Aftermarket Marketing: Go Big Or Go Local (Or Maybe Both)

by | Jan 5, 2021 | 0 comments

Great consumer advertising makes a lot of sense for aftermarket companies, for a lot of reasons. But reaching out to the consumer directly with marketing involves different priorities.

There are many examples of major aftermarket-brand advertising and marketing campaigns designed to raise consumer awareness about products and services that they might not think about during their normal daily lives.

Over the years, some of these campaigns became so iconic that just hearing their tagline immediately summons the name of the brand. (If you’re of a certain age, for example, simply reading “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later” will bring images of a FRAM filter to mind. That slogan actually goes back to 1970.)

Whether through a great tagline, a strong brand-value message, or with humour, comic-strip characters or celebrities, the key goal of most advertising and marketing, naturally, is to build brand recognition and sales.

But in the process, they often also serve to build awareness for the entire category of products or services being featured.

In fact, being able to communicate – explicitly or implicitly – a message that attracts customers to the aftermarket, where independent brands often are sold, is an important underlying objective of a successful aftermarket brand campaign. These may be large campaigns, smaller campaigns, localized campaigns, or even single-shop initiatives.

Three current campaigns illustrate this idea in action particularly well: DieHard’s Bruce Willis campaign; the regular customer communications of independent shop Audrey’s Auto Repair in Saskatchewan; and a local campaign by a franchisee of the national chain Mr. Lube.

Of these, probably the one with the highest profile is a just-released commercial featuring Bruce Willis, which highlights the DieHard battery brand with a play on the Die Hard movie franchise. In the new spot, Bruce Willis playfully reprises his McClane character in tongue-in-cheek scenes that, while recreating the ambiance of the films, highlight the battery’s quality and reliability. 

(In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that Carquest, whose parent Advance Auto Parts owns the DieHard battery brand, is a client of this company.)

A witty, slightly over-the-top approach has been a consistent thread for DieHard through the years: cars left to chill on frozen lakes, assembled in sports stadiums, or  – one of my personal favourites – featuring the New Age musician Gary Numan “playing” 24 cars hooked up to a single battery. But the new commercial pushes the tradition to a whole new level.

Advance Auto Parts, which purchased the DieHard brand in December of 2019, could have gone in any direction they wanted, but they clearly grasped that there is a legacy in the brand that has built up over the decades. However, not every organization has the budget, or a product this iconic, or even the need to have a broad-based consumer campaign in the first place. And of course, not every component in a vehicle is equally suited for major consumer marketing campaigns.

That’s the arena where the independent shop has the most powerful influence. As a shop, it’s your role to reach out directly and regularly to your consumers. Usually, the brand you are promoting is not a specific product brand, but your business, the banner or franchise you are connected to, or some combination of these.

These days, one of the most important messages that independents are focusing on is reassuring customers that they are going to be handled with all due care during the time of the pandemic. Thee campaigns may be executed in-house by shops themselves, or with the able assistance of the banner/franchise marketing departments.

One fine recent example in this category comes from a small independent service shop, Audrey’s Auto Repair, an AutoPro member in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Audrey Gottlieb and her team’s activities were among the first of their kind that came to my attention, through the shop’s work promoting valet services, revised protocols and procedures, a key drop system, and other services designed to promote safety during the pandemic.

aftermarket audrey's

Audrey’s is not the only business to launch a strong consumer campaign publicizing its efforts in this area, of course, but what’s notable is that the shop got the word out early on, and has remained consistent ever since. It continues to be a focus of their messaging, with regular newsletter updates and other messaging that is clean, direct and clear, and that offers (among other things) value in return for their customers’ loyalty. This is something that virtually every local business can do, but it does take consistent effort to keep the messaging fresh.

A slightly different but equally noteworthy campaign comes from the national Mr. Lube quick-lube chain. What makes it interesting is the effective use of the combined strengths of  a national-brand service chain with a hyper-local promotion. I don’t recall seeing another campaign that has worked in quite the same way; usually national service entities connect with other national entities to execute promotions.

aftermarket marketing mr. lube

This one, which happens to be in my own neighbourhood in Sudbury, Ontario, offers free pizza with an oil change at the local Mr. Lube. But it doesn’t send you to a national pizza chain. It sends you to a very local pizza shop – so local, in fact, that it’s just a minute or two walk down the street from the quick-lube shop.

What makes this approach notable is that it keys into a significant priority among consumers lately: the desire to shop local. The integration of a nationally recognized service brand with a local business provides a very effective connection to the community. It is easy to see the virtues of a local auto service business promoting its fellow businesses in the area. But it’s less common to see such a strong bridge between national and local.

For local shops, whether part of an aftermarket banner program or a franchise association, it’s wise to coordinate with your national managers to spearhead these hyper-local connections, along with or even in place of national campaigns. Consumers are looking for trusted professionals, but they are also keenly aware of the need to support local business.

Whether you are a standalone independent or a multinational chain, connecting with consumers is an important component of effective brand building and raising the importance of car care at large. But at the same time, it is also critical that aftermarket businesses reinforce their position as supportive community members. In other words: you may not be Bruce Willis, but you can still be a local hero.

Below are some selected videos of classic ad spots from aftermarket organizations. Enjoy!

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