Carfax instills fear and manipulates consumers into doing its will. If Carfax were a political candidate, watchdog groups would be crying ‘smear campaign’ for its advertisements.Thankfully, the presidential candidate hype machine and the inevitable campaign commentary won’t start in earnest until the February so I’ll call it what it is: strong arming. And successful at that.
Carfax’s target market in this case is used car dealerships. They could have run ads in industry publications extolling the virtues of carrying Carfax reports and the benefits to conversion rates (and they may for all I know.) Rather than take the kind and gentle approach though, they are bullying customers with TV ads.
Instead of entering into a debate with dealers, they reach out to the dealers’ customers and play to the oldest and most political motivator around. They use fear. They describe all of the awful things that could be lurking in a car’s history and how a Carfax report can protect consumers from dealers. Then the muscle comes in when they tell you what to do about it. Just ask your used car dealer for a Carfax report. “Show me the Carfax” is their simple call to action and it really puts their dealer customers in a bind. After all, any reputable dealership with nothing to hide would surely offer prospective customers a vehicle history report, free of charge. Right?
The unspoken implication is that if you don’t ask them to ‘show me the Carfax,’ they’re going to take advantage of you. By raising the expectations of consumers, Carfax is putting the squeeze on dealers and having the dirty work done for them by concerned car shoppers.
This is the kind of half truth tactic that makes political campaigns so unbearable. In this case, there’s no denying that it works. Just don’t expect a lot of a lot of ‘across the aisle’ collaboration from dealers if an alternative service becomes available.
The performance of a Marketing campaign is difficult to predict. There are just too many variables: vehicles used, frequency, the mindset of the recipients, unforeseeable marital scandal by celebrity pitchman, etc.
It’s no wonder that sometimes we get completely unexpected results.
The Cult Status Effect – Execution that is so bad, it becomes a meme of sorts, spreading the word much further than if it were merely mediocre. A lot like winning the lottery, these rarely happen on purpose. It worked for The Snuggie, The Doyle and Devoe Real Estate Team and the Montgomery Flea Market but pursue this strategy at your own risk. Most bad commercials or ads simply die out quickly and anonymously. Or worse, you could become…
…The Punchline – The worst kind of viral ad. This type of message gets remembered and passed on for all the wrong reasons. What seemed like a good idea on paper becomes the bane of your existence. Bad campaigns are notoriously hard to live down once they’ve picked up steam online.
Too Much of a Good Thing - Like mom said, Halloween candy is wonderful but too much will give you a stomach ache. Growing up in Minneapolis, we visited family in Chicago on a regular basis. In Chicago, I remember hearing the catchy jingle for Empire Carpet – “5-8-8; 2-3-hundred… em-PIRE!” and thinking that it was a fun ad.
Now Empire commercials are aired in the Twin Cities and I hear their ads every single day on TV and on the radio. My nostalgia-hazed memories of Empire have been replaced with an intense loathing for the cursed song. (I realize that Advertising 101 says that repetition is good and even annoying ads work if they’re memorable. There is a line though and Empire has crossed it.)
If the Empire ads are not familiar, think Presidential campaign ads or football TV commercials for men’s prescription medication. You get the idea.
Extenuating Circumstances – Some things are simply out of a marketer’s control. No matter how good an ad campaign is, it can be sabotaged. A classic example in the news today is Toyota. Their recent ad campaigns have been eye-catching and effective. (Even their Prius campaign, which is a little creepy, delivers their message well.) But all of that is undermined by safety concerns resulting from massive recalls.
It’s good to remember that while we do our best to influence our marketplaces, persuasion is an unpredictable field that sometimes yields strange results.
By now you’ve probably seen Domino’s Pizza’s commercial where they admit that their pizza was terrible. They’ve grabbed a lot of attention with this bold tactic and I give them credit for daring to be so transparent.
For all the things they’ve done well here, the story still seems less than genuine to me. They forgot one thing: the scapegoat.
They show chefs and executives reading all the negative feedback, swallowing hard and going back at it with a new enthusiasm. After a big group clap, they unveil the new pizza recipe that tastes way better than before. Does anyone else see the problem here?
The people delivering the new pizza are the same people that made the old pizza. Why should we trust them to do any better this time?
Domino’s almost got it right. But if you’re going to admit your product stinks, heads have to roll. We need to know that the problem has been identified and eliminated. There has to be a ‘new management’ moment that makes us feel like things are truly different.
Ending the ‘pizza makeover’ that way might not have been as uplifting but it would be more believable.