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Car Brands Target Millennial Consumers

Millennials didn’t accelerate onto the automotive scene. In fact, many delayed getting their drivers’ licenses and instead relied on companies like Uber and Lyft as viable transportation alternatives. This cohort also came of age during a tricky economic era. The Great Recession set back some careers while delaying car purchases, which can be pricey—the average cost of a new vehicle is $38,000. But that paradigm changed in 2020 when millennials purchased more cars than any other demographic, totaling 32 percent of all new-vehicle sales and edging Baby Boomers out of that top spot. At over 72 million adults, they also overtook Boomers as the nation’s largest generation, according to the US Census Bureau. Their spending power makes them prime targets for car manufacturers, especially since millennials and Gen Z members are the only two demographics currently contributing to auto-industry growth, per Experian Automotive. But millennials don’t typically shop for cars by visiting dealerships. Their notorious dislike of that antiquated system combined with pandemic-related purchasing shifts means online companies like or Shift and Vroom, which both went public last year, are gaining popularity. “The pandemic forced dealerships to move toward the customer,” said Lauren Donalson, PureCars senior director. “More of the transaction can be conducted and facilitated online, while less of the transaction requires interfacing with folks in the dealership.” Meanwhile, brands are getting creative when it comes to automotive marketing strategies. Here’s how some are standing out.

Digital by Design
Millennials were early adopters of technology. In 2019, 93 percent owned smartphones, compared to 90 percent of Gen Xers and only 68 percent of Baby Boomers, according to Pew Research Center. They grew up shopping on the internet, comfortable with mobile payments and fluent in the use of social media. It therefore follows that automotive marketers are embracing mobile and social platforms to engage this demographic. Twitter reports that over 80 percent of auto brands have hosted a virtual launch event, or plan to do so, this year. The days of in-person, experiential vehicle premieres may have passed. “The way to move forward…is via digital advertising, specifically in social and in video on channels like YouTube and Connected TV,” said Donalson. Case in point: Toyota recently launched its 2021 Sienna model by premiering a new campaign on Pinterest. Using Story Pins, the platform’s popular video and image-collage format, Toyota positioned its vehicle as a “third space” for date night or drive-in movie viewing while consumers sought escape from the pandemic.

Virtual Experiences
From digital to virtual, many car brands are now debuting new models via augmented or virtual reality (AR/VR) experiences. In April, Hyundai joined forces with National Geographic magazine to promote its electric and hybrid vehicles by appealing to environmentally conscious consumers. Their “Outside Academy” campaign created an immersive Instagram world that lets users take virtual driving trips through iconic national parks like Zion, Yosemite and the Great Smoky Mountains. Integrated info touted the top benefits of their eco-friendly cars as part of a larger marketing initiative aimed at reaching younger shoppers who share those values. In a similar vein, Volkswagen teamed with Pinterest to introduce its first all-electric vehicle via an AR shopping experience, including a 360-degree virtual “test-drive.” Over eight million consumers actively engage with auto content on Pinterest every month and 55 percent of members are more likely to be concerned about their carbon footprint than those not on the platform, thus making this the ideal partnership for Volkswagen’s electric auto offering.

Powerful Partnerships
Choosing the right partner can be key to engaging this coveted audience. Last month, Toyota launched its first national ad campaign on Twitch by teaming with The Bowery Presents live concert series. Though best known as an interactive gaming platform, Twitch also boasts a thriving musical sector that increased by 550 percent in hours watched last year. By partnering with The Bowery Presents, a weekly live-concert event that also includes talks with indie music artists, Toyota hopes to reach young consumers who value musical discoveries and take pride in supporting emerging artists. A previous Toyota-Twitch collaboration involved developing a one-off luxury Lexus vehicle created with gamers in mind, thus proving that car brands are taking strides to keep pace with the changing automotive landscape. On this long and winding road, marketers are appealing to millennial shoppers with some effective outside-the-box thinking.