With 90 percent of car shoppers doing at least some of their research online, car companies are nudging dealers into digital advertising -- sometimes with subsidies or co-op funds that reimburse dealers for part or all of what they spend.
Chrysler Group and Volkswagen of America, to name two, are prodding dealers to do more pay-per-click advertising on Google, Yahoo and other search engines.
Little wonder. Search engines deliver two of every three visitors to dealership Web sites after those shoppers search for vehicles or stores by typing such phrases as "2013 VW Passat Seattle" or "Jeep Grand Cherokee Chicago."
But seeking to dominate brand searches has had unintended consequences. Chrysler Group and VW dealers in Cleveland, Boston and other cities report seeing prices for popular phrases spike in the past year for Google pay-per-click advertising as factory co-op money has coaxed more dealers into the fray.
To those concerns we say it's time for dealers to put on their big-boy pants. Best-practice dealers analyze results constantly to see whether adjustments need to be made to advertising pitches and keyword buys that vendors make on their behalf.
Dealers must monitor how vendors are spending their ad money just as closely as if their own employees were handling the chore. Otherwise, they leave themselves open to a "set it and forget it" campaign that will mirror that of rivals.