Monday, June 30, 2014

Beware of Car Dealer Direct Mail Advertising

Of course, you should be careful of all advertising…newspaper, TV, and radio, but direct mail can be especially deceptive. The reason this is so is because direct mail usually “flies beneath the radar” of the regulators. There are so many ads in violation of rules and laws that the regulators are overwhelmed. They focus on the most visible ads, often the ones that they see themselves in the newspaper or on TV. Direct mail represents a very small percent of total advertising. One reason for this is that it is considered by many advertising agencies to be too expensive and relatively ineffective. I believe that the only way to make direct mail effective for many advertisers is to use deception.

I have a couple of direct mail pieces on my desk and will cite some examples of this deception. “We’ll will buy back your present vehicle for up to $5,000 over current Kelly Blue Book Value on trade towards the purchase of a Brand New Toyota or Pre-Owned model.***” The asterisk is for the very fine print disclosure on the back of the letter which reads: On select models. Discounts and rebates will vary from model to model. Of course, with the two words “up to” in front of the $5,000, no disclosure is really necessary. Buying back your present vehicle for $1 over current Kelly Blue Book Value is technically “up to”$5,000.

Attached to the letter is a something that looks like a check made payable to the recipient for $8,207. Here we go again with the “up to”. “You can apply this registered voucher for a discount ‘up to’ $8,207 off MSRP on a new Toyota.” Of course there is another asterisk which states “on select models”.

But there’s more! “Just for attending this event, you will receive 5 “golden” $1 coins as a gift, and you may have won $100, $250, $50, or possibly even $4,500 cash!” We, of course, have another asterisk which says that your odds of winning anything are 1 in 25,000. I often wonder who responds to these ads, not understanding the difference between a “golden coin” and a gold coin. Or, who really think they have a reasonable chance to win anything.

It’s not over yet! “Every application for credit will be immediately submitted and processed for approval and on-the-spot delivery REGARDLESS OF PAST CREDIT HISTORY”. Of course, the operating key word here is “submitted”. There is no guarantee of “approval”. They will simply “submit” you application to the bank and if you have bad credit, the back will reject your application.

“During this weekend event, any new Toyota or used vehicle could be purchase with ZERO cash down!” The key word here is “could” instead of “can”. Of course, there is the old asterisk, which, if you can find and then read the fine print, it says with approved credit. You have to a very high Beacon score to buy a new or used car with zero down payment. Less than 1% of car buyers would have this high a Beacon score. There is also a phrase which says “CASH DOWN IS NOT SUGGESTED”. This dealer might not suggest it but I can almost guarantee the bank will not only suggest it but demand it.

“Due to overwhelming response and customer request, I would like to again offer you a personal invitation to receive 80% of base original MSRP for the car you are currently driving.” This promise doesn’t even have an asterisk. Of course the base MSRP excludes accessories. Sometimes an offer is so ridiculous that you wonder who would ever believe it. Ask yourself how any car dealer could promise to pay 80% of the new base MSRP on a used car that they have never seen. They don’t know how many miles are on the car, whether it has been wrecked, or even if the car will still run.

A customer recently sent me another direct mail scam from a local Honda dealer that I have to admit is pretty ingenious (albeit completely unethical). It is designed to look like an email sent from the dealership’s general manager to one of the sales managers and printed out. The "email" says:

Al,
I wasn’t able to get any pre-owned cars from the auction. Get in touch with and offer them up to $6,0061 for their 2004 Honda Civic.
I NEED IT!
If you didn’t already, you may just want to print this email and send it to again. I will honor this offer through June 30, 2014.
Thanks,
Casey

The printed “email” has a "handwritten" note on it that says “I tried calling you about this email from my general manager. If you’re interested, call me at 866…). This, of course, is a mass produced direct mail solicitation intended to fool customers into believing the general manager is personally interested in their particular vehicle. As in all direct mail scams, the fine print negates the offer. In this case, the fine print stipulates a $.40 per mileage deduction, a deduction for the cost of reconditioning, among other disqualifying requirements.

click to enlarge


Direct mail claims like those above, unfortunately do work. People actually come in and buy cars. Unfortunately these ads prey on those who are uneducated, have difficulty reading English, or are simply gullible. My advice is to ignore all car dealers’ direct mail solicitations. I’m not saying that 100% are phonies, but 99% are and the odds are so overwhelming, you’re better safe than sorry.

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