Follow Mashable on Twitter? Then you already saw their tweet this morning which said, “Dodge Durango Sales Skyrocket Thanks to Ron Burgundy Ads.”
Sadly, the age in which we live leads us to often accept the notion of a tweet without even clicking the link to the story. But since I am usually interested in Mashable’s articles, as I’m sort of involved in freely displaying and analyzing car sales, and because I instantly questioned the theory behind the tweet, I dared to click the link to their brief story.
Mashable: “Since the ads first began playing, Durango sales have increased by 59%, and web traffic has jumped 80%.”
I know nothing about Dodge.com’s Ron Burgundy-sourced Durango traffic. I do know that October sales of the Durango in the United States rose 58.5% compared with the same period a year earlier, and 3.1% compared with September 2013. Pretty good, huh?
A 59% year-over-year increase is nothing to sneeze at. Among SUVs and crossovers, only the Land Rover Range Rover, Subaru Forester, Nissan Pathfinder, Jeep Compass, Mitsubishi Outlander, Lexus GX460, Toyota RAV4, and BMW X1 reported more impressive year-over-year increases, on a percentage scale. (The Forester, Pathfinder, and RAV4 all sold more often than the Durango.)
The Range Rover, Forester, Pathfinder, Compass, Outlander, GX460, RAV4, and X1 didn’t have Ron Burgundy on their side, yet sales of those eight utility vehicles managed to increase dramatically. This leads us to believe that sales of a specific nameplate can increase for reasons not related to marketing; for reasons which may relate to production capacity, incentives, and the increased awareness that comes with time.
I’m not suggesting the Ron Burgundy ads aren’t effective. I’m certain they should be. If these ads can’t sell a Durango the way… ahem,Brooke Shields sells a Volkswagen Routan, they will definitely generate a conversation that is, hopefully, Durango-centric. The ads are easy to watch over and over again. They’re funny. They don’t ignore the product. (They were cheap to produce.)
However, the dogmatic conclusion that Durango sales skyrocketed, “thanks to Ron Burgundy ads,” which is to say, “because of Ron Burgundy ads,” or, “as a result of Ron Burgundy ads,” or “by virtue of Ron Burgundy ads,” is, if not inaccurate, at least unaware.
Durango sales have been “skyrocketing” for months. February sales shot up 30.4%. March sales rose 18.5%. April sales were up 65.4%. May sales increased 23.7%. June sales were up 39.3%. July sales rose 87.7%. August sales skyrocketed 116.6%. September volume was up 66.2%.
Clearly, Chrysler’s October sales report didn’t even show the biggest year-over-year increase in Durango volume this year. Moreover, Durango sales in October weren’t as high as Durango sales were in March, April, July, or August. Admittedly, the overall auto market was larger in March, April, July, and August.
But, June 2011 sales were higher than Dodge’s October 2013 Durango result. So were Durango sales in July 2011 and August 2011. And the overall auto market wasn’t as large in those months as it was in October 2013.
This isn’t the first time GCBC has mentioned the once powerful Durango’s return from the abyss. In GoodCarBadCar’s coverage of September’s midsize SUV results, where we embedded an early Burgundy clip, you read the following: “For the eleventh consecutive month, U.S. sales of the Dodge Durango were better in September 2013 than they were in the equivalent month one year earlier. Chrysler doesn’t sell Dodge Durangos like they used to. In 2004, Dodge sold 137,148 Durangos. Afterward, Durango volume fell in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 before rising to nearly 52,000 units in 2011 and falling again in 2012. Dodge has already sold more Durangos in the first nine months of 2013 than in all of 2012 and is on pace for 66,000 Durango sales this year, more than in any year since 2006. The Durango’s two-row partner from Jeep, the Grand Cherokee, is America’s sixth-best-selling SUV and sells nearly three times more often than the Durango.”
How do we explain 2013’s increase in Durango volume? To begin with, sales had plunged 17.6% in 2012 even as the overall market grew 13.4%. To establish growth in 2013, Dodge simply needed to sell more Durangos in 2013 than they did in a bad year.
Yes, dozens of Ron Burgundy ads must have helped, and the best barometer of this will be the increased web traffic. One nevertheless wonders, if Ron Burgundy helped so much in October, what would have happened if his Durango commercials hadn’t aired? After all, even with the ads, Dodge sold fewer Durangos in October than they did in the summer. Even with the ads, the Durango’s year-over-year growth wasn’t as pronounced as it was in April, July, August, or September. (Recent history – a months-long trend – tell us that even without the ads, Durango volume wouldn’t have plunged.)
It’s very difficult to know what kind of impact marketing has on consumers before they choose a specific vehicle. I’m not going to blame Mashable for perpetuating a theme which has also been made public at Entertainment Weekly, AdAge, Automotive News, Bloomberg, and Time.
Naturally, Dodge is revelling, and they’ve used the word “absolutely”, but they’re not denying the existence of the recent past. Said boss Tim Kuniskis to Ad Age, “Durango sales have been very strong this year, and the Ron Burgundy Durango ads are absolutely building on that momentum.” Yes, building on momentum that existed before the ads debuted.
Again, I’m not for a moment suggesting that we won’t see an impact from this very low-cost, very good ad campaign. But we simply can’t know if we’re seeing that impact yet. And if we are currently seeing an impact, if we could know that we are seeing that impact in U.S. sales, the impact actually seems very small. Volume isn’t as high as it was. Durango sales didn’t grow as fast as they had been growing.
Toyota Highlander sales rose 4.6% to 9323 units. Honda sold 9202 Pilots. Ford sold 8681 Edges. Hyundai Santa Fe sales rose 36.1% to 8194. Kia sold 8142 Sorentos. GMC sold 6882 Acadias. Chevrolet sold 6365 Traverses. Nissan, with a 90.4% YOY increase, sold 5793 Pathfinders.
If Durango sales are skyrocketing, what’s happening to Pathfinder sales? Are they atmosphererocketing? Moonrocketing? Intergalacticrocketing? One thing’s for sure: it’s hard to get excited about the means behind the Pathfinder’s increase. Nissan’s doing it by, wait for it, allowing their marketing to focus on the Pathfinder. Booooring. But undeniably effective, so far. In conjunction with the release of a new Pathfinder. And increased production. And lower prices.