Clutch has inflated ambitions to own used car sales

Who: Clutch, with Performance Art for strategy and creativity, Pomp & Circumstance for PR. The media buy was done in-house.

What: The first brand campaign in the online car retailer’s six-year history. It coincides with being named the NHL’s official online pre-owned car retailer (and yes, that’s a new sponsorship category).

When & Where: The campaign is in market now, coinciding with what director of brand Kristen Skelly called “peak buying season” for cars. It’s a digital-first campaign that will run for six to eight weeks, complemented by broadcast spots, virtual on-ice branding and social activations during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Why: Clutch has focused mostly on performance marketing since its 2016 inception, but is now looking to build its brand. The company was born out of the frustrations its founders felt when trying to buy a used car, and the goal is to position it as an alternative to the traditional car buying process.

“We need more Canadians to know who we are and what we do,” said Skelly. “We’re focused on building brand awareness and longtime brand equity.” As an online entity, Clutch appeals primarily to younger, early adopters, she said.

Clutch selected Performance Art as its first agency partner in January. The company met with several agencies, but Performance Art—which officially launched last summer, but has deep roots in FCB/Six— stood out for its focus on the customer journey. “They really understand that good creative doesn’t just need to be reserved for the above-the-line channels,” said Skelly. “Their approach is to ensure really high-quality creative throughout the funnel, and for a company that’s at our stage, they’re a dream creative partner.”

How: The 30- and 15-second ads use tube men as representations of stereotypical used car salesman, with cheap suits and shirts open to reveal an abundance of chest hair. It asks viewers if they’re feeling “deflated” by traditional auto sales tactics, and urges them to “ditch the dealership.”

Also known as sky dancers and fly guys, the brightly coloured tubes have been a mainstay of used car dealers’ marketing practices for years—spoofed by the likes of the satirical news site The Beaverton and Family Guy, and even used by municipalities to scare away sea lions.

For Skelly, they are a perfect representation of what makes Clutch different from its brick-and-mortar brethren. “We wanted to use imagery that was instantly recognizable when you think of buying a used car… while using humour and cheekiness to poke fun at the pitfalls of used car buying,” she said. Recent research conducted by Clutch found that 76% of Canadian car shoppers would prefer to spend less time visiting dealerships.

The ad also ends with a goal horn mnemonic and an image of the NHL shield alongside the Clutch name, to mark its association with the league. A flatbed truck with the Clutch name also has a goal horn mounted on the roof of its cab that lights up and spins as the spot ends.

And we quote: “Inflatable tube men are an instantly recognizable symbol of the used car dealership, and in turn, everything that’s wrong with that experience. Nobody leaves a used car dealership feeling good—all the pressure tactics, sales commissions, haggling. We want people to wake up to the possibility of a better, smarter way to buy a used car.” —Colin Craig, executive creative director, Performance Art


Chris Powell