Monday, October 13, 2003

Why the Web Makes A Huge Difference in Auto Buying

In a day or two, I'll make the final journey Superior Honda to pick up my 2004 Civic Hybrid. I just can't wait, and the only thing that could delay the pick up is nifty moonroof I'm having installed. While waiting for all this, I been working through all the "preliminaries" like extra insurance for the car. Overall, I got a great deal from Progressive -- $350 total for the year -- although I found the initial touch-tone customer service process a bit clunky.

But that's not the focus of my entry today. Today a major story appeared in Ad Age magazine entitled "TV Ads Don't Sell Cars: Consumer Cite Internet and Direct Mail as More Importnt." The article essentially marginalized the role of television as primary influence factor in driving auto sales. While 17% of the consumers Cap Gemin Ernst and Young cited TV ads as the an influence in their buying decision, nearly 26% cited internet search engines (I can relate to that), and 71% cited word-of-mouth (which we all know is greatly enabled by the internet). Wow! This is a category where most of the big bucks are pumped into TV. Expect a few brawls in the auto media buying departments. Also expect to see a bit of turmoil among auto ad agecies -- most have been aloof to interactive marketing and webs strategy.

As for my own purchase behavior, there's no question word-of-mouth was the primary driver. I never actually saw a Hybrid car until I heard about it from a friend, and that prompted me to go to Google to for a search. But even that didn't get me into the lot. I heard from another friend that a rental car company in Los Angeles (where I frequently travel for business) rented hybrid cars. I loved this option because I wanted to avoid "hard-sell" lot dealers at all costs. Plus, you just can't get the FULL feel of a new car while taking a 15 minute spin. So the next time I was in LA, I rented a Toyota Prius. While I squirmed over the design, I loved the car, especiall the James-Bond dashboard, which does a better job that the Honda Civic Hybrid lin visualizing the gas-electricity switching. I knew I was hooked on the Hybrid car concept when I pulled into a fast-food drive through and the car suddenly turned into a golf cart. Wow! (Henceforce began my own word-of-mouth behavior about the car.)


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