Suburban Auto Group
Suburban Auto Group
36936 Highway 26
Sandy, Oregon 97055
Telephone: (800) 691-4204
Web site: www.suburbanautogroup.com
TRUNK MONKEY CAMPAIGN
In 2003 Carlson Chevrolet Co., Inc., a Chevrolet car dealership located in Sandy, Oregon, just a few miles southeast of Portland, represented the Chevrolet-selling half of the Suburban Auto Group. On the other side of U.S. Highway 26 the car dealership Suburban Ford, Inc., represented the Ford-selling half. Nancy Jaksich controlled the Chevrolet dealership, and her husband, Jerry Jaksich, managed Suburban Ford. Compared to other dealerships in Oregon, the Suburban Auto Group was "not even in the top 10 in terms of money spent on advertising by car dealers in the Portland area," reported the Portland Business Journal. Hoping to stand out amongst the clutter of local car dealership advertising, the Suburban Auto Group launched its "Trunk Monkey" campaign.
"Trunk Monkey" was created by the ad agency R/West for less than $50,000. The campaign's first spot, "Road Rage," cost only $3,000 and debuted during the 2003 Super Bowl in the Portland region. The 30-second spot featured a timid man cowering inside his Ford sedan while another man berated him from outside the sedan's driver-side window. When apologies did not placate the raging man outside, the man inside the car pressed a button labeled "Trunk Monkey." Suddenly a chimpanzee wielding a tire iron emerged from his trunk and clobbered the road-raging loudmouth. The Suburban Auto Group's logo then appeared while a voice-over explained, "The Trunk Monkey. A revolutionary idea you'll find only at Suburban Auto Group—pending approval by the attorney general." The campaign featured five more "Trunk Monkey" spots and one radio advertisement.
According to one Suburban Auto Group representative, gauging the "Trunk Monkey" campaign's effect on car sales was difficult. It received recognition from the ad industry: the campaign earned a silver award at the One Club's 2003 One Show awards in the category of commercials made with less than $50,000. In one period of seven days the Suburban Auto Group's website recorded 3 million downloads of the first commercial.
Nancy Jaksich got into the auto-retail business by selling cars for her father, Pete Carlson, who first owned a Portland used-car lot and later the Carlson's Chevrolet dealership in Sandy, Oregon. Nancy's husband, Jerry Jaksich, had a similar background, having been raised around his uncle's car dealership in Sacramento, California. Nancy and Jerry later worked for Nancy's father at the Carlson's Chevrolet dealership until they opened a Ford dealership in 1984. Sixteen years later Nancy and Jerry purchased her father's Chevy dealership. Nancy ran the dealership, which conducted business as Suburban Chevy, and worked side by side with Jerry's Suburban Ford dealership, located on the other side of Highway 26. Together they functioned as the Suburban Auto Group.
In 2000 the husband-and-wife partnership hired the Portland ad agency Big Ads, which later changed its name to R/West, to create two television commercials: "Return Buyer" and "Beep Beep." The president of Big Ads, Sean Bilxseth, contracted Derek Barnes, a copywriter for the ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, to direct the spots. "The client was very accommodating creatively," Barnes said to Shoot magazine. "It was a great learning experience."
In December 2002 the Suburban Auto Group asked R/West "go out on the edge" for the next campaign. Jerry and Nancy Jaksich believed that, to compete with the larger advertising budgets of Portland's car dealerships, their commercials needed to be outrageously creative. R/West first proposed a commercial that featured a man about to jump to his death. The suicide would be thwarted by a second man who would feign compassion merely to protect his car parked below. According to the Oregonian, Jerry Jaksich passed on the concept and asked R/West for a wackier and edgier commercial.
The idea for "Trunk Monkey" was conceived after R/West creatives pondered the many features available on most new cars. The Oregonian quoted the R/West creative director Hart Rusen, who remembered thinking, "Wouldn't it be funny to have a feature that addressed some of the other problems of the road?" The "Trunk Monkey" became an all-purpose feature that assisted with "other problems," such as chaperoning, roadside baby delivery, and even road rage.
The campaign targeted potential Oregon car buyers with a healthy sense of humor and a penchant for offbeat comedy. Neither R/West nor the Suburban Auto Group foresaw the campaign's later success. Several months after the "Road Rage" spot debuted in Oregon, an out-of-state company, the Byers group of auto dealerships, paid $10,000 to use the spot for six months in the central Ohio region. Reporting for the Columbus Dispatch, Barnet D. Wolf wrote that the spot was extremely popular with young professionals. The journalist described his experience of being at a tavern in Easton, Ohio, when the "Road Rage" spot played on the bar's television set: the audience grew attentive, and people in the bar stopped talking.
The Chevy and Ford duality of the Suburban Auto Group catered to the loyalties of two distinct customers. The rivalry between Chevy and Ford owners had persisted for decades. For instance, in the mid-1980s an argument about which was better, Ford or Chevy, took place inside a bar in Scio, Oregon. After a man was slapped because of the truck he drove, he walked home and returned with a hunting rifle to murder the man who had struck him. Nancy Jaksich explained to the Oregonian that this rivalry between Ford and Chevy owners had always been good for business.
According to R/West, the humor in the campaign relied on storylines that the audience could readily connect with. "We've all seen people out there like that," Rusen said to the Oregonian. "We've all seen the guy in the beat-up pickup truck, driving around looking like he wants to kill someone." R/West executives believed that if the target found the spots funny, the audience would be more inclined to trust the Suburban Auto Group brand.
In 2003 the Suburban Auto Group, which was composed of two Oregon car dealerships, released an advertising campaign titled "Trunk Monkey." The campaign featured a helpful chimpanzee that lived inside the trunks of cars and could be released at the touch of a button. The chimpanzee that played "Trunk Monkey" in the first few spots was named Jonah. Jonah, who was paid union wages, was also featured in the 2001 remake of the film Planet of the Apes.
Thomason Auto Group, Portland's largest car dealership, was created by the charismatic Scott Thomason. The company began as one dealership in 1983 and by 1998 had expanded into a chain posting revenues of $550 million. Its founder was credited with changing dealership advertising in the Portland area during the 1990s. Advertising analysts observed that, before the success of Thomason Auto Group, most Portland dealerships advertised low prices and let their car manufacturers advertise the car brands. Thomason Auto Group was the first to advertise the dealership's brand and car prices simultaneously. Until he left Thomason Auto Group in 2003, Scott Thomason starred as the brand's bespectacled mouthpiece in most of the chain's print ads and television spots. He typically made wisecracks such as "We finance anyone the law allows" or "If you don't come see me today, I can't save you any money." Explaining his strategy, Scott Thomason said to the Oregonian, "When customers in my market thought of buying a car, I wanted them to think of Thomason first."
The chain of car dealerships known as Lithia Motors, Inc., based in Medford, Oregon, attributed its success not so much to advertising as to making its dealerships conform to similar standards. Standardizing all Lithia dealerships proved wildly successful. Lithia grew from one dealership in 1946 into a chain of 84 dealerships nationwide that collectively posted revenues of $2.51 billion in 2003. That same year Lithia was acquiring outside dealerships at an average rate of two per month. After an acquisition Lithia typically closed its new dealership for 24 to 48 hours so that a team of 25 to 30 people could redesign it to reflect Lithia's image.
The first "Trunk Monkey" commercial, titled "Road Rage," cost less than $3,000 and was filmed in one day. It debuted in the Portland region during the 2003 Super Bowl. The spot featured a man trapped inside his car with another man screaming at him from the street. "Who do you think you're honking at, huh?" the antagonist yelled. Insults continued until the man inside the car pressed a button labeled "Trunk Monkey" that was located next to the rearview mirror. The car's trunk opened to reveal a chimpanzee armed with a tire iron, who struck the antagonist in the head. The Suburban Auto Group's logo was then displayed while a voice-over explained, "The Trunk Monkey. A revolutionary idea you'll find only at Suburban Auto Group—pending approval by the attorney general."
Speaking with Shoot magazine, Barnes said, "['Road Rage'] was a great script…. We shot on the shortest day of the year, sundown was at 4:02 p.m., and we felt under-the-gun. But the chimp, Jonah, was money every time." The spot's greatest expense was hiring the chimpanzee. According to an R/West spokesperson, Jonah required transporting fees, and his handlers needed to be flown from Los Angeles to Portland to film the commercial. To reduce costs some spots were later filmed in Los Angeles. A female chimpanzee named Bella was also used in other spots.
One of the campaign's less violent spots, "Throwing Eggs," began with three boys tossing eggs at a man's car. After the assaulted driver pressed his "Trunk Money" button, a chimpanzee leaped from the trunk and chased the boys. Two of the perpetrators successfully jumped over a fence, but the "Trunk Money" grabbed the third boy by his legs. The spot ended with the Suburban Auto Group's logo and a final shot of the boys cleaning eggs off the man's car. "Two endings were done for that one," Erinn Sowle, the general manager at Suburban Auto Group, said to Ward's Dealer Business. "The one we didn't use simply ended with the kid being dragged down off the fence."
Later commercials included "Pediatric Edition." This 30-second spot featured a pregnant woman in the backseat of a Ford sedan while her husband sped toward a hospital. When the woman screamed that she would not make it to the hospital, the "Trunk Monkey" appeared to help her deliver the baby. Another commercial featured the "Trunk Monkey" theft-retrieval system. After a car thief shattered the passenger-side window of a car, the "Trunk Monkey" emerged from the trunk, accosted the robber, and heaved his body off of a bridge. A less violent spot, titled "Chaperone," began with a teenage girl and her boyfriend parked at a scenic overlook. The girl said, "I can't believe my dad even let us touch his new car." Just as she leaned in for a kiss, a "Trunk Monkey" hiding in the backseat threw a banana peel at the teenage boy's face. Then, after hearing the chimpanzee loudly cock a shotgun, the frightened boy hurried out of car and ran away screaming.
Speaking with the Oregonian, Marian Friestad, a marketing professor at University of Oregon's Lundquist College of Business, explained the risk of using humorous advertising. "Nothing's more irritating or uncomfortable than a bad joke," Friestad said. Also according to Friestad, humor was not a unanimous phenomenon. What one person found funny could be considered offensive by others. "The ads are a big hit here," Sowle of Suburban Auto Group boasted to Ward's Dealer Business, referring to the spot's success in Sandy, Oregon. "People love them. We've had only a couple of complaints. Some thought 'Road Rage' was too violent."
In a humorous commercial for an advertising campaign titled "Trunk Monkey," a chimpanzee emerged from a car trunk after its owner was pulled over for speeding. When the highway patrol officer asked the driver for "license and registration," the chimpanzee tried bribing the officer with a doughnut. According to the Oregonian, the chimpanzee kept eating the doughnut he was supposed to use for bribing the officer. Handlers for the monkey solved the problem by substituting a plastic doughnut for the real one.
Many other car dealerships paid for syndicated use of the spots, and some advertising analysts noted that this fact alone was a measure of the success of the "Trunk Monkey" campaign. The commercials aired just as they were used originally, but with other dealerships' logos and voice-overs at the end. By 2004 "Trunk Monkey" spots were syndicated across 31 markets in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. R/West and the Suburban Auto Group divided the syndication profits, helping the Suburban Auto Group offset the original cost of the campaign. The campaign's effect on car sales, however, was more difficult to measure. "It's hard to quantify how many actual sales are a result of the ads," Sowle told Ward's Dealer Business. "They're not your standard call-to-action dealership ads. But they've given us a lot of name recognition."
The ad industry first took notice of "Trunk Monkey" after Shoot, a publication focused on advertising, listed "Road Rage" in its February 2003 gallery of "The Best Work You May Never See." Months later the One Club, a nonprofit organization that sponsored annual advertising competitions, honored "Trunk Monkey" with a silver award in the category of commercials made with less than $50,000. So many "Trunk Monkey" video files were downloaded from the Suburban Auto Group's website the day after the commercial appeared, the website had to be taken off-line. Later the commercials were placed on their own website. In one seven-day period the new site recorded 3 million downloads. Advertising critics praised the campaign for its "viral" success, or ability to be spread through word of mouth. Many consumers forwarded the commercials via E-mail to friends, colleagues, and family. "It did go past where we thought it would go, in a good way," R/West art director Chris Sauer, who worked on the campaign, said to the Oregonian. "You get lucky once in a while."
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