It may be true that there’s no such thing as free money. But when it comes to advertising, the cooperative funds that manufacturers make available to you are the next best thing. But it’s up to you to figure out how to make those funds work best for your dealership.

In a recessionary economy, you might be tempted to make marketing and advertising one of your lowest priorities. After all, you have bills to pay and payroll to meet. But how will you meet those obligations without sales?

Smart advertising pays off, even in a recession. McGraw-Hill Research analyzed the advertising practices of 600 companies during the recession of 1980-1985. Those companies that continued to advertise hit a 256% growth spurt over those that did not. So don’t disregard advertising — particularly when your manufacturers may be, in some cases, begging you to advertise on their dime.

Your Manufacturer Wants You!

That’s what cooperative advertising is all about. The manufacturers whose products you sell have budgets set aside to help you advertise in your local markets.

They’re so invested in your success as a dealer that they often have set aside funds to both help you advertise and provide you with art components and finished ad materials you can customize with your own dealership logo and ID. These ready-to-use marketing materials usually run the gamut, from print and digital ads to radio and TV scripts.


So you’re not adrift when it comes to advertising. This is particularly important if you’re a small shop with little or no creative capabilities or much experience in developing and placing ads.

Ask for Help

There’s a good chance that your manufacturer has either its own internal creative departments or contracts with advertising and public relations companies that specialize in creating and placing advertisements.

The manufacturers that have set aside co-op funding for you have also set up policies and procedures for how you can access those funds. Not only will they be happy to walk you through those procedures, but that’s the only way you will be able to get those funds.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your regional sales manager or your manufacturer’s dealer marketing support representative. It’s critical that you understand the rules each manufacturer has in place for you to get the funds.

And because the funds are sometimes reimbursements — meaning you have to buy the ad yourself and send in documentation — make sure you do everything correctly so you get the money you’re due. Otherwise, you could be in for a costly surprise.

Make Yours a Double

Through the ages there have been all sorts of unfortunate modes of transportation to get us from one place to another. From the unicycle to the pogo stick, the single-pronged approach has never been the most advantageous, and in advertising the same holds true.

As advantageous as it is, particularly for a smaller dealership without the convenience of its own creative department to design ads, you don’t want to rely exclusively on co-op for all your promotions. There are several reasons:

  • Co-op advertisements may require you to mention only one brand;
  • Co-op advertising may have time window and placement restrictions;
  • You may have to pay for the advertisement first and then turn in receipts for reimbursements later;
  • You may have to meet specific design or copy restrictions that don’t fit your corporate style.

A Whole New World...On Hold

Advertising these days isn’t limited to local newspapers or magazines. There are opportunities for advertising on TV and radio, of course. High school and college sports events are popular radio sponsorships for outdoor equipment dealers nationwide. But the latest frontier is the Internet.

Unfortunately, manufacturers aren’t yet turning en masse to the Internet with co-op dollars. According to, online retailers have clauses in their contracts with advertisers specifically banning co-op advertising. For many, there isn’t yet the accountability online that they see demonstrably from the tear sheets of print ads and the ratings of radio and TV.

So in many cases, your co-op dollars may be directed toward traditional media. But that doesn’t mean you can’t propose to use co-op funds to place banner ads on your local paper’s web site. Remember to work with your manufacturer in advance and get approval in writing before moving forward with any project.

Tried & True

So how do you incorporate co-op advertising into your current advertising program?

By carefully following each manufacturer’s rules and coordinating it with your yearly ad campaign. Doing so could stretch your ad dollars significantly. Be sure to:

  • Keep careful records for each manufacturer you work with
  • Adhere to each manufacturer’s corporate guidelines as far as “tone of the ad” goes
  • Make sure your company’s name stands out in the ads; although the manufacturer will insist that its name gets heavy play, yours should too
  • Follow up with your manufacturers to ensure you get reimbursed promptly
  • Clip ads or record radio and TV spots to send to manufacturers as proof that the co-op ad ran
  • Consider all options for ads. Frequently, co-op funds can be used for advertising opportunities you might never have thought possible before, including telephone books, billboards, city busses, TV or even online.
  • Think about using co-op funds for improved-quality ads instead of increased number of ads. For example, you could buy larger ads, slicker ads, full-color ads or longer spots on the radio or TV.

Measuring Up

If you want to track the effectiveness of the advertising you purchase using co-op funds, there are several techniques you can employ. The first is to tell your staff that you want to understand what brings your customers into your store. Train staff to ask your customers how they found out about your store or your promotion and how they arrived at their purchasing decision. Keep track of that valuable information.

A second possibility is to include a coupon in your co-op advertising. That will spur your customers to bring in the ad so you will know exactly how many responded to the promotion with purchases. (Keep in mind this technique won’t tell you who might come in just because they saw the ad and looked around and bought something else.)

A third technique is to time your co-op advertising with a special promotion. If you have special financing for a limited time on compact tractors, use your co-op advertising for this promotion. Then it’s easy to know that people who see the advertising and come in for the special financing are responding to the ad you bought with your co-op dollars.

Extend Your Reach

The execution and measurement of co-op advertising is no different from the traditional advertising you’re used to placing.

Partnering with your manufacturers to make use of co-op funds can both extend your promotional reach and simultaneously enhance your relationship with your supplier. And if your message reaches the right audience, your investment in co-op will lead to additional sales. And that makes everyone happy.