AutoTrader looks for an emotional lift

Who: AutoTrader and doug&partners, with Someplace Nice for production and Pete Henderson as director. With The Vanity and Rooster for post-production, Pirate for sound, and Jungle for media.

What: A new brand campaign that positions the auto marketplace as an experience that will have car shoppers thinking “I’ve never felt this way before” (I swear, it’s the truth.)

When & Where: The campaign went live Monday and will run for two months on TV, digital channels and out-of-home.

Why: For the past couple of years, AutoTrader’s marketing has been focused on product and site features, including a relatively new pricing tool called AutoTrader IQ—which creates price badges of “great,” “good,” “fair” or “above average,” based on live market pricing.

“They were kind of testimonial ads, quite rational, clear messaging,” said Ian MacDonald, chief marketing officer for Trader Corporation. “But what we wanted to do with this was take the same insight and same features, but dramatize the benefits in a more memorable  way… We think it’s important to not just get the audience to think, or do something, but also to feel something.”

How: The campaign’s hero spot, “Finding the Deal of My Life,” is heavily inspired by the popular movie Dirty Dancing and its hit song “Time of My Life.”

It opens with a couple looking for a car and seemingly overwhelmed by choices as the instantly recognizable first notes of song start to play. When the woman taps on the AutoTrader app, the music swells and the couple is instantly so full of confidence and joy that, well, they just have to dance.

A narrator explains the benefits of using the site as the couple dance like Baby and Johnny, building to the climactic lift made famous by Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray.

In developing the campaign, the agency focused on the confidence car shoppers get from the site’s pricing transparency, said doug&partners CEO Doug Robinson. “The price badges are very differentiating, but can lead to exclusively rational messaging. Working with the AutoTrader team, we believed it was important to also lean into the emotional aspects of feeling confident, which I think really show in the final product.”

Why that song?: “Part of the brief was I wanted to use recognizable music that stirs some emotions,” said MacDonald. They had a few options, but “Time of my Life” provides the kind of instant impact that can capture the attention of passive viewers who might not be looking at the screen. “I like that association of being iconic,” he said. “And it has the iconic dance moves that come along with it.”

So I’ll tell you something… “I think that advertising generally shouldn’t be overly robotic, or rational. Sometimes you need to have a bit of X factor in there—be it music, be it dance moves, be it humour or whatever—to cut through and help with recall.” — Ian MacDonald, chief marketing officer, Trader Corporation

David Brown