3 Things I Learned At The LA Auto Show

The LA Auto Show kicked off last week. After spending two days there for the press conferences, including the reveal of the 2011 Mazda2, I went back on Sunday to see what the consumer show looked like. Here's what I noticed:

Attendance looked really light. A casual guess would be about half of what I expected on a weekend day. But I could be wrong about that. I wonder if the pricetag scared people off (although tickets were only $12, once you add in parking and refreshments, it's a $50+ outing. Kind of a lot to go window-shopping). More importantly, Gen Y and Latino and black audiences were especially under-represented. Overall, the show skewed white, Asian, and Boomer/Gen X.

Aside from a couple well-designed booths (Audi comes first to mind), most of the exhibits were pretty boring. Like a parking lot with carpet. Mazda and Scion both made interesting use of augmented reality technology, but that was about it.

What does this mean?

1. Auto shows may not be as important as they used to be. If you're selling to young people or multi-cultural buyers, you may not be reaching enough of them at these shows.

2. Auto companies still don't fully get experiential marketing. Why not program the experience a bit and increase your chances of engagement?

If I were CMO at an automaker, I'd make it mandatory for employees to attend the auto shows. In fact, I'd probably have our full-time employees staff the shows, instead of or along with the usual promo models. You need your people to be interacting with consumers face to face, learning what the market is about and what people want. Get them out there pressing the flesh.