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Carmakers spend big to influence your next buy

By Claes Bell ·
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Posted: 12 pm ET
An ad for a 1958 Ford Fairlane.

An ad for a 1958 Ford Fairlane. Courtesy Beautiful Life.

Planning on buying a car soon?

Like it or not, your purchasing decision, whatever it ends up being, will probably be influenced in some form by advertising. Car advertising is so ubiquitous and sophisticated that even the most hard-nosed, comparison-shopping frugality expert can't completely discount its effects on his or her car buying process.

Just how ubiquitous is car advertising? Try counting car ads the next time you watch TV. Or surf the Web. Or open a magazine.

The money spent by car makers on advertising is incredible. On Advertising Age's list of the top 100 ad spenders, nine are automakers. Together, they spent a total of more than $11 billion on advertising in one year with the goal of changing the way you think about their products.

Advertising spending by carmakers
Company Rank Amount spent
General Motors 4 $2,901,100,000
Ford Motor Co. 11 $1,856,000,000
Toyota Motor Corp. 13 $1,690,400,000
Honda Motor Co. 26 $1,254,600,000
Nissan Motor Co. 30 $1,199,300,000
Chrysler Group 36 $1,129,600,000
Hyundai Motor Co. 73 $512,800,000
Volkswagen 90 $407,200,000
Daimler (Mercedes Benz) 93 $401,300,000
Total: $11,352,300,000

These numbers are a reminder of what the average car buyer is up against when trying to make a smart purchasing decision. After all, people don't buy huge trucks to haul a few bags of groceries or buy cars with huge V-8s to cruise along 5 mph below the speed limit because it's rationally a good idea.

No, they're thinking about how the car will make them feel behind the wheel or how people will perceive them when they're driving around town, and that's all tied up with advertising. There are literally billions of dollars a year flowing into a well-oiled machine of advertisers, dealers and marketing gurus trying to get you to spend more than you can afford on a car that may or may not be the right car for you.

That's why doing research on a car rather than trusting your gut is so important, I think. The fact is, when buying a car, it's hard to trust your gut when your gut has been fed a steady diet of ingenious advertising junk since the day you started watching television. Doing the work of reading reviews from multiple sources, looking hard at your budget and doing test drive after test drive may not be fun, but it beats the heck out of making a bad car purchase you'll regret for years.

Do you think you're susceptible to car advertising or am I overstating their influence?

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1 Comment
June 20, 2010 at 2:25 pm

I think car advertising does make a big difference--it doesn't necessarily mean that you'll choose the car advertised just on that basis, but it does frame what you think of as your options and make the advertised car more available when you try to think of an example of a car.