The curious economics of used car dealer commercials

A question occurred to me the other day, and I still haven’t been able to think of a good answer.

Why are used car commercials always the same low-quality productions no matter where or when you see them? They break down into one of two kinds: loud announcers yelling over forceful graphics about how they will not be undersold, or the owner (and sometimes staff) doing something silly to get your attention. These are the only kinds of used car commercials I have seen on television in my lifetime, and I have seen them all across the country. There must be something about the nature of used car sales that causes this to be true, as the commercials are not coordinated all over the country but end up the same nonetheless.

For the silly type, I can think of a reasonable explanation: people don’t trust used car dealers, so the commercials attempt to humanize them. Instead of seeing the dealers as slimy, disreputable types who are trying to take your hard-earned cash and give you junk in return, they aim to make you see them as jolly guys who are a lot like you and who definitely wouldn’t rip you off.

For the loud type, it’s not as obvious. I suppose the idea they want to convey is that these deals are so damn good you just have to know about them. But this answer is unsatisfactory. If they’re that good, why do they have to yell? Why the cheap, flashy graphics? Part of the answer, no doubt, is that the target audience is not the same target audience that might buy BMWs. For high-end cars the reputation of the brand is very important, and they spare no expense to show themselves as elegant, classy, long-term kinds of brands. The kinds of cars sold at used car dealerships with loud commercials are not the same kinds of cars, and the target audience has less to spend on superb quality and elegance. Like it or not, market research and sales feedback somehow indicate that people respond to loud, flashy commercials. Maybe because they seem so authoritative? When they’re not advertising the high quality of the brand, they’re left having to advertise the dealership itself and its deals.

Remember, if other types of commercials brought in more money, they would run other types of commercials. It is because these types of commercials work that they are the only ones you see.