Having slashed national advertising during the recession, automakers are turning more to online ads by regional dealer associations to help make up the difference.
"As Tier 1 has been reduced by necessity, there's more accountability for the branding element in Tier 2," said Philip Zelinger, president of Ad Agency Online LLC.
But it can be tricky mixing the factory's brand message with the dealers' hard sell — especially online. Automakers and dealers don't always link their digital messages effectively, and that can lead to lost business, warns a leading provider of digital marketing services.
Cobalt Group, of Seattle, advises factories and dealers to work more closely together — and to spend more — on Tier 2 digital marketing.
Tier 2 advertising by regional dealer associations is funded by car companies and local dealers. It is sandwiched between Tier 1 national advertising by automakers and Tier 3 local advertising by individual dealers.
Ad executives and dealers agree that integrating online marketing messages from factory and dealer sites creates more and better leads and increases the likelihood that those leads will become sales. More than four out of five shoppers use the Internet when they buy a car or truck, industry studies suggest.
"There needs to be coordinated, consistent messaging across tiers," said Matt Muilenburg, Cobalt's vice president of enterprise marketing solutions. "Tier 2 is critical to connecting OEMs' marketing messages to dealer sites."