Women: A Driving Force for Ads

By: Mark Fitzgerald

If you want to know why newspaper ad managers are tearing their hair out in frustration over automotive linage these days, just listen to Nathan Potratz, general manager of Gordon Chevrolet in Jacksonville, talk about his local paper, The Florida Times-Union. “I haven’t been in a display ad even once in the Times-Union in the last 10 weeks,” Potratz says in an early November interview. “I’m concentrating on the Internet.”

Gordon Chevrolet is, however, a founding sponsor of a unique Web venture the Times-Union created to solve a problem common to newspapers and car dealerships: women. Newspapers are trying desperately to attract more women to their pages. Dealerships, especially those like Gordon that handle Chevy or other male-skewing brands, are waking up to the fact that increasing numbers of women are buying cars, or they are the chief purchasing decision-makers in their families.

The Times-Union’s solution is a combination blog/ad mini-site on its jacksonville.com Web site called “She’s Driven.” The newspaper’s automotive and real estate sales manager, Butch Peiker, describes it as the paper’s first online-only special section.

“She’s Driven” (www.autos.jacksonville. com/shesdriven) mixes user-generated content such as “You and Your Ride,” where women are invited to post pictures of their cars with consumer-oriented news designed to appeal to women. One feature on spiffing up car interiors (written by the Car Care Council), for instance, is titled “Botox for Your Car?”

The site was inspired by news that General Motors created a executive position whose sole job is to market to women. Peiker says, “If it’s that important nationally, it’s got to be important to the dealers.” It is also a vehicle to steer women into the printed paper: “But it’s not just cars. If [newspapers] don’t pay more attention to women, we’ll all be in trouble.”

“She’s Driven” turned a year old this fall, and it’s showing some signs of age. The site has not been promoted as well as the ad department would like, says Peiker, and it’s due for a little Botox itself in a coming redesign.

Chevy dealer Potratz isn’t sure the site is working, and in November it was debating whether to continue sponsorship. “But it is a positive in the sense that it’s Internet-based,” he says. “We’ve seen if we can get people to look at our Web site ? women, especially ? we’ve got a good chance” of making them customers.

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