David Lush goes digital to rebuild the Speedy brand

September 19, 2012  |  Chris Powell  |  Comments

Online campaign reaches out to a new audience unconcerned with auto care

Every time David Lush tried to get out of the automotive repair industry, it kept pulling him back in. The former director of auto service at Canadian Tire, former vice-president of marketing at Midas and former chief operating officer of auto body repair chain Carstar is attempting to revive one of Canada’s longest-running auto repair chains – Speedy Auto Service – in a challenging business environment.

“I tried to get out of the automotive business several times, but I couldn’t seem to get away; you can’t quit the family, I’m telling you,” he said. “The last place on Earth I thought I’d end up is running Speedy, trying to resurrect this brand.”

The challenge of turning around a company he first encountered as a young child was simply too tempting, he said. “As much as I wasn’t sure from a business perspective, it was a challenge I wanted to take on, on a personal note I couldn’t leave alone.”

Lush, who in 2010 took over as president and CEO of Speedy parent Prime CarCare Group, is now trying to make the former muffler repair specialist turned general automotive repair company heard by younger Canadians.

While Speedy and its longtime slogan “At Speedy you’re a somebody” continue to enjoy recognition among older Canadians, the 56-year-old chain has little brand equity among younger consumers, said Lush.

“Your average 30-year-old will know who we are, but not have that connection,” he said.

“The biggest problem [the auto service industry] has is that customers are simply not fixing their cars.” Lush estimated that up to $13 billion in routine automotive maintenance is simply being ignored by Canadian drivers.

As Lush sees it, this is being driven by a combination of factors: younger drivers don’t see the value in routine maintenance (“Frankly, they spend more money on their cellphones than car maintenance,” he said) and technological advances keep even poorly maintained vehicles in working condition longer.

“Today’s cars are such that you can abuse them pretty well and drive them well beyond where you should be able to drive them without maintenance,” he added. “If you had a 1970 Cutlass Supreme as your first car, if you didn’t tune it up in the spring or fall, at some point it just stopped,” he said. “Cars now run when they shouldn’t.”

They challenge, he said, is garnering attention in a low-interest category. “How do you reach people and say ‘Take your disposable income and move it over to car maintenance?’ We’re really not sexy or romantic. There’s a financial benefit, but no feel-good benefit to changing your oil.

“It’s not a marketing challenge so much as it’s a business challenge,” he said.

As is often the case, however, marketing is being called on to help tackle this particular problem. As part of its attempt to reach a younger demographic, Speedy recently ran a digital campaign on the Toronto Star‘s website – both its desktop and tablet versions – called “Tow Truck Driver Roulette.”

Subtitled “Who will you meet when your car breaks down,” the custom-created ad unit was developed by Toronto agency Rain43 in association with The Star Media Group’s Digital Ad and Marketing Solutions Lab, a new united dedicated to creating innovative ad solutions. The digital ads took the shape of a mini-game in which users spin a wheel to reveal one of eight different tow truck drivers, ranging from geeky, clueless Eugene to suave Latino Ronaldo.

The ad is aimed primarily at a younger female demographic, said Lush, since Speedy’s research indicated that having an automotive breakdown that leaves them stranded is one of that group’s biggest fears. “We heard that strongly from young men, but it plays better with young women,” he said.

The approach is intended to resonate with a group that spends significant time online, said Rain43 partner/chief creative officer John Farquhar, who briefly worked with Lush when the latter was client services director on the Ford Motor Company of Canada account at Y&R.

The Speedy ad also uses geo-targeting to help users book an appointment with their nearest Speedy location directly within the ad unit, as well as a “share” function.

Lush recalled presenting the ad at Prime CarCare Group’s annual conference in Muskoka earlier this month and scanning the room to gauge reaction. Comparing the glazed eyes and puzzled looks of the older demographic with the laughter and enthusiasm of younger people belonging to the YouTube generation, Lush immediately sensed the company was onto something.

While the ad is quirky, it is also “incredibly radical” within the automotive service category, said Lush. “There’s a bit of risk to that, but the reward is high if we can convert some of these 25-40-year olds to say ‘Maybe I should get my car fixed.’”

Lush is optimistic about engineering a turnaround for the Speedy brand. “We’re in a good spot right now,” he said. “The industry is sitting on all kind of growth opportunities with [a] solid growth forecast for the next four years. There’s also billions of dollars sitting out there – all we’ve got to do is get the consumer to recognize that need.”

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