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Automakers' hopes for Friends are too high

Engage the consumer.

In this brave new age of social media, that's one of the new mantras among marketing mavens, both for automakers and dealers. You don't sell to consumers; you "engage" them. Get them to Like you on Facebook. Chat with your customers on social media. Engage them on their terms and thereby build loyalty to your brand.

But how much of this can marketing departments do before we run into the social-media era equivalent of the traditional bane of advertising: clutter?

You remember clutter, right?

Back when broadcast spots and print ads ruled, the goal was to cut through the clutter. Marketers were somehow supposed to make your commercial stand out when the consumer was bombarded with 20 or 40 car spots during a single football game broadcast.

I foresee clutter building on social media.

Consider the consumer who is invited to join the social network for her dealership and the automaker behind the brand of car she drives.

She already goes to the Facebook pages of her two favorite cosmetics and three favorite shoe brands, plus four boutiques, one bar, three restaurants, a medical-advocacy group, her weight-control support group, an airline and four tourist destinations she's considering for her next vacation.

Not to mention keeping up with her human friends.

Amid that social-media clutter, I'm guessing that she will add the car brand to the list of sites she visits frequently enough to be "engaged" if and only if she is, in fact, a car fanatic -- the sort of person who subscribes to one or more of the buff books.

If all the efforts in social media just result in connecting with the car enthusiasts, then marketers are just preaching to the choir. How does that help a brand connect to mainstream consumers?

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