Who's Writing Your Online Ads?
    I recently saw a vehicle advertised on a dealer website that caught
    my attention. This pre-owned car was advertised as a “CarFax
    One Owner”.  Upon further investigation, I discovered that the
    “one owner” was a rental car company.
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Jim Radogna is the President of Dealer Compliance
Consultants, Inc., a San Diego, California training and
consulting firm. He has more than 20 years of
broad-based management, training and consulting
experience in the automotive industry.
Jim Radogna
President/Dealer Compliance Consultants
email:
jradogna@automotivedealersnetwork.com
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SM
Even though the “one owner” statement may have been technically true, the
description of the vehicle blew my mind: “With just one previous owner, who
treated this vehicle like a member of the family, you'll really hit the jackpot when
you drive home with this terrific car”.  (Now I know that Enterprise has been
advertising lately that they are a “family company”, but I’m not sure that this is what
they had in mind…).

I was intrigued by this statement, so I kept sniffing around. It turns out that the
dealership is part of a large dealer group and I noticed that similar statements
were advertised on prior rental vehicles in some of their other stores as well. For
example:

“This 2010 Elantra is for Hyundai fans that are searching for that babied, one-
owner creampuff.”

“From the looks of it, I'd say this car has been garage kept and babied regularly. If
only my wife treated me as nice!!!”

So, are these statements just harmless puffery that is intended to make the
vehicles stand out?  Perhaps, but I can’t help but speculate that representing that
a rental car has been treated like a “member of the family”, “babied”, and “garage-
kept” might not go over too well with an attorney general, judge or a customer who
understandably thinks that “one owner” means one private owner.
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Depending on the dealership, online advertising may be handled by any number of people such as a used
car manager, internet manager, or perhaps an outside vendor. I realize that whoever wrote these ads may
not have knowingly tried to deceive anyone. Perhaps they weren’t aware that the cars were rentals and just
relied on the fact that CarFax identified the vehicles as “One Owner”. However, if an ad is deemed to be
deceptive or misleading, an advertiser will likely have liability regardless of whether there was intent to
deceive.  A dealer has the legal duty to investigate the accuracy of any statements made in advertising;
therefore it is vital that anyone who is responsible for writing advertisements be well aware of advertising
regulations.

Bear in mind that even though the dealerships will likely disclose the vehicles’ previous histories at some
point, the dealer may still not be off the hook. Some advertising regulations indicate that if the first contact
with a consumer is secured by deception, a violation may occur even though the true facts are made known
to the buyer before he enters into the contract of purchase or lease.

It’s important to keep these concepts in mind when preparing an advertisement:

    •    Advertising is considered deceptive or misleading if “members of the public are likely to
    be deceived” or the advertisement has a “tendency or capacity to mislead the public”.

TM