What You Can Learn from How Major Auto Makers Use Fathers and Daughters to Turn Features into Benefits

by Dana Detrick-Clark

It’s a timeless story: a dad watches his little girl grow into an independent young woman. But no matter how many times a major auto maker tells it, we still can’t help but grab the tissues to wipe our tears while we hit “share” on social media.

But how does making us cry make us buy? In essence, they do a phenomenal job of taking a feature (in this case, safety), and turning it into a more specific benefit (“My child will be protected as she goes into the world without me”). They construct a relatable, emotional story that we can easily apply to our own lives, which in turn, allows us to see ourselves behind their wheel.

So what can local car dealerships or really, any other business producing their own ads and web videos, learn from what the major auto makers are getting right?

1. Use storytelling to turn your feature into a benefit.

Typical hard sell car ads scream at you with price, location, and shiny objects. The more you can get in the frame, the better!

But what these major auto makers are doing is the opposite. They’re focusing, both visually and on one of their buyer’s hot buttons, and they’re using subtlety to make the story something you want to see again and again.

How could that translate locally for a dealership? It could be that you have a compelling origin story. Maybe your father or grandfather founded your dealership fifty years ago. Envision a beautiful sepia tone photo of his proud, smiling face in front of his new sign.

Now picture it fading into a colorful, cheerful picture of you standing in the same position with your smile, continuing his legacy of outstanding customer service.

You will stir hearts in a very short amount of air time, while conveying the hot button of trust without beating buyers over the head with your mission statement.

Related Article: 3 Ways Your Child’s Bookshelf Can Help Tell Your Company Story

Are you active in your community? Telling the story of how you sow back into local food banks, or how because of your finance terms, a family was able to get their mobility back after tragedy or an animal rescue was able to save more lives with a bigger van, can turn you from “dealer” to “healer.”

2. Use the calendar to your advantage.

You’ll notice they’re running these ads from graduation time through enrollment. It’s perfect timing for parents picking out their kids’ college car, as well as holidays like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. It’s not random.

In the auto world, some campaign themes are dictated by the major auto makers. But your dealership-specific campaigns don’t have to be generic offers and incentives. You’ve probably already used tax season to your advantage, but in many cases, that’s only differentiating you by price – the lowest common denominator of all hot buttons.

When are the more emotionally charged times your customers are buying? Holidays and events that center around family, patriotism, and reverence are all good times to launch more emotionally driven campaigns that can achieve more mileage by being timely, as well as motivating toward a purchase.

3. Care about quality.

Sure, your hard sell, no story, features-driven and brightly colored ad can interrupt, and may even, after repeat views, build familiarity with potential buyers (if it can cut through the sea of your competitors who are doing the same thing). But there are absolutely none of those sorts of ads going viral for the right reason.

Putting quality time and effort into crafting an ad from concept, to scripting, to storyboarding, to production will set you apart from the usual generic templates and stock b-roll, to lay the foundation of your brand’s core in the minds (and hearts) of your buyers.

It may require building a new creative team, or even rethinking how you allocate your budget for creative. Or, it may be just what your current creative team needs to inspire them to do their best work, and make far better use of your advertising dollar than you ever thought possible.

Final Thoughts

Recent ads by the major auto makers have taught us new lessons in connecting emotions to product features that goes beyond sentimentality, with fathers and daughters being powerful creative symbols. By following their lead with storytelling, planning, and quality, local car dealerships and other businesses utilizing both traditional and web video marketing can transform their ads from feature-driven mediocrity, to inspirationally motivated social shares and sales.


It’s safe to say we’re an auto industry family. My father retired from General Motors after 38 years split between the parts division and assembly, and it has been a joy to produce audio and video ads for my dealership clients.

My love of celebrating amazing cars comes second only to the love of music I also inherited from my dad. In 2009, in the thick of the economic crisis that threatened both my business and my father’s GM pension, I wrote and recorded this song in honor of his service to the industry and our frustration at the uncertainty before us. I then put together this little scrapbook video featuring not just us and the song, but some of the timeless automobiles that have also been like members of the family. Enjoy!

The following two tabs change content below.
Dana Detrick-Clark has made it her mission to help creatives and small businesses like you broaden their reach in less time and with less effort. How does she do that? By providing premium content, creative consulting, and marketing confidence. Contact her today at http://www.seriousvanity.com.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments & Responses

One Response so far.

  1. […] My father taught me the value of hard work and dedication, spending nearly 40 years with General Motors. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *