the most extreme conditions or perhaps it’s a winter off-roading guide that owners have collaborated to create. Essentially, almost any message can be communicated through owners. And as the owner’s community grows, more innovative features can be created.

Step three: Sustaining the community
The next-generation of owner’s sections is ever-evolving and unpredictable. It requires continuous attention and dedicated resources, primarily in the form of community managers, who are responsible for the maintaining the health of the community. An experienced community management team knows how to energize users with new features and quell firestorms that erupt from member discontent. They also can be responsible for distilling user insights and advocating the interests of members to corporate stakeholders. The role of the community manager is especially pivotal during the initial stages of community development.

Lastly, to sustain an owner’s community, automakers must maintain an unyielding commitment to authenticity. This means that the automaker must be comfortable with having negative owner statements surfaced and transferred to new shoppers. Any manipulation or censorship of this content risks the entire value proposition of all community offerings. In fact, the presence of negative content is needed to establish immediate trust in both owners and new shoppers.

With community management and authenticity established as two cornerstones, the community efforts are poised to flourish. There will undoubtedly be speed bumps and hiccups, but they are fully worth it as tapping into the social influence of vehicle owners will transform the OEM site from a one-way advertisement to a highly-persuasive selling engine.

–Jesse Pickard

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008 

Vol. 4 Number 5

Memories of Really Dumb Rides
So How Many of You Remember the "Dodge La Femme"?

So thanks goes out to Al Haas the “On the Road” columnist from the Philadelphia Inquirer for this bog entry. Although technically not dealing with fleet or remarketing, I couldn’t resist comment on his recent March 16 article entitled, “Memories of really dumb rides” which defines what Al considers the four dumbest rides in US history. Now the first two had launch dates before my time, but I was around for the last two, and, at any rate they all were pretty dumb:

1) The Dodge La Femme
2) The Edsel
3) The Subaru BRAT
4) Suzuki X-90

Now everyone is aware of #2, The Edsel, and while the BRAT (stood for Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter…of course, we all knew that, right?) was nowhere near as well known, it probably earned its “dumb” rep not as an immediate sales fiasco (it was around for at least a half a dozen years), but because of its “jump seat welded in cargo bed,” created to avoid the 25% import tariff on imported trucks at the time. As I remember it, #4, the Suzuki X-90 was a creation of a different sort, that is, since the Suzuki Samuri SUV (which I remember sold pretty well and was well liked) got hit by Consumer Reports on its propensity to roll over during sudden steering (a bad thing), Suzuki reaction was to build this two-seat, four wheel drive coupe that was neither fish nor fowl, that had neither the Samuri’s off-road capability, nor a car’s on road ride…it fell on its sword, so to speak, only two years on the market. At any rate, the focus of this blog entry is a vehicle that Dodge launched in the 1950’s, way less well known than the Edsel but 100x more silly (or at least it seems that way now), the #1 vehicle on Al’s list, the
Dodge La Femme (yep, there is even a Web site dedicated to it now, and I bet its been viewed by far more people than ever saw the car in its day...).

Apparently back in the 1950’s, Chrysler Corporation for the first time noticed that women were starting to buy a lot of cars, and figured (logically?), that the best way to reach that market was to produce something special, something that seemed to feed into and propagate every stereotype you could imagine about female buyers in that day and age (or any other)…and so was created what could only be called the female stereotype caricature car, the Dodge La Femme. The 1955/56 offering was a Dodge Royal Lancer that overdosed on “pink” or as Al says, a “Royal Lancer on estrogen.” Okay, so the exterior was not pink exactly, but two tone “Sapphire White and Heather Rose” (“Heather Rose”?! that’s um, pink to you and me), with the moniker “La Femme” emblazoned in gold script on the fenders (oh yes, that would go well at the supermarket). The interior, was, of course, pink tapestry upholstery featuring rosebuds (really, I couldn’t make this up).

Now, of course it gets better, as one wouldn’t think of offering this car to women without a few other signature rosebud necessities as well, as the car purchase included the same rosebud interior print on an accompanying raincoat, rain bonnet, umbrella, and, a purse – just about everything the modern little lady might want in life…

I think Al says it best, “Even back in those Ozzie and Harriet heydays, women weren’t buying this brand of patronizing. During the two years the cars were offered, a grand total of 2,500 La Femmes were sold.”

So what do you think women car folks, is pink still the operative color of the day for women buyers, women web sites, etc.? Do you think designer raincoats, bonnets, umbrellas and purses really do enhance the car buying experience for a women consumer? As silly as this all sounds, do things like this, in a much more subdued way, still occur in marketing to women buyers or are large corporations (if not all retailers) more in tune? In the car market? In other product marketing?

Let me know what you think...

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008 

Vol. 4 No. 4

Two Recent News Reports that Tell a Very Interesting Tale
Both Automotive Manufacturers and Retailers are Moving to New Online Media…in a Big Way

So I recently read two news stories, one in an automotive industry trade magazine about a week ago, and one from an advertising trade magazine two days ago. They both seem to give quantitative proof to what had been indicated, that is, that automotive marketing is moving online Web 2.0 in a big way, and dealer ratings, video and social media will garner the lion’s share of the growth.

So clear are these messages, I reprinted each article in its entirety.

The first is a synopsis of research study data of a report by The Kelsey Group, as reported in AutoRemarketing on March 10th. As compared to this year v. last year, 59% of the dealers polled said they would use video on their Web sites v. 33% last year, 43% said they would use online customer ratings and reviews v. 29% last year, and, finally, the largest jump of all, 33% said they will use social networking sites v. 15% last year.

Also, 59% said they would increase online spending v. only 17% said they would do so for traditional media (while 46% will decrease traditional media, and only 8% will decrease online spending).

It paints a pretty clear picture where dealer’s heads are at these days…and where retailers go, the manufacturer follows – or is it the other way around, I’m not sure…

Take a look at the second article, about General Motors in Advertising Age

The country's third-largest advertiser is getting ready to shift fully half of its $3 billion budget into digital and one-to-one marketing within the next three years.”

And, “GM's Brent Dewar, VP-field sales, service and parts in North America, told Ad Age last December that the marketer will try to persuade its regional dealer ad groups "to shift their focus to digital vs. spot TV" starting this spring after the dealer co-ops, which spend some $500 million annually, are revamped.”

So while I’m not smart enough to figure out what is “cause” and what is “effect,” the direction the automotive world is turning, at least in terms of marketing and promotion, that is, getting people in cars, is pretty clear, at least for the near term.

Now I don’t know how all this specifically will effect fleet and remarketing, let alone how far and how fast the greater automotive world will actually move in this direction, but changes are clearly on the horizon, and hopefully we will do something to move move it forward in this emerging frontier…

As Seen in AutoRemarketing
Dealers Shift Toward Online Technology, Marketing
March 10, 2008

PRINCETON, N.J. — More and more dealers plan to start using Web 2.0 technology in their advertising campaigns, and most intend to increase spending on Internet marketing in the next year, according to a recent study.

A survey from The Kelsey Group indicated that 59 percent of dealers said they would utilize Internet video on their Web sites in the next 12 months, versus the 33 percent who already use the technology. Additionally, the number of dealers who implement online customer ratings and reviews is expected to rise from 29 percent to 43 percent, officials indicated.Meanwhile, 33 percent of respondents indicated they will use social networking sites, an increase from 15 percent."

These findings point to a significant disruption in the auto dealer advertising space," explained Neal Polachek, chief executive officer of The Kelsey Group. "There are valuable opportunities for traditional and new media companies that tune into dealers' adoption of Web 2.0 technologies and align with dealers' online media-buying intentions," Polachek added.

Dealers are also shifting the manner in which they advertise. Sixty-two percent of respondents claimed they plan to boost online media spending in the next 12 months. Only 17 percent said they will do the same for traditional media.Likewise, only 8 percent of dealers intend to cut online spending, while 46 percent will decrease traditional media spending.

The Kelsey Group gathered information for the study through an online survey in February. The next study is scheduled for the fall.For more information, visit

As Seen in Advertising Age
GM Roars Forward Into Digital Ad Channels
Changes at Dedicated Media Shop Lay Groundwork for Auto Giant to Shift Spending to Encompass Multiple Online Channels
Jean Halliday Published: March 17, 2008

The country's third-largest advertiser is getting ready to shift fully half of its $3 billion budget into digital and one-to-one marketing within the next three years. And as GM goes, so goes the entire automotive industry -- the leading advertising category that pumped some $9.42 billion into the ad economy last year.

The goal is to go well beyond the banner -- GM spent $197 million in online ads last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence -- to encompass gaming, search, mobile and a broad array of interactive applications, according to several executives close to the automaker. In the last few years GM has shifted several hundred million dollars from TV and print to digital and one-to-one, and that trend will accelerate, said the executives.

The clearest sign yet of the automaker's plans came in the last couple of weeks with changes at its dedicated media agency GM Planworks. First Dennis Donlin, longtime general manager and president of the agency, left and was replaced a few days later by Ken Taylor. But Mr. Taylor, who was previously exec VP-group client leader at sibling Starcom USA, Chicago, has been tasked not just with leading the agency's efforts on behalf of GM, but also with reintegrating Planworks into Starcom MediaVest Group.

'No offices will close'Laura Desmond, CEO of Starcom MediaVest Group for the Americas, declined to comment on specifics of the move, but said, "As GM has streamlined and got more agile, it seemed only appropriate to move from a siloed business approach to a more flexible, nimble approach that'd allow them to access all our centers of excellence." She denied this meant a total disbandment of Planworks, noting that no offices would close.

The idea, according to Ms. Desmond and Betsy Lazar, GM's director-advertising and media operations (who was speaking to Automotive News), is to break down walls at Planworks -- until now a self-contained business unit for GM -- and allow it to share the resources of the entire SMG Group. That means GM will be able, for example, to tap the expertise of MediaVest's branded-entertainment division, run by Brian Terkelson. It'll also be able to take advantage of SMG's buying and planning clout, and tap MediaVest and Starcom's top researchers. Importantly, it will also allow Digitas and SMG to work closely together on digital planning and execution.

SMG will work with GM, much like the way it works with Procter & Gamble or Coca-Cola, bringing a range of resources to bear.

Mark LaNeve, VP-vehicle sales, service and marketing for GM in North America, declined to talk numbers, but said, "Like all major marketers, we've moved into digital media in a big way," adding, "but the other media types are still very important and will still be a big part of our mix."

Online product researchBut a pattern is developing among automakers whereby TV and print are deployed for launches in order to raise awareness, while more of the continuous branding and sales activity shifts online -- as automakers and many of their dealers accept that the purchase process increasingly begins, and sometimes even effectively ends, on the internet.

At a time when a slowing economy is taking a toll on advertising, the prospect of billions of dollars fleeing TV, print, newspaper, radio and outdoor is unwelcome, to say the least.

The worse news for traditional media: GM's Brent Dewar, VP-field sales, service and parts in North America, told Ad Age last December that the marketer will try to persuade its regional dealer ad groups "to shift their focus to digital vs. spot TV" starting this spring after the dealer co-ops, which spend some $500 million annually, are revamped.

Hyundai Motor America is doubling its online ad spending this year over 2007, according to VP-Marketing Joel Ewanick, who declined to offer specific figures. "Online is getting to the point where it may be more important than the 30-second TV spot."

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