Competing with Carvana, CarMax and… Cardoom?

Matt Walsh said he thinks ads by online used-vehicle retailers Carvana and Vroom are creative and funny.

Their humor, though, is based on “decades-old stereotypes” about new-car dealerships that no longer match the consumer experience franchised auto retailers provide, said Walsh, vice president of operations at Carter Myers Automotive in Charlottesville, Va.

This sentiment that the upstart companies draw on outdated perceptions is one I heard from multiple dealership executives and marketing providers this spring while reporting a story about how — and even whether — dealerships should respond to Vroom’s Super Bowl commercial. The 30-second ad, called “Dealership Pain,” showed a car salesman threatening a customer with an electric shock, followed by a sunny image of the same customer watching from his lawn as Vroom dropped off a sedan.

A Vroom executive told me then that the spot was meant to be a funny, yet exaggerated, depiction of some customers’ negative experiences at traditional dealerships. Some dealership leaders at the time told me, as Walsh did when we talked last week, that franchised retailers also have not promoted their own convenient, digital experiences as well as the startup used-vehicle retailers have.

“They really don’t do anything that we haven’t been doing,” Walsh said. “We were slower to get there, and they saw an opening.”

The Vroom ad was one reason that Carter Myers Automotive, with 15 dealerships in five markets in Virginia, launched its ad campaign to highlight its brand experience, compared with that of a fictional auto retailer, Cardoom. The ads are appearing on social media, digital video and on traditional TV in three of the group’s five markets, Walsh said. They also are debuting during an inventory shortfall resulting from a microchip shortage that has caused the dealership group to trim its marketing budget.

In one of the ads, a buyer inspects a vehicle and asks, “What, did you drive through a hailstorm?” as a Cardoom delivery driver drives off, cackling, behind the wheel of a flatbed truck.

“Real relationships need real people — the kind you won’t find at Cardoom,” Carter Myers Automotive CEO Liza Borches says in the ad, which promotes the group’s digital retailing tool and online and in-person sales and service experiences.

Walsh told me that though it’s “hard for any single dealer to carry that message with such a weight that could compete with Carvana and Vroom,” retailers can be effective in their local markets.

“We can’t be on the Super Bowl, but in a market like Richmond, we can shout almost as loud as CarMax does,” he said.