Selling cars takes characters and wits

If you don’t read this column today, I can’t save you any money. Recognize the line? I thought so, which underscores the power of automobile advertising.

And yes, it’s alive and thriving, especially among Portland area auto dealerships, because it has to be. Scott Thomason’s face may have disappeared from the airwaves (he moved to Northern California), but the local auto mavens left behind are clamoring for ways to get you to like them –and want their cars.

“It’s all about marinating the mind of the consumer,” Ed Tonkin told a gathering of Portland Advertising Federation members Wednesday at the Oregon Convention Center. “I’ve never been convinced that a TV ad would get someone to get off the couch and buy a car.”

But when people are looking to buy a car, that’s the time when a familiar name, face or trunk monkey comes into play. Granted, more and more car buyers are doing their pre-purchase research on the Internet these days, but they’re still signing on the bottom line at the dealership.

Now that the familiar Thomason mug is history, there’s an opportunity for local dealers to fill the void and create some kind of emotional attachment. If car ads have proven anything through the years, it’s that silly often leads to sales. Bruce Chevrolet’s kangaroo, or Timberline Dodge owner Alex Laws saying he’d be willing to eat his hat, are examples of what apparently gets the job done.

The consumer may be smarter and more informed than ever before. But when we’re bombarded with thousands of commercial messages a day, a warm and appealing connection is, well, comforting.

“We wanted our name out there,” says Nancy Jaksich of Suburban Auto Group explaining why its ad agency, R/West, created the trunk monkey campaign. “We wanted to do something fun. We didn’t want to do price, but we wanted to get on (consumers’) radar. The monkey put us on the map.”

According to Jaksich, sales at Suburban have skyrocketed since the monkey (which actually lives in Los Angeles and flies up to shoot the ads) came on the scene two Super Bowls ago.

For his part, Tonkin has an idea about how to counter the monkey.

“We’re going to start putting some of our bloopers in commercials,” he says. “We put together an outtake reel for our employees’ holiday party, and I can’t tell you how many people said, ‘You gotta run this.’ It would show the human side of us.”

Switching signals

Two of Portland’s talk radio stations are swapping locations on the AM dial. Sports talk KFXX (“The Fan”) will move from its current 910 AM frequency to 1080 AM, switching with KOTK, home of nationally syndicated talk show hosts Don Imus and Tom Leykis.

Both stations are owned by Entercom Communications, which has made no statement on the move or when it will take place. But sources at the company say it wants to improve the audience reach of KFXX, especially in Clackamas County.

The 1080 frequency has a stronger signal — 50,000 watts during the day and 10,000 watts at night, compared with the 5,000 watts available on 910.

This is the second time that KFXX has switched frequencies. In 1998, “The Fan” moved to 910 in a dial swap with KKSN (1520 AM).

And now this…

Former KOIN (6) anchor Shirley Hancock’s lawsuit against the station and parent company Emmis Communications, which was scheduled to come to trial next month in U.S. District Court, has been delayed until August.

Attorneys from both sides requested the delay.

Hancock, whose contract was not renewed in June 2001 after 18 years at the station, is seeking unspecified damages claiming age and sex discrimination, wrongful discharge and breach of contract. In the lawsuit, Hancock also complains about derogatory comments by newsroom personnel and management, bullying of female employees and an on-air colleague’s “unprofessional and disruptive behavior, flying into rages … and throwing objects on the news set.”

Meanwhile, former KATU (2) anchor and “AM Northwest” co-host Cathy Marshall has hired the services of an attorney to consider legal action against the station. Marshall was told during her maternity leave this fall that her contract would not be renewed.

Source: Business Tribune
Byline: Pete Schulberg

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