NEW YORK - Tom Florio does it eBay.
The publisher of Vogue, who surfs the Web to ogle vintage pickups, a few months ago found himself in an eBay Motors bidding war for a teal 1958 Chevy pickup. He won, and two weeks later the truck was shipped from California to Florio's home in the Hamptons.
"It's terrific," he says of the experience. "It's a great truck."
Florio is far from alone in purchasing his wheels on eBay. Last year, the online auction site was used to sell 300,000 vehicles, and the company says 25 percent of its gross merchandise sales came from cars and other automotive items.
eBay links buyers and sellers. It doesn't sell cars or take possession of vehicles. eBay started by focusing on rare or high-end specialty cars like Florio's truck. Now the company that changed the nature of the flea market is trying to transform the $372 billion used-car business by taking its pitch to ordinary consumers in a national TV and print campaign.
The campaign continues the "Do it eBay" musical campaign using an adaptation of the Frank Sinatra classic, "My Way." This time, a woman in a traffic jam sings about getting a deal on her dream car.
Commercials running on network and national cable TV began last week.
Carolyn Pollock, senior marketing manager of eBay Motors, declines to disclose spending but says it was comparable to last year's holiday TV campaign. According to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR, eBay spent $15.2 million on broadcast advertising in November and December. In 2002, eBay spent $52.6 million on advertising. Of the total, $12.1 million was dedicated to eBay Motors - overwhelmingly spent in magazines and radio. The campaign also uses print ads in 19 magazines including Sports Illustrated and This Old House. In July, the campaign will add an eight-page insert in 12 publications reaching 28 million readers. The insert tells the story of a character who buys a car on eBay Motors.
As part of the print effort, eBay Motors is conducting a sweepstakes involving online testimonials. The contest offers a prize of $50,000 to be spent on the used-car site.
eBay Motors and other online used-car transactions account for less than one-half of 1 percent of all used-car sales, experts say.
About 43 million used cars were sold in 2002, according to Manheim Auctions.
Seventy-five percent of the vehicles sold using eBay Motors went to buyers who crossed state lines to pick up vehicles, unusual in a traditionally local business, says eBay spokeswoman Shannon Stubo. "We're nationalizing the marketplace," she says.
But some auto experts call eBay Motors' used-car sales claims dot-com hype.
"I don't know whether the market and consumers are ready to purchase used vehicles blindly," says Scott Weitzman, senior director of J.D. Power and Associates.
Chip Perry, president of AutoTrader.com, which also offers auctions, says his company's research indicates that online used-car sales "are inherently limited by the fact that consumers are reluctant to make purchases sight unseen."
His site offers consumers "conditional bidding," where the sale is not complete until a final inspection.
Stubo says eBay Motors addresses that issue by offering insurance policies such as a one-month limited warranty or another that pays as much as $200,000 if a vehicle is materially misrepresented.
Advertising Age is a sister publication of Automotive News.