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Acura Wants To Create Swim Lanes On The Internet

By Brian Pasch  (article number three in a series)

When  I learned about Acura's new Adwords bidding strategy, aka "Swim Lane Project," for their franchise dealer network, I started to research the impact of this pending announcement.  In my last article, I outlined how this policy will allow third party automotive websites and competing brands easier access in the top three Adwords positions for select keywords.

Dealers are being told that competitors don't have relevant content to rank highly in paid search for the five reserved keywords.  False. They are also being told that the five reserved keywords can cost competitors 5x-10x more than Tier1. Exaggeration.  This is hyperbole, meant to justify the keyword "swim lane" strategy and support the theory of keyword inflation.


In my first article, I listed the five keywords that were reserved for Tier 1 advertising. I received feedback from industry colleagues stating that these five keywords "may" not be ideal for local franchise dealers to include in their Adwords strategy; meaning there are better words for dealers to go after.

Having spoken with Acura dealers, they feel that they should have the ability to protect their local market from online websites that could divert customers to competing brands; especially mobile shoppers.

Keep in mind that the five keywords is just the start of the Swim Lane Project.  MediaVest will be analyzing keyword purchases from Tier 1 and Tier 2 and they will recommend who is best suited to buy certain keywords.

Is it unrealistic to foresee a time that Tier 2 may start to have a reserved list of keywords, if MediaVest can show it is "better" for Tier 2 to purchase certain keywords?



There are no swim lanes on the Internet.  The graphic shown above, from a Google presentation on the path of today's car shopper, shows no swim lanes.  Each one of these online touch points has advertising embedded into the page, video, or publication.  The shopping path is uncontrolled; it's a free for all.

New buyers, at any moment can move, without prediction, to buy a car. Tier 1 does not have a crystal ball to know that that will happen. The concept of restricting dealers to connect with shoppers,when that moment happens, seems like a step backwards.

Consumers will select and click on information that is relevant to their needs. Guessing what the consumer needs and who should serve that LOCAL customer seems to be a great conflict with the franchise model.

As I stated earlier, OEMs allow dealers to place their own radio, TV, and newspaper advertisements that cross PMA lines.  Traditional media shares messages with Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 agencies. There are no swim lanes on traditional media, yet someone decided there are swim lanes on the Internet.

A consumer using a mobile device who searches the keyword "Acura," may very well be looking to find a local dealer to service their car.  How can Acura say that the mobile shopper should be typing a LONGER search phrase, on their smartphone, if they wanted to service their Acura?


Retargeting allows Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 to "follow" car shoppers on websites and on video in the form of pre-roll ads.  A consumer, who visits an OEM website, can see OEM ads on thousands of other websites, when the consumer is shopping for a car.  These ads can also be on their mobile devices, inside of the local dealer's PMA.

These ads drive consumers to OEM lead collecting websites that will sell and/or distribute leads to local franchise dealers.  If swim lanes really existed, should dealers be able to demand that OEM ads DO NOT show up for their dealership name, or localized searches?


In the example below, a consumer is looking for a local Acura dealer in Chicago.  They use the keyword phrase "Chicago Acura Dealers".

Three digitally competent dealers appear in positions 1,2, and 4. Why would want to compete with these dealers when the INTENT of the consumer was a local dealer?

In fact, the example shows that the Tier 1 ad (in green) pushed a local dealer off the top of the page, and took them down to position 4 (in red).


It seems that the people advising Acura that "swim lanes" exist are not connected with the realities of the Internet.  The policy is one-sided, and it is clear that Acura's own Adwords policy violates the spirit of the "swim lane" theory.

If Acura believed in the swim lane theory they would not appear for a specific search phrase looking for local franchise dealers in Chicago. I invite the digital team at Acura/Honda for a lively discussion on this strategy.



I do not envy being Vandergriff Acura; an Acura dealer in the Dallas Metro area.  Acura has decided that when a consumer is looking for a local Dallas Acura dealer, they must be democratic, and outbid a local Acura franchise and pass leads to someone else in their network; see their ad in green above.

In the example above, if a consumer types "Dallas Acura Dealers", Acura has a lead collection form that will "help" local dealers?  It seems like an unnecessary step to introduce their Tier 1 website when the local dealer, Vandergriff Acura, is already advertising and Google Maps lists the Dallas dealer for FREE.

I entered a zip code of "75219" which is the exact zip code for Goodson Acura located in Dallas proper, and when I clicked on the ad, it took me to the page below:


This page is no better than Google Maps, which had listed Goodson Acura for free.  Is Tier 1 inflating keyword costs for local dealers?  I would say that  this could be the case in this example.  It's also penalizing the one dealer who has an proactive Adwords strategy.

The advertising strategy injects another step for the car shopper without adding any value.  So Vandergriff Acura gets penalized for using Adwords and Goodson Acura benefits without buying that keyword.  What I do not know is of the dealer pays for those leads, which may have come for free if the ad was never presented.


It's sad that the Acura dealers are afraid to speak up because of fear tactics and stiff financial penalties for non-compliance.  I stand for common sense for both dealers and OEMs.

In this case, someone forgot that ingredient in this "Swim Lane Project". This is a DOA strategy that is filled with holes and hypocrisy. I hope that Acura and Honda dealers stand up at their upcoming dealer meetings.




Brian Pasch, CEO

PCG Consulting



Views: 980

Tags: Brian Pasch, acura, adwords, swim lanes


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Comment by Ralph Paglia on April 1, 2014 at 10:37am
Brian, thank you for a very informative "Op Ed" series of articles on this Acura OEM digital advertising program... As you know, the ADM Professional Community has been a venue for the distribution of information and critical thought analysis of many OEM programs, as well as supplier based offerings for over six years at this point. As much "heat" as many of us have taken for such outspoken and critical content being posted on ADM, I am proud of what our community has achieved... Your willingness to take a stand on such matters, and bring your critical analysis to light is both appreciated and admired by me and many others.
Comment by The iPitCrew Page on March 31, 2014 at 4:58pm

Well stated! We concur...

Comment by Brian Pasch on March 31, 2014 at 2:59pm

Comment by Brian Pasch on March 31, 2014 at 2:48pm

Thank you Larry for the feedback.  I have received many private emails on this series of articles on this topic.  My hope is that the program gets put on pause, and given more thought, before the Acura dealer meetings.  There are more layers to the "swim lane project" than I think Acura was aware of. 

Comment by Thomas Reidy on March 31, 2014 at 12:33pm

Thanks for the update--a real eye opener!

Comment by Larry Bruce on March 31, 2014 at 12:09pm

Brian I am glad you wrote this article since I heard of this project from our Acura dealers I have wanted to write a post on it but just haven’t had the time.

Since I am commenting here I will add a few things I had in my half written post.

  1. “Dealers are being told that competitors don’t have relevant content to rank highly in paid search.” I am shocked anyone would say this. I can only assume they are making reference to quality score which has nothing to do with whether an ad will show in a search query, just what the advertiser pays for the click. The reality is that the landing content unfortunately is the smallest part of the quality score calculation. CTR (Click Through Rate) has far more to do with the quality score than landing page quality and if an advertiser does a good job of writing an ad to answer the question the Google user is asking then he / she can get a good CTR and have a good quality score keeping them from having to pay more for the click anyway. Someone has certainly confused both the Acura Reps and the dealers on how this works.  

  2. Having dealt with more than my fair share of battles between tier 1 adwords bidding, tier 2 adwords bidding and tier 3 adwords bidding It is easy to understand the issues that Acura is trying to avoid when it comes to bidding up keywords. What is interesting in the example image you have in this post for “Chicago Acura Dealers” is that the tier 2 ad is phrase matched on “Acura + Dealer” violating my understanding of the “Swim Lanes Project” and the dealer ads (tier 3) in the second position and the 4th position both seem to be broad matched on “Acura” again violating the “Swim Lanes Project” again. The complexities of enforcing this policy will be enough to kill it unless Acura enlists the help of ACB which could become the dealer’s worst nightmare for PPC advertising.

In the end Brian I have to agree this strategy make no sense for the consumer, the dealer or Acura for that matter. One can only hope for the immortal word of Larry Page on this one “Please fail quickly”.

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