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Cleveland Honda dealers blaze trail with regional ad tactics

CLEVELAND — When American Honda Motor Co. decided 18 months ago to fund marketing for regional dealer associations, members of the Northern Ohio Honda Dealers wanted to do more than echo the manufacturer’s advertising.

That traditional regional, or Tier 2, role of repeating the mass-media buys of the factory wasn’t going to help Honda dealerships 60 miles away from Cleveland in towns such as Wooster, Ohio, or high school football-crazy Massillon, said Mark Lyon, general manager of Jay Honda in suburban Cleveland and a trustee of the dealer association.

So the Northern Ohio Honda Dealers set upon a new course. Rather than just buy TV and radio advertising in metropolitan Cleveland, the group has gotten heavily involved in charitable, sports and other local events, sometimes with its own advertising.

For example, the association, which includes 20 dealerships, sponsored a 5K race along with the Fox TV affiliate in Cleveland last summer and received $260,000 worth of on-air mentions during three months of race promotion for just $45,000 in paid advertising, Lyon said.

Smaller towns, too

While most dealer associations use predominantly factory creative work for their ads, the Northern Ohio Honda Dealers made their own spots in late summer to take advantage of the triumphant return to Cleveland of basketball star LeBron James.

And the Cleveland dealers are advertising heavily on cable TV and radio in the smaller towns where members sell vehicles. For instance, they sponsor high school football and basketball games from Cleveland south to Akron and southeast to Youngstown, said David Waikem, co-owner of the Waikem Auto Family and president of the dealer association.

“That’s why all the dealers have bought into the concept — the association is willing to spend money in the community,” said Waikem, who owns seven stores, including a Honda dealership in Massillon.