If it seems like every other commercial you see is advertising a car, it's not just your imagination. The automotive industry is the No. 1 category in advertising spend, with automakers comprising nearly one-fifth of AdAge's list of the world's largest advertisers.
But while they may be prolific, it doesn't mean they always get it right.
As a car dealership, there's plenty you can learn from automotive advertising fails. While automakers can spend several million dollars on PR efforts to bail themselves out after a massive marketing blunder, the same mistake could permanently destroy the reputation of a smaller business.
Here are two important lessons local dealerships can learn from major automotive fails:
Always Do Your Research
If you watched Super Bowl LII, you might've seen a series of ads from Ram Trucks. Even if you missed their commercials during the big game, you likely heard about the backlash as reported by the New York Times.
The popular brand used a recording of a 1968 sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. lauding the importance of service and paired it with scenes of people working, helping others and driving trucks. After the screen faded to black, the words "Built to Serve" appeared above the famous Ram logo.
The soundbite was pulled from a sermon in which King later criticizes automotive advertisers for using "massive verbal persuasion" to push people to buy vehicles they can't afford. And while the creative team behind this advertisement may have overlooked this detail, viewers were quick to remind them through immediate social media backlash.
Lesson: Do your research — and be wary of using an impassioned speech by a civil rights hero to sell cars. Even if you don't mean harm, it doesn't mean it won't rub your audience the wrong way.
Be Inclusive in Creative Decisions
Big auto brands have the luxury of paying for focus groups to test their ads before spending a fortune on production. Local dealerships are working with a much smaller budget, but they can still test their message.
Before launching an automotive marketing campaign, include a diverse group of employees in the decision-making process. If even one person feels the content is offensive, they likely aren't alone.
By bringing together people from different genders, cultures and backgrounds into the decision, you can avoid making a tone-deaf mistake like Audi.
Last year, the luxury automaker came under fire for a commercial that compared women to used cars. In the ad, a man's mother critically inspects his bride-to-be to make sure she's suitable — not unlike someone might scrutinize a pre-owned vehicle before buying. Fortune noted that Audi apologized and quickly pulled the offending ad, but not before plenty of public outrage.
Lesson: Make sure your decision-making committee is representative of your audience to avoid overlooking a problematic message.
Take the Right Steps
With so many competitors in the space, automotive advertisers know it often takes a bold message to cut through the advertising noise. That said, even one off-color message might stick in customers' minds for years to come. Risks can certainly pay off, but it's important to do your due diligence first.