It always amazes me when, among all the many holiday commercials aired during this season, that the big spenders include the automakers. You know the spots— cars as gifts. A husband gives his wife a car for Christmas with a big bow on top or, in the case of one, the car is placed inside the house, which conveniently, has a showroom the size of the Overlook Hotel in it.

My response has always been: My wife would kill me if I did that.


Imagine my surprise then when one of our strategists, who has worked with the auto industry, said that people actually do that sort of thing, although usually it’s parents buying a cheap car for their children rather than a spanking new Lexus for a spouse. (And, it’s a focus group of one, but I trust him.)

Still, what the manufacturers miss is that they never link this tactical idea into their own brand. It does nothing to create preference for the brand, even in context of the holidays.

That’s the real reason why they’re spending so much on such large media buys. When you do not have a compelling brand message, then you must increase the reach and frequency to have any kind of impact. In effect, they are spending millions of dollars without any long-term benefit.

If you don’t fix your brand problem, you have to throw more cash on the media buy. That’s a costly and inefficient way to do business.

I still can’t believe spouses give each other cars for Christmas. But I also can’t believe auto manufacturers continue to waste so many dollars to get them to do it.