Dealers Want "Gen Y" To Buy Cars, Because That's Their Business

By Blake Z. Rong | August 02, 2012
Those of us in Generation Y, for all the scorn heaped upon us, are a surprisingly savvy group of people. Turns out, we know what we want—for the most part, we spend most of our time chasing after anything with that intangible, ephemeral property of "cool," with borderline forays into "irony" that we'll never admit to. We like to think we know what's cool. So, it turns out, do car dealers. And for good reason: the under-35 demographic made up 24.4 percent of car sales in 2001, but dropped by half—to 12.7 percent—less than 10 years later. For people who sell cars, this is understandably a form of distress. Dealerships are stuggling to maintain the momentum needed to get young people into the showrooms, and at this infant stage of such a changing trend, they're throwing anything they can at the wall and seeing what sticks. Hey, isn't that like marketing in the first place? It's gotten to the stage where marketing classes are developing campaigns for car companies straight from the mouths of their target consumers—like Professor Robert Gilbert at the University of Pittsburgh, who teaches a course that develops research, public relations, and advertising strategies for Chevrolet, Honda, and Nissan. Which, for car companies looking to target  students in the first place, is perfect. They get to see what kids like, and college kids get to put in all the work for free. And isn't free labor from impressionable youngsters what higher education is all about?
"They can reach more (Generation) Y'ers more effectively, more cost efficiently this way than they could using traditional marketing strategies," said Gilbert. Cars today are different than they were in Gilbert's day (he being a self-identified baby boomer); "they're not a sex symbol, they're not a status symbol, they're not a part of your persona. They're a means to an end." "When you can bring somebody into the fold, you have that many more cars you can sell them," said Rob Cochran, the CEO of Century 3 Kia in Pittsburgh. The youth demographic does want cars, and prejudice aside, simplifying the buying process as some dealers are doing is a way to get people from all walks of life inincluding a few trendsetters. The Detroit News mentions dealerships using mascots and stuffed animals to appeal to a younger generation, with the requisite nod towards social media. "As car brands lose out to young buyers," the article reads, "dealers are focusing on strategies from brighter car colors to stuffed animals and mascots." If you're willing to take this statement at face value, it's perfect for an ADD-addled generation who don't want to worry about "contracts" and "fiscal responsibility" and would rather see Yo Gabba Gabba! Kia didn't release demographics for its midsize Sorrento SUV, but we can't imagine it's soaring over the Soul in the 18-34 demographic. We know that thug-life hamsters are what's really up. Fo'shizzle. (Do people still say that?) In fact, the Soul is one of the few glimmers of success in the youth-targeting automotive market. It's transformed Kia into one of the fastest-growing companies today. Its rapping hamsters have won the company a slew of advertising awards. Kia is selling about 10,000 Souls per month, and it sold more than 100,000 Souls last year—far exceeding expectations. And it could all be undone by Cochran's Pittsburgh-based Century 3 Kia, which is luring in young people with ads starring Gary Busey. Gary Busey shouldn't be used to lure anything—except maybe deep-sea cephalopods and generic Valtrex by the fistful—but more often than not, marketing is a gamble, a set of hypothetical guesses on erroneous and rapidly-aging data, constrained by feasibility studies, a desire for mass-market acceptance, and pure economics. What the hell do kids want? As a member of this illustrious, parental-mooching, barista-slacking, future-alcoholic unambitious trend-obsessed generation, I feel qualified to offer a few hints. But here's a dirty little secret: I don't know either. What I want isn't what my peers want. I want a 1972 Porsche 911R prepped for vintage rallying, but my girlfriend doesn't. Are cars still cool? The above statistics don't seem to spell that picture. You know what's not cool? Marketing, which we view upon as suspicion whenever we're focus-grouped, targeted to, our quickly-passing tastes poked, prodded, examined, dissected, and distilled into pure marketing-speak. Like humor or a frog, some will understand it better, but Generation Y—and ergo, our wallets, spending power, motivation—dies in the process. Source: The Detroit News