In the Internet age, many dealers still rely on old standbys to pitch cars online, such as "Hot, hot, hot" and "So clean you can eat off the hood!"
Don't do it, says Whit Ramonat, executive vice president of Penske Automotive Group's central region.
"Shoppers just want the facts," said Ramonat, whose 25 locations under his command sold 21,642 used vehicles in 2010 exclusively with online advertising.
Online customers typically scan ads quickly for key information, such as prices, reviews and mileage. Dealers debate whether hype still helps catch a shopper's eye.
Many dealers now are using software to craft online ads. For the past year, Penske Central has used an electronic ad-writing tool called MAX developed by Incisent Technologies of Chicago.
The tool, and that of competitors, takes information about a vehicle -- navigation, leather seats, mileage, Carfax report, quality ratings and expert reviews -- and automatically generates ads.
The copy is ready to load onto a dealer's Web site or third-party vehicle shopping site. A minivan might emphasize safety features, while a sports car its horsepower and styling.
With MAX and other changes, Penske Central achieved an outstanding 0.9-to-1 ratio of used-vehicle sales to new ones in 2010. The region's dealers sold 23,964 new vehicles last year.
Other copy-writing options include those developed by HomeNet Automotive, Dealer Specialties, eCarList and vAuto Inc.
Even with those tools available, many dealers fall back on bad habits, such as listing unexciting features in alphabetical order.
That results in ads that always list automatic power locks and automatic power windows first -- hardly the best selling attributes of any vehicle, said Pat Ryan Jr., CEO of Incisent.
Since more than 80 percent of all car shopping begins on the Internet, it's important that dealers have attractive, relevant ads that stand out, said eCarList CEO Len Critcher, whose company will release a new description-builder next month.
Virginia dealer Gary Duncan says he's a fan of vAuto's inventory-management software, which includes an intelligent copy-writing tool called AutoWriter.
Duncan, whose Duncan Automotive Network owns three stores in the Blacksburg area, said he's partial to AutoWriter because it can take the same car and generate three distinct flavors of ads: brochure, conversational and pizzazz.
Brochure is a lot like the MAX approach, with relevant facts and features. He calls the approach subtle. The conversational choice, he says, has a more breezy tone.
Duncan calls the last category "industrial strength." That means it's laced with adjectives and sometimes cliches.
"The truth of the matter is that nobody can tell you which style works best," Duncan said. "Every buyer is different."
Duncan says used-car sales accelerated at his stores 18 months ago when he mastered the vAuto tools and had managers and staff learn the technology, too.
Until he got involved, the stores paid for vAuto but failed to use it effectively, he said. Today Duncan Automotive sells more than one used car for every new one. Duncan sells 150 to 175 used and new vehicles per month.
And some of that credit goes to better online ads -- including the industrial-strength ones. He clearly knows the cliches by heart, quoting with a chuckle: "Be the envy of the neighborhood driving around with the top down on your new ...."