Auto Advertisers Shifting into High Gear to Keep Pace with New Realities and Desires

Maegan Buckler  | 

Tensions in trading, new import tariffs, the rise of mobility services, changing demographics and other industry pressures, have put advertisers at a critical crossroads. And while ad growth is projected to be flat again, it doesn’t mean marketers are stalling out at the intersection. According to new studies, they are instead responding with complex, targeted cross-platform campaigns to keep pace with evolving consumer needs. Here are three trends expected to gain more ground in 2019.

Staying Steady with TV and Revving Up Digital
Growth in ad spend in 2019 will be 0.8% vs. 1.5% in 2018 and the 2% expected in 2020, according to Zenith’s Automotive Advertising Expenditure Forecasts. Still, auto remains one of the biggest verticals by spend with the U.S. expected to reach $18 billion this year. 54.4% of that will go to TV, because it is still the best channel for awareness and emotional imaging. At the same time, automotive keeps investing more in digital to meet consumers’ changing expectations for how they want to experience an auto brand. Last year spend on digital was nearly 21% and is expected to rise to 24.4% in 2020.

One reason digital lags television for auto advertising is because vehicle sales always occur offline. But buyers use digital and social for research and marketers will capitalize on this through: more targeted analytics to reach the right customers with the right message; more experiential creative to provide more immersive content; and giving dealers an even greater role in the path to purchase with more opportunity to localize creative assets. Technology platforms like AdBridgeTM from Extreme Reach, can be employed to ensure the distribution of localized creative happens successfully with Talent & Rights contracts in place and regional promotions running in exactly the right media.

Meeting Younger Buyers Where They Are and With What They Want
With millennials and Gen Zers positioned as the customers of the future, marketers will start developing campaigns that appeal to these sometimes ad-averse and elusive demographics. And not just with ads on TV or online, but by tailoring car design, technology elements and ownership models to their desires.

For example, thanks to the rise in mobility services, younger buyers want ownership options and that means an explosion in vehicle subscription services, according to this Frost & Sullivan report. Over 16.3 million new and used vehicles are expected to be part of the vehicle subscription universe by 2025. Using social media in innovative ways also will be increasingly critical. This study found that car shoppers, for the third year in a row, ranked social networks as more important than a dealer’s website when choosing which dealership to visit. In addition, 83% of service customers surveyed say online review sites helped them in the dealership selection process. Expect to see marketers developing more social first campaigns, including social-only vehicle launches.

Brand Positioning Should Be Ongoing Not One-Off
Finally, WE Communications’ Brands in Motion survey argues that the auto industry has experienced more disruption than any other sector and that means, according to Katie Huang Shin of WE, that brands can no longer afford to think of brand positioning as a static endeavor. Occasional “emotional” or aspirational creative (think Super Bowl or Oscars, for example) can no longer serve as a campaign foundation. Instead brands also need to be communicating constantly—across all channels and platforms—and focusing more on the “rational” messaging. That means building campaigns that communicate exactly how all the technologies and differentiators of a particular car not only make it run well, but also how it helps make buyers’ lives easier. In an era of soon-to-come autonomous cars, connected cars, green cars, electric cars, etc., the lifestyle messaging will be as important as the aspirational.

So in spite of the flat growth rate, automakers are actually moving ahead swiftly and surely by adopting innovative ways of engaging a changing audience in a disrupted marketplace.

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