When you think of the automotive market, you might envision bright and shiny cars on display in showrooms or lined up on dealership lots. You wouldn’t be wrong – the United States is home to nearly 19,000 new-car dealers and more than 142,000 used-car dealers.

Car dealerships and auto parts stores comprise 20% of the country’s retail sales, making it the largest retail sector. About 16% of the average American’s budget goes toward transportation, making it the second-largest expenditure after housing.

However, the automotive industry encompasses much more than car dealerships – from car shows and car washes to rental agencies and repair shops.

Whether these businesses are selling tangible products like muscle cars or services like auto detailing, they all need the same thing: customers. But it’ll take more than a wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tubeman to attract buyers onto lots and into stores. That’s where promotional products come in. With promotional items part of the marketing mix, automotive businesses can build brand awareness, incentivize test drives, follow up with buyers and stay top of mind long after customers drive away.

When it comes to auto dealerships alone, these businesses spent more than $8 billion on advertising last year. The National Automobile Dealers Association estimates that dealerships spend most of their advertising dollars on internet ads, followed by TV and radio ads. There’s no guarantee potential buyers will notice these ads, but that’s not the case with promotional products. People can feel, hold and touch promotional items in their hands, and they use them everywhere – in their vehicle, at home, at school and in the workplace.

If you feel like your automotive marketing has been on cruise control, read on for some ideas to shake things up. Consider this your roadmap to creative campaigns that can make your brand unstoppable.

The Roadside Safety Light makes a smart giveaway at car shows and other automotive events. This aluminum flashlight features a bottom magnet that allows it to stick to metal surfaces. Simply push the button to activate front lights, barrel light or a flashing red light.

Starline USA / PPAI 112719, S10 / www.starline.com

Ideal for businesses like auto dealerships, repair shops and oil change centers, the CoasterStone Absorbent Stone Car Coasters keep a brand name visible every time drivers get behind the wheel. These customized coasters fit most standard auto cup holders.

CoasterStone / PPAI 111006, S4 / www.coasterstonecustom.com

Thank car buyers for their business with the Castelo Nonwoven Trunk Organizer. This logoed organizer features three main compartments, two webbed carrying handles and white webbed trim.
It folds down for easy storage
when not in use.

HPG / PPAI 110772, S11 / www.hpgbrands.com

Auto businesses like repair shops or tire shops can roll out the red carpet on rainy days with the Prime One umbrella. This logoed, auto-open umbrella features a 46-inch arc and a black rubber handle. When paired with the RainAlertz app, it can let recipients know when it’s going to rain.

AAA Innovations / PPAI 110972, S4 / www.aaainnovations.com

Automakers and auto dealerships can use the Sidekick Seat Organizer as part of employee appreciation campaigns. This sleek and sturdy organizer keeps items like receipts, files and a laptop within arm’s reach. When sales pros get to the office, they can grab it and go with a cross-body strap.  

Gemline / PPAI 113948, S11 / www.gemline.com

Get extra mileage out of your marketing message with the Sun Shade Square. This logoed sun shade is easy to open and features a light, reflective material to keep vehicles cool.

IMAGEN Brands / PPAI 114197, S10 / www.imagenbrands.com

Market Snapshot

As we roll into 2023, automotive consumers are going to want more tech. Demand for electric vehicles continues to heat up, with the market more than doubling in 2021. Connectivity will also continue to be key, with 96% of all new vehicles having built-in connectivity by 2030.

Another trend to watch? Consumers’ changing mobility needs. Research from McKinsey projects that up to 1 out of 10 new cars sold in 2030 may be a shared vehicle. At this rate, one out of three new cars sold could be a shared vehicle by 2050. With promotional products, automotive dealerships and brands can reach different audiences with highly targeted messages depending on buyers’ varying needs.

Elevating The Car-Buying Experience

Buying a new or used car is no small purchase. The average new car price topped $47,000 in May, with pre-owned cars coming in at around $27,000, according to Kelley Blue Book. Promotional products like travel tumblers, trunk organizers and car chargers can add value to buyers’ overall experience.

Smells Sell

The auto air freshener market is nothing to sniff at. The market is currently estimated at $810 million and projected to grow to $918 million by 2028. Want to make vehicles more appealing to buyers? Add logoed air fresheners to every car on the lot. They can help cover up smoke and other odors in pre-owned vehicles and help improve a ride’s overall desirability. 

Proceed With Caution

When it comes to driverless cars, most people don’t want to ride in them – just yet. A Pew Research survey found that 63% of Americans are reluctant to ride in autonomous vehicles (AVs) and 45% say they feel uncomfortable sharing the road with driverless cars. Companies that produce self-driving cars – a market that’s projected to reach 65 million vehicles by 2030 – have an opportunity to educate the public about the technology. Through promotional campaigns, automakers can highlight the safety standards for AVs and explain the benefits of enjoying an AV ride. 

Drive Home A Message

Whether new drivers want to get behind the wheel or educators need to learn how to drive a school bus, promotional products can help driving schools of all kinds market their programs. Logoed items like keychains and tire gauges can help businesses like truck-driving schools, performance-driving schools and CDL schools connect with aspiring drivers. The driving school market is worth an estimated $1 billion and growing, according to IBISWorld. 

Need A Ride?

The U.S. is home to more than 1.7 million rideshare drivers who bring home an estimated $18 per hour. Drivers can boost their earnings by booking more rides. One way to do this? Using promotional products. For example, drivers could hand out logoed items at every ride to spread awareness and build goodwill. They could also partner with local businesses like bars or restaurants on co-branding campaigns.

At The Car Wash

The car wash industry is worth more than $33 billion, with more than 60,000 car-wash establishments located in towns and cities around the U.S. About 1 in 3 car owners get their vehicle professionally washed for the eco-friendliness. Winter is the busiest season for car washes, so consider giving out logoed items like ice scrapers or coffee tumblers to show customer appreciation during the frosty months.

The Rise Of Rental Cars

The rental car sector of the automotive industry is roaring back to life after pandemic slowdowns. By 2027, the industry is projected to top $144 billion. The nation’s biggest rental-car companies include Enterprise, Hertz, Avis-Budget and Sixt. These companies can distinguish themselves and build a rapport with customers using promotional products. Items like branded sunglasses or logoed tissue packs come in handy in the car and can make a drive more comfortable.

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Sellers is a Dallas-Fort Worth-based writer and former associate editor at PPAI.