Dealer Advertisements – Low-Hanging Fruit for Enforcers?

I admit that I’m a bit quirky. Quirky Exhibit One is what I do when I travel. Whenever possible, at breakfast, I try to find a local paper. When I do, I sip my coffee and go immediately to the car dealership ads to see how many disclosure and “unfair and deceptive acts and practices” violations I can find and if dealers have found new ways to violate the advertising laws. Dealership ads are a source of entertainment that beats the comics, hands down.

Federal and state enforcers, however, are threatening to end my fun. The Federal Trade Commission’s Operation Steer Clear has announced a number of advertising enforcement actions against dealers, and now state attorneys general are joining the posse. The latest AG to get a dealership in the crosshairs is New Jersey’s.

On August 5, Acting Attorney General John J. Hoffman and the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs announced the filing of a complaint against Bergen Auto Enterprises, LLC, d/b/a Wayne Mazda and Wayne Auto Mall Hyundai, for repeated deceptive advertising practices. The complaint alleges that the dealerships advertised vehicles for sale without disclosing to consumers that used vehicles had previously been used as rental vehicles and/or had sustained significant prior damage and without publishing statements to consumers about applicable purchase costs, as required by New Jersey law.

The five-count complaint alleges that the dealerships committed multiple violations of both the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act and the state’s motor vehicle advertising regulations. The state of New Jersey wants restitution for consumers and the imposition of civil penalties, among other remedies.

Additionally, the complaint alleges that certain new vehicles offered for sale or lease had been sold months before but remained featured in the dealerships’ advertisements. The AG claims that a 2013 Mazda advertised for lease had actually been sold almost 11 months before the advertisement was published. In another instance, the Hyundai dealership allegedly advertised for at least 175 days a 2013 Hyundai Genesis for lease that it did not possess and that was, in fact, located and titled in Pennsylvania.

” ‘The alleged actions of Bergen Auto Enterprises demonstrate contempt for consumers and their rights under the law. The Wayne Mazda and Wayne Auto Mall Hyundai dealerships allegedly offered vehicles and terms that were not attainable, and concealed important details about other vehicles for sale and lease, all in a calculated effort to profit at consumers’ expense,’ ” said Division of Consumer Affairs Acting Director Steve Lee.

Newspaper advertisements for Wayne Mazda and Wayne Auto Mall Hyundai also allegedly failed to include legally required statements that explain to consumers what costs the advertised price included and what additional costs consumers would need to pay. The complaint also alleges that the dealerships advertised prices of new vehicles that reflected dealership discounts but failed to properly explain the qualifications necessary to obtain those discounts. For instance, Wayne Mazda advertised prices and included a footnote – “Available to qualified buyers on select vehicles” – but did not specify the vehicles to which the discount applied or the conditions necessary for the consumer to qualify for the discount.

Keep in mind that, so far, all we have here are allegations – the AG still has to convince a court that the dealerships did what they are charged with doing. If the AG’s allegations are true, though, I really have to wonder who at the dealerships is responsible for the legal compliance of these ads and what the advertising compliance review process looks like.

My bet is on “nobody” and “nothing.” If that describes your dealership, you need to know that the federal and state enforcers are in an absolute lather about dealers’ ads. If your ad process isn’t up to snuff, it’s time to get to work.

Catherine M. Brennan is a partner in the Maryland office of Hudson Cook, LLP. Cathy can be reached at 410.865.5405 or by email at

Copyright (c) 2014 LLC. All rights reserved.  This article appeared in Spot Delivery(r). Reprinted with express permission

Car shopping differences between women and men drive sales opportunities

Car dealers looking for an edge may know there are differences between women and men when they shop for new or used vehicles.

And the most savvy dealerships use that information to boost sales.

The results of a recent market intelligence study by Kelley Blue Book may help. It involved about 40,000 U.S. adults and came from an analyses of data from KBB’s own website and other survey results.

First the big picture.

“When it comes to car shopping, women are driven by features – engaging in extensive research to find the best fit – while from the outset many men are revved about a particular car brand,” according to KBB, an auto-shopping and automotive industry information source.
“One in five men knows the exact vehicle he wants, while women are twice as likely to be undecided about what vehicle they desire,” said KBB. “Additionally, 58 percent of men are confident in the car-buying arena versus 38 percent of women. As a result, women take longer to make a purchase, because they are spending more time than men doing research to build confidence and knowledge.”

Women take 75 days on average to make a purchase, compared to 63 days for men, the study found.

So, the more a dealership can satisfy the need for information, especially online via mobile devices, the greater the likelihood that it will succeed in selling to women, experts say.

In its study, Kelley Blue Book also found that:

  • Women are more likely to see cars simply as a way of getting from one place to another, while men tend to view them tied to their image and accomplishments.
  • Women, who tend to be more utility-minded, prefer non-luxury SUVs and sedans, while men, who tend to be more image conscious, want trucks, coupes and luxury sedans.
  • Women prefer non-luxury Asian automobile brands, which they view to be more practical, while men want domestic trucks and European luxury brands because of the image they portray.
  • Women value practical benefits such as durability and reliability, safety and affordability more than men, who are more drawn to interior layout, exterior styling, technology and ruggedness.
  • Women define a successful transaction as getting the exact vehicle they want, while men are more about negotiating the best deal.

“What we can glean from this research is that we need to continue our focus on providing the proper tools and content to help shoppers narrow down choices, therefore bringing balance and filling gender gaps in the car-shopping experience,” said Hwei-Lin Oetken, vice president of market intelligence for Kelley Blue Book’s

Striking a balance is important to auto dealers because “women are the fastest-growing segment of car buyers,” accounting for an estimated 50 percent of light-vehicle purchases (around 27.5 million in 2013) and influencing 80 percent, according to a report from
The Kelley Blue Book data is a good reminder of that – or a good place to start.

MarkMacesichMark Macesich is a senior writer/editor and frequent B2C and B2B blogger and social media contributor in marketing/communications at Santander Consumer USA. He formerly was an editor at The Dallas Morning News. 

Improving staff’s phone etiquette could increase your sales

Selling cars isn’t what it used to be.

In years past, selling a car meant walking the lot and being prepared for potential buyers that showed up at the dealership. And while some of the parking lot prowl is still necessary, a car salesperson must have a few more skills with today’s shopper. One of these skills is working the phones effectively.

Sounds simple enough, right? Apparently not.

A study of 1,000 mobile phone calls to dealerships showed that staffers didn’t ask for the prospective customer’s contact information in 66 percent of the calls and didn’t attempt to make an appointment in 63 percent of calls, according to Marchex Inc. and reported recently in Automotive News.

In another article from, a similar survey found that 72 percent of dealers did not ask for an appointment, 35 percent did not suggest alternatives if the caller’s first vehicle of interest was sold and 24 percent of dealer voicemail systems were full or not functional, so customers were unable to leave a message.

This at a time when phone leads are outpacing Internet/email leads by a 4-1 ratio, Cobalt, a digital marketing solutions provider, reported to Automotive News based on data collected from more than 10,000 dealership and automaker websites.
Phone skills take on added significance for dealerships that use lead generators, which provide those dealership with potential buyers.

Companies like supply dealers with leads that are pre-approved for financing and are ready to buy. But it’s up to a salesperson to call and set up an appointment with the prospect to move to the next step in the sales process.

“More customers are providing their mobile numbers on the application, so you are able to reach the customer quickly and more efficiently than in the past,” says Scott Rundle, vice president of direct originations with RoadLoans.

That’s where training comes in, with more and more dealerships turning to vendors like Century Interactive and Phone Ninjas to monitor, evaluate and provide feedback on how sales staff could have handled a call better, reported Automotive News.
“If you’re doing nothing [in phone training your sales staff], you’re leaving a lot of opportunities out there,” one dealer told Automotive News.

Rundle said effective phone etiquette is the key when it comes to converting prospects into buying customers. “Having a strong effective phone etiquette opens up your opportunity to close loans … Our RoadLoans customers are thankful to be approved and are open to the opportunity to hear from our dealers, so they can drive off in the car of their dreams. [A dealer’s] positive tone and approach to our customer makes all the difference and will result in sales!”

So, whether phone calls are inbound or outbound, they matter to your business.

LaQuendaJacksonLaQuenda Jackson is a senior copywriter at Santander Consumer USA. She has more than 15 years of experience in the communications field, previously serving as a television anchor and reporter in the southwest region.

Local marketing still relies on word-of-mouth recommendations, study shows

This headline caught our eye: “Word of mouth still dominates,” referring to local marketing.

“Word of mouth is still the leading source for new business,” according to F&I and Showroom online. “But a new study says [online] review sites continue to gain ground.”

“In the age of online reviews, it turns out that word of mouth may still be the most common way consumers recommend local businesses – but habitual use of the Internet to find reviews is increasing,” reported F&I, citing a survey of more than 2,000 customers by SEO firm BrightLocal.

The survey found that 61 percent of respondents recommended a local business to people they know by word of mouth, including a car dealership, compared to 38 percent on Facebook. Other online sites also were cited, however, including Yelp, Twitter, Google+ Local and Tripadvisor, though none of those online garnered more than 13 percent of local marketing survey responses.

“Word of mouth is clearly the most popular way for consumers to recommend a business to someone they know,” according to BrightLocal’s analysis of the results. “Consumers prefer to give recommendations to people they know on a more personal basis.”

And what factors “would make you more likely to recommend a local business to people you know?”

They’re reliable and professional – Far and away the most important factor in local marketing, with 68 percent support.

They’re friendly and welcoming – The second most important factor at 44 percent.

I had a unique and original experience – Which drew 36 percent of responses.
*Numbers add up to more than 100 percent because customers could choose more than one response.

Only then did financial factors come into play, such as special offers (32 percent) and price (28 percent). A request by a business owner generated only 9 percent of responses.

However, the survey doesn’t dismiss the potential business impact of online reviews, indicating that 62 percent of the survey respondents said they trust those as much as personal recommendations “if there are multiple customer reviews to read” or “if I believe the reviews are authentic” and another 26 percent were comfortable with online recommendations for some types of businesses. Only 13 percent of the consumers do not trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

“Local consumers are placing more trust in online reviews than ever before,” said BrightLocal, citing the 88 percent of “yes” responses compared to 79 percent in 2013 and drop in “no” replies from 21 percent.

Details of the report, Local Consumer Review Survey 2014, including questions posed to consumers in the United States (90 percent) and Canada (10 percent), are available on the BrightLocal website.

See the Santander Consumer USA blog for more news on auto-, auto-finance and SCUSA-related topics.

MarkMacesichMark Macesich is a senior writer/editor and frequent B2C and B2B blogger and social media contributor in marketing/communications at Santander Consumer USA. He formerly was an editor at The Dallas Morning News. 

Making the most of shoppers’ tax refunds

InfographicThe holiday selling season is over and tax refund season has started, which means auto and truck dealers hardly have time to catch their collective breath.

Tax refunds, of course, help drive shoppers who didn’t buy at year’s end to dealer showrooms now.

Santander Consumer USA and Santander Auto Finance (SAF) know how important the tax refund season is to our 14,000 dealers nationwide. So, in an infographic, “Bank on the 2015 Tax Rush,” we’ve set out to give you some useful insights and tips for dealers seeking to make the most out of the selling opportunities afforded by shoppers with money in their pockets – figuratively and literally.

Santander wants you to get off to the best possible start to the new year, which means knowing about the timing of your customers’ purchases (and why you can’t start too early), how much extra money they may have to spend and how to work effectively with SAF on completing financing deals.

So take a deep breath and get started on what could be the best tax refund season in years.

MarkMacesichMark Macesich is a senior writer/editor and frequent B2C and B2B blogger and social media contributor in marketing/communications at Santander Consumer USA. He formerly was an editor at The Dallas Morning News.