For TV stations, automobile dealers are very valuable advertisers. At the tier 3 level, dealers spent approximately $1.3 billion on TV spots alone last year. And that kind of money means that car dealers get a lot of attention from their local TV reps. Unless, of course, it happens to be the political season. Then suddenly there are no availabilities, station reps stop coming by, and the spots dealerships were promised to reach their market no longer exist.

This year political advertising on local television is expected to be about $5.9 billion. That’s almost the equivalent of 5 years of dealer advertising.  Those kinds of dollars gobble up a lot of time. And local advertisers, no matter how valuable, receive the dreaded political bump until the election is over.

That’s the bad news. The good news for dealers who plan ahead is that not only are there other ways to reach active car shoppers without missing an advertising beat, but that the broadcast drought caused by political buys provides a good time to consider more precise and efficient media strategies and to determine whether they are profitable and sustainable alternatives to traditional “spray and pray” advertising methods.

After all, every dealer is in the middle of this political drought, making a reasonably level playing field. So, for every dealer, it’s a matter of finding new ways to meet the market.

One obvious alternative is to increase a dealership’s digital advertising budget, but simply throwing more money at online advertising services is about as useful as spray and pray tactics. Digital advertising means a lot of things, and some of them are not very effective.

For many dealerships, digital automotive advertising suffers from the same problematic mindset that early efforts to integrate computers into businesses did long ago. Working digitally was just a matter of trying to do the same old things, but doing them with bits and bytes. Consequently, computers for these businesses ended up just being big calculators, typewriters or inventory cards. Similarly, for some automobile dealers, the Internet is just one more place to put ads in front of people who probably don’t want to see them.

But, properly done, the internet is a lot more than that. It provides tools for precision marketing that have never been available before. Instead of delivering your message to thousands of people, a small percentage of whom may be interested in buying a car, much less the kind you sell, digital advertising delivers your message to a smaller number of people, all of whom are interested in your kind of car. And it allows you to tailor your message with remarkable accuracy, very different from the “one-size-fits-almost-nobody” model of mass media.

Creating a digital connection with your market isn’t a matter of mass marketing, but a massive amount of unique marketing efforts designed to put a potential customer in front of your sales person.

That is, of course, the objective. Meeting the objective means making certain that digital advertising dollars are being spent wisely. To do so means really understanding the types of online audiences you’re purchasing and the solutions digital media vendors are selling to reach them.

To make sure you’re spending your money effectively, make sure you understand what you’re buying. Here are a few questions that you need to ask:

1. How do you identify the best audiences to advertise to on behalf of my dealership? Is the audience a bulk media spend based on using demographic intelligence to reach a lot of people in a market? Or, are they made up of individuals actively in-market and shopping?

2. If they’re active in-market car shoppers, how do you define what that is? Are their lists made up primarily of offline audience intelligence or online real-time active shopping behaviors?

3. How do they reach their audience? Is their media strategy single channel or multi-channel? Can they connect and target audience members across devices?

4. How do they measure results? Are results based on audience reach and click rates? Are they based on A/B testing with other media sources using analytics programs like Google Analytics? Or, can they track audience members to a purchase made?

As with most marketing tools, some are very good, some are good, and some are just a waste. The way to know the difference is to ask the questions thatpenetrate the vendors’ smoke and mirrors.

Even if they’ve been through it before, some dealers are surprised when their TV reps, typically so attentive, tell them there’s nothing available to buy. They don’t seem to realize that, even in the political season, the dealer still has to do business.

There’s no changing that. However, dealerships do maintain control over choosing the alternatives and, by doing the right kind of homework, may make particularly sweet lemonade out of this lemon by finding a much more precise way to meet the market and weather any type of media storm.