SAN FRANCISCO -- Digital, digital, digital was the clear, repetitive marketing message for auto dealers at this year's National Automobile Dealers Association convention.
Move beyond the old world of TV, newspapers and radio, thousands of dealers were advised, and embrace the new world of mobile ads, Internet communications and social media.
But ad agency owner Terry Lancaster had a different message for retailers: Don't be so quick to change horses.
"Traditional media isn't dead," says Lancaster, whose 20-year-old Nashville agency, Instant Events, works with car dealers around the country, regardless of where their ads run.
"Dealers should be spending their money on digital, but not all of it. Offline advertising drives online activity. Something caused somebody to go to Google and look up your dealership's name. How else did they already know your name and your reputation before they found you online?"
Lancaster was hardly a curmudgeon grumbling from the alley behind Moscone Center. Last year, NADA asked him to conduct workshops on this topic for the 2015 convention, and his meetings were packed.
Lancaster's agency doesn't buy media for clients or advise them on where to advertise. It simply produces spots after a dealer has already decided where they will appear.
His warning is that the industry's rush to online-only marketing leaves a lot of opportunity on the table.
"Everyone is so focused on millennial buyers," he observes. "The industry consultants are looking out 10 or 15 years and telling us that those younger consumers don't like the usual retail process.
"But most of the dealers I work for aren't looking out 10 years -- they're thinking about selling cars next Saturday. And a lot of their buyers will be 50 years old or more, and maybe not even using a smartphone."