The Martin Agency Simplifies the CarMax Shopping Experience in Its First Campaign for the Brand

2 new ads strip it down to a straightforward message and position

One of the several stickers in CarMax's newest ad from The Martin Agency. CarMax
Headshot of Doug Zanger

Advertising for CarMax, in recent years, has gone down a few roads. While the ads featuring comedian Andy Daly have been enjoyable, there remained a level of disconnect. Humor can work, but not at the expense of establishing a clear position.

In a new campaign for the pre-owned car dealer, The Martin Agency, which won the $100 million creative account last April over several New York agencies, has stripped it all down to the brand’s essence. Gone are the quips about puppets and cats and, in its place, is an unambiguous message about what the brand stands for: “The Way It Should Be.”

The two launch spots anchoring the campaign by the brand and agency, both headquartered in Richmond, are easy to watch and feel like a reset of sorts. Positioned as anthems, the pair of ads don’t scream “car ad” and, in fact, are a welcome change from a parade of automotive advertising that can try too hard at times.

According to Laura Donahue, vice president of marketing services at CarMax, it was about reeling in the brand’s position to a much more digestible way of presenting itself to consumers.

“It really started with the brief in the account review where we articulated the need to establish a better position for the brand and within the category,” she said. “We needed to establish a strong brand platform where we can ladder up key messages and offerings. We wanted a platform to transcend category norms and generate a lot of creative ideas.”

Indeed, the first ad, “Because You Matter,” takes a familiar approach—reminding customers that they come first. The second spot, however, is intriguingly unique and focused on the idea of self-expression through bumper stickers that people put on their vehicles, giving the work more dimension and humanity.

“As we worked on the campaign, we leaned in on the fact that the whole [automotive] category is soulless. We wanted to tackle the work from a consumer point of view,” said Anne Marie Hite, svp and group creative director at The Martin Agency. “CarMax’s biggest presence out in the world is its own sticker. It’s not just another ad, it’s a thought, it’s empathy and humanity that exist behind that sticker.”

Two particularly fun facts in the “Stickers” spot includes the addition of “Virginia Is For Lovers,” the iconic campaign created for the Commonwealth by The Martin Agency, and James Madison University (represented by the JMU sticker), the alma mater of the agency’s CEO, Kristen Cavallo and CarMax CEO and president, Bill Nash.

“We asked Kristen if she could help us get permission to use a JMU sticker in the spot without having to go through all of the red tape,” said Hite. “She called five minutes later to tell us [it was approved] and that they were thrilled to be included.”

While the pair of ads is the starting point, Donahue noted that the idea of developing more of a flexible platform for consumers is the end goal.

“‘The Way It Should Be’ communicates aspects of the company and our industry that are incredibly durable, she said. “We have a deep belief in the applicability of this tagline across personal and transactional stories.”

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.