Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2001   by Andrew Ross, Editor


I recently had the dubious privilege of being on the receiving end of a telephone survey that got me thinking about advertising.

While I usually terminate such phone calls as quickly as the words “sorry, not tonight” can cross my lips, this particular caller caught me at a weak moment when the only thing on my mind was folding laundry. (Do you fold the arms in first or second?) Anyway, it soon became apparent that the survey was designed to find out what I recalled about beer advertising and marketing campaigns.

Now, although I’m not a huge beer drinker, I have been known to upend a pint or two on occasion, and perhaps more importantly I do watch television.

Consequently, I was surprised at how little of the television commercials I actually retained. I could recall very little of the ad campaigns and told the researcher that it didn’t matter anyway, because I wasn’t inclined to the brands she was asking about because I don’t like the way they taste.

I am, I suppose, a “Harvey the Rabbit” consumer. I’m here, and I’m a customer, and I leave evidence of my passing, but will remain unseen as no amount of advertising is going to make me think that an Ex or a Blue is a better beer than Stella Artois.

So, does this mean that Labatt and Molson have been wasting their advertising dollars? Doubtless they have scads of research saying that they are not. After all, it’s a pretty large business category. About 10 million Canadians enjoy at least a beer or two every year, and on average consume two dozen cases per year. That’s about two cases a month, or a beer and a bit a day. There’s a lot of business to be had there, but it’s just not from me. Luckily for the beer companies, someone else is drinking my quota.

But how do these companies know their money isn’t, in fact, being wasted? Faced with this question, I did what I always do: call someone who knows better than me. Speaking with an advertising exec who shall remain nameless, I learned that the success of many campaigns is hard to judge. It can only really be inferred by asking consumers what they remember, or if they remember. Sure, the ultimate test is increased sales, but that’s elusive at best of times.

Probably one of the most salient points of advertising comes courtesy of 19th century merchant John Wanamaker, who said, “I know half the money I spend on advertising is wasted, but I can never find out which half.” Where beer advertising is concerned, I think I could have told him.

But how does any of this relate to the aftermarket? Largely, it doesn’t, which is exactly the point. Which is why I don’t understand why some companies spend money advertising products on television that the consumer treats like a toothache. Few product categories used in automotive service have any share of mind among consumers, and most don’t have dominant market share, when simply building awareness will naturally build your sales in a way that makes financial sense.

Consumers don’t know what most of the products on their car do or look like, and they don’t care. What they want is a repair. And since the parts to conduct that repair are decided upon by the trade, it would seem to make sense that those are the minds you would want to influence.

The beauty of this situation is that, whereas the beer companies have very little idea of who is their prime target beyond the facts that demographics and research can tell them, we actually know who the folks who buy the parts are and, even better, we know where they are, too. We stick their names on the front of this magazine every month.

It almost makes me feel sorry for the folks at the beer companies.


We’ll have lots in store for you next month, including Heavy Duty Market info, Car Care Products, Oil, Lubricants and Additives, plus an interview with the Incoming AIA chairman.

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