Auto Trader gets nostalgic to broaden its appeal

To get a more gender-balanced audience, the site refreshed its branding and took a more emotional approach to car buying.


Auto Trader is conveying car-buying confidence through iconic dance, as it looks to broaden its male-centric audience.

The new campaign features a couple whirling their way through an auto showroom, recreating the choreography from Dirty Dancing, complete with (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” 

In the background, pop up bubbles with different price badges highlight Auto Trader’s live market pricing algorithm.

Trader Corp boasts the largest inventory of used and new cars available in the country. But according to Ian MacDonald, the company’s CMO, with this campaign, the brand is trying to focus not just on the breadth of its selection, but better dramatizing its features that guide people through that inventory. It’s doing that through the joy and confidence you experience when you drive away with a car after paying a good price, which has a more accessible and relatable appeal.

Traditionally, MacDonald says, it audience has a 75-25 male-female gender split, and it’s actively trying to broaden the demo.

“We advertise year-round, but in the last few years we were leaning more into what I would call ‘rational’ creative,” as opposed to really connecting, MacDonald says. He says that the line of thinking is based on the insight that 63% of Canadians are anxious about the price they pay for a car, and whether or not it was the best they could have done.

Auto Trader has also refreshed its brand logo, with assistance from creative agency Doug & Partners, which also developed the campaign. It now has an oblique segment of a maple leaf in the upper left-hand corner, along with the tag “Canada’s most trusted place to buy cars.”

According to MacDonald, it’s to emphasize its Canadian legacy. “The new design perfectly balances familiarity and trust with freshness and modernity,” he says, this as the brand is experiencing a surge in popularity during lockdown. Traffic for its web and mobile app had record growth, up 25% year-over-year growth.

While the auto segment has been hit hard, used cars have been slightly more resilient, with total sales actually growing over the the last three months of 2020.

Spanning TV, OOH and digital, the creative was devised by Doug & Partners, and released to coincide with peak auto season in the spring, after a typically quiet September to January. MacDonald says ad spend is slightly higher, but mostly in-line with previous spring efforts.

Someplace Nice and The Vanity also worked on the campaign, while Jungle handled the media buy. It will run throughout the rest of the year.