Scrap – SEO and PR fortune

Personally, I think the UK government’s car scrappage scheme has more holes in it than any MoT-failing, clapped out 10 year old rust bucket that might be eligible for a £1k handout from the taxpayer (that’s only £2k if the car manufacturer/dealer adds its share).

But it’s been a goldmine for search engine optimisation and the PR fraternity.  The relevant meta tag – scrap, scrappage, car disposal – probably attracted only the enlightened scrap metal dealers until this week.  (Arguably these had been reinvented and rebranded as environmental recycling centres in the past few years – no Steptoe & Son image there.)

Now Google is bursting with paid for search ads from car manufacturers and sites offering to tell you where to find the best scrappage deal.  Indeed, Bristol Street Motors has grabbed itself the web address: scrappageallowance.org.

Meanwhile, PR practitioners have been as busy as Spring birds tapping out press releases on their keyboards as the car companies, their PR consultancies and anyone else with a slight angle to spin has sought a slice of the media attention on that sexy term – scrappage.

This will be matched by marketing activity as the posters, local radio and newspaper adverts and direct mail tactics will be rushed out to follow the speedier PR efforts.

The media humbugs have been equally busy – in the Telegraph, “consumer champion” Mike Rutherford is against the scrappage scheme and the Times calls it a “cheat“.

Environmental groups have complained about a lack of incentive to replace the old with shiny new “green” models, whilst the RAC Foundation adds to this a worry that it risks “consigning a lot of perfectly good, and relatively clean, vehicles to the dustbin”.

In fact, DirectGov terms this a vehicle discount or ‘scrappage’ scheme – which starts to confuse the emphasis on the S-word.

This government explanation does clearly state that the dealer will explain the rules and check eligibility of the car to be sold and bought (provided “they have joined the vehicle discount scheme”), and offer the money as a discount on the price to be paid.  Then “the dealer will sort out the paperwork and arrange for your vehicle to be scrapped.”

Does this actually mean scrapping vehicles that are not old bangers – as the government criteria state the trade in must have a current MoT test certificate “before the date of order for the new vehicle” – which implies it could well have an existing value of more than £1,000.  Does the dealer have to scrap any car under the scheme?  This surely further restricts the type of deal to be done as they aren’t going to pay good money on a car to be scrapped.

But I suppose that’s not the point – if the news of the scheme has encouraged people to enquire about buying a new car, then it may have increased some sales and benefited the industry.

Will customers have got a good deal?  A few probably will, whilst others may be disappointed when they find the devil in the details.  Dealers will be happy only if the added hassle of the scheme doesn’t outweigh the sales generated.

I feel it’s a bit like the short-term drop in VAT – intended to generate lots of headlines but not to resolve any of the underlying issues.  And that’s typical of a publicity-oriented approach to problem management.  Coming up with schemes, motivating the media and buzzing the public is relatively easy – but such excitement may mask a situation instead of addressing it.

Only time will tell if the scheme will work – but I reckon it won’t be long before scrappage returns to the SEO scrapheap where it largely lay until this week.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.