Going ape over Tomkinson ads

Despite the originality of the opening ceremonies and the thrill of the downhill, the thing I remember most vividly about last month’s Olympic Games had nothing to do with athletic competition.

I can’t stop giggling about those silly Tomkinson trunk monkey commercials.

Have you seen them?

There are two ads playing now. In the first, a woman is pulled over for speeding. When it’s clear the officer intends to write her a ticket, she presses a button and a monkey hops out of the trunk of her car. First, he offers the patrolman a fistful of cash. When the officer shakes his head, the monkey pulls a secret weapon from behind his back: a doughnut!

In the final scene, the monkey forlornly looks out from the squad car’s back window as he’s being driven away to lockup.

The second ad, which I’ve seen only once, shows a trunk monkey kicking out the back seat of a stolen car and forcing the thief to pull over. The monkey drags the culprit out of the car to the railing of a bridge and throws him over, reclaiming the car for his owner.

Rick Tomkinson, owner of Tomkinson Automotive Group, believes most car dealers’ ads have left the public “shell shocked” from the barrage of gimmicks and come-ons.

Tim Borne, chairman of Asher Agency, agrees.

“Car dealers do bad advertising, as a rule,” he said.

Tomkinson wants to distance himself from the pack. “We want to give people a chuckle and hope they’ll come in and give us a try,” he said.

The idea, he said, is to increase his 30-year-old Fort Wayne-based company’s name recognition. Tomkinson sells Dodges and BMWs at 929 Avenue of Autos and Chryslers and Jeeps at 4801 Coldwater Road.

Making TV commercials can be expensive – a real hurdle for small- and mid-sized local retailers. But placing your name on one that’s a canned spot – one that can be personalized by a number of companies in different markets – can allow a business to run ads with better production values.

“It could allow you to look bigger than you are,” said John Ferguson, president and principal of Ferguson Advertising.

That’s the case here. Car dealerships in two other markets are running the same series of ads, which were designed by R/West, a West Coast agency, Tomkinson said. It’s the same agency that does those Career Builder.com ads that show a frustrated guy working at a company surrounded by a bunch of monkeys. Now, I know you’ve seen those clever commercials.

“Local or national, it’s tough to stand out,” Ferguson said. But, he added, a good concept can be the launching pad for a memorable ad, even without a big budget.

The trunk monkey ads have made an impression on Ferguson. They’ve also caught the eye of Chad Stuckey, founder and president of Brand Innovation Group.

His team gathers Monday mornings to dissect the commercials they remember seeing over the previous weekend. The real test of a good spot is whether viewers can remember what it was selling.

“Good humor’s hard to pull off,” Stuckey said. “Those (trunk monkey) ads make me laugh every time I see them. But will it make me go out and buy a car? I don’t know.”

Borne, of Asher Agency, said that although Dodge customers might get a kick out of the monkey, “For a BMW buyer, is that the image you want?”

I can’t afford a BMW, so I don’t know. I just know what’s funny. And so does Tomkinson. He thinks the ads’ tone will at least distinguish his dealership. The advertising guys I consulted say it’s tough to gauge commercials’ effectiveness without conducting focus groups before and after. Most of the results are measured anecdotally.

Tompkinson’s showrooms are seeing more customer traffic in recent weeks, although the owner concedes that consumer interest tends to take an upturn as winter ends and spring arrives. Still, those ads are making an impression.

“There’s no question it’s going to raise our name as the one company that’s not screaming at (customers),” he said.

There’s no question that I’m thinking Tomkinson. But I bought a new car only a few months ago. Do you think he’d sell me just the monkey?

Source: The Journal Gazette
Byline: Sherry Slater

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