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Next Step In 12V Campaign To Be Announced At CES

Dallas — The car stereo industry agreed its audience has broadened beyond the young male “bass thumper” to a wide demographic, and it empowered a steering committee to determine the next step in creating an awareness campaign to help stem ongoing losses in most areas of the 12-volt market.

By December, the committee is expected to create an action plan that can be announced at International CES in January.

At the 12-Volt Summit, held July 16-17, Jeff Manning, an architect of the Got Milk! Campaign, suggested that 12-volters set a target of halting the erosion in sales and to try to teach consumers to ask themselves, “Is my car system good enough?” He also said the industry should expect to run a campaign for 24 to 36 months, as “you don’t solve problems in six months.”

During its two-day gathering, the industry did not attempt to vote on a specific marketing tactic or tag line, but the 135 attendees were asked to define “who is your customer” and “what is your product” — which led to much debate.

In addition to Manning of the Got Milk! campaign, advertising gurus behind the Harley-Davidson turnaround and the launch of the Scion offered 12-volt marketers hope that even a floundering industry can get back on track. But the overriding message they gave was to “know your customer,” a task which has proven elusive to 12-volters over the past five years.

Some retailers said their core market is now 25- to 54-year-olds, others said 16- to 24-year-olds and still others said 25- to 35-year-olds.

It was equally hard to define car audio’s key products. “Audio is now an attachment sale,” said Sixth Avenue mobile electronics director Don Barros, adding, “It used to be the bread and butter of the industry, but now we’re selling Bluetooth or Sirius or HD Radio, and that’s primary now.”

But ultimately, each focus group, presenting its findings at the closing meeting, said the car stereo customer is generally anyone who drives, and the product should be defined in its broadest sense, from Bluetooth kits to subwoofers.

Steering committee members said the event was successful beyond their expectations because of the level of enthusiasm among participants, many of whom asked to continue to help planning the awareness campaign.

Circuit City category marketing manager Jay Schaefer said, “It quickly became apparent that this has to be the first of many steps and there’s no more important than the first one.” He said he was struck by the outpouring of support at the meeting.

Many attendees said awareness is one of only three key challenges. The industry’s primary advantage over the OEMs has been its first-to-market edge, which has been compromised recently as Ford’s new Sync system offers advances not yet available in a single, unified aftermarket system. In addition, many car stereo retailers are still hobby shops that lack professionalism in appearance and installation.

Former Harley Davidson director of communications Ken Schmidt, however, noted that Harley Davidson was no better off in the late 70s. He described Harley dealers as run down shops with gravel driveways on the outskirts of town and said there were four Japanese competitors making better and cheaper bikes. Harley ultimately improved its quality and opened two state-of-the-art “test stores” that were so successful, the retailers paid to upgrade their shops.

Manning said in the early 90s milk sales had been declining 5 percent over the past 10 years, and the Got Milk! campaign effectively stopped the losses and evened out sales. He noted that the campaign was funded on 3 cents per gallon by each of the milk processors.

He added that in a unified awareness campaign, 80 percent of the major suppliers must participate “because no one wants to give someone a free ride.”

Companies attending the summit included steering committee members Pioneer, Alpine, Kenwood, Clarion, Directed, Sixth Avenue Electronics, and research firm Coyote Insight. Custom Sounds, also on the steering committee could not attend as it was holding an annual sale.

Among the individuals in attendance were Larry Rougas and Ed Sachs of Pioneer, Mike Kahn of Sony, Tom Malone of Audiovox, Manville Smith of JL Audio, Steve Witt of Alpine, Mike Simmons of Directed, Kevin Kuenzie of Clarion, Bill Jackson of Rockford, Dominick Aquilini of Boston Acoustics, Tom Walker of AudioControl, Chris Cook of Nav-TV, Brett Riggs of PAC and several representatives from Sirius.

Other attendees included Craig Darcy of Best Buy, Jay Schaefer of Circuit City, Gabi Mashal and John Haynes of Al & Ed’s Autosound, Jeff Fay of Crutchfield, Don Barros of Sixth Avenue Electronics, Chris Woodyard of USA Today, Benjamin Meadows-Ingram of and Jack Cutts of the CEA. The Summit was organized by the Acumen Group.

At the Summit’s close, Pioneer president Ed Sachs, the brainchild behind the event, was given a round of applause. He responded, “I’m looking forward to seeing how much it will cost me.”