In the Driver’s Seat1 Oct, 2011 By: Jackie Jones Response
Consumers are taking the wheel across all verticals when it comes to making purchases, and the increasing access to information via digital platforms means research is playing an even bigger role in marketers’ ability to make a sale. This rings even more true when it comes to the bigger purchases such as automobiles, and advertisers have been quick to take notice.
At $22.6 billion, automotive is the second-largest advertising category this year, according to a Borrell Associates report, and the largest dollar increase in spending in 2011 is expected to be online media at 11 percent, growing from $6.6 billion to nearly $7.3 billion. Online dominates nearly one-third of all automotive marketers’ budgets and could grow even as advertisers embrace digital media to target consumers on a localized scale.
“The biggest trend currently is that auto companies are looking for new and creative ways to showcase their products. They’ve been steeped in the tradition of 30-second advertisements, and now they’re looking for longer ways to show in more detail just what differentiates them from their competitors,” says Jeff Siegel, senior vice president of advertising at Rovi Corp., which has worked on multiple campaigns for auto brands such as Ford Motor Co. and Toyota. “The bigger the purchase, the more research people want to put into it, and automakers like the ability to tell consumers the whole story. If you’re already engaged in buying a Ford, having content to play around with is compelling.”
More local brands have recently reported a much higher interest in online media than in previous years, with auto advertisers proving to be one of the most aggressive, Borrell Associates notes. The efficiency of the Internet is one reason, as well as auto marketers’ keen interest in mobile initiatives — 36 percent of auto companies claim to be familiar with mobile advertising, nearly twice as many as other verticals.
Taking the Long-Form Route
Automotive dealers are dedicating as much as 32 percent of their advertising budgets to interactive digital media this year, with much of that spending on banner ads and paid search. With more major dealerships closing, big-name companies such as Ford and Toyota are turning to more innovative platforms that give them access to consumers in their own homes.
Ford’s latest campaign with Rovi specifically pushed the Ford Focus and included banner ads placed on consumers’ electronic programming guides (EPG) on their TVs. Users could click on the ad, view multiple pieces of video on the Ford Focus to get a better look at the details of the car, and use SMS or QR codes to find local dealers. The biggest advantage to such a strategy for advertisers is the ability to target consumers when they have plenty of downtime to adequately dedicate their attention to the products, increasing the chance of making a sale, according to Siegel.
“The challenge for automakers is that there is so much proliferation of content, they need to figure out what to do to brand themselves and their products when there’s so much to click through,” Siegel says. “Our platform provided Ford a unique environment where they could find guaranteed engaged users. Viewers go into the guide frequently to find content, they’re actively engaged because they’re sitting there, using their remote control to access information about Ford.”
Delivering ad content via such platforms gives brands a unique opportunity to share as much information as they want, for as long as they want, Siegel adds.
“Auto brands aren’t limited in what way or how long they interact with consumers when using interactive digital platforms,” Siegel says. “You can view long-form video, you can use QR codes to get deals, or you can research where to go for the next step in your purchasing decision. As the consumer, I can keep the guide up for as long as I want, I can experience as much as I want to, and that gives brands a lot more access to their intended audience than just a 30-second TV commercial that quickly flashes a URL.”
There’s a lot of room for continued, advanced functionality through such platforms as Rovi’s, and notably so as more televisions begin to incorporate Internet capabilities, Siegel notes. Long-form DRTV could take on a whole new level of importance.
“It’s all about continuing to enhance the product,” he says. “Whether it’s an entertainment update or thinking interactively with the remote control, in the smart TV space, you’re really delivering Internet video. You’re not limited to video-on-demand — advertisers could run a 3-hour video if they wanted. Bringing the functionality of Internet to TV is just another way to enhance auto brands.”
Accelerating Local Strategies
Utilizing advancing technology to target consumers on a more local scale is crucial to auto marketers’ survival in an increasingly rough competitive environment, industry experts advise. Capabilities such as Digital Element’s IP intelligence platform, which allows users to hone in on demographic information based on ZIP codes, is key to converting at-home perusing of a consumer into an offline sale, says Rob Friedman, executive vice president and co-founder of Digital Element.
“It’s extremely important for advertisers to directly engage with consumers on a local level,” Friedman says. “All advertising is local, and taking information down to a city level or a ZIP-code level can up conversions as much as 50 percent for automakers.”
Digital Element’s technology provides users with the ability to learn a variety of information about site visitors based on their IP addresses, including demographic information, whether they are a home or business, what domain they’re using and more, narrowed down specifically by ZIP codes. Having access to such information about users without interrupting their research and purchasing process helps companies in the auto space sell more product, more efficiently, Friedman says.
Benefits of such marketing strategies include granting consumers immediate access to real-time inventory and local store locations, or even having the power to direct buyers to a store that is currently stocked with an excess of product that needs to be moved off the shelves, he says.
“Understanding the profile of who is accessing your content digitally is important for marketers. You have people doing much of their own purchasing research now when it comes to the auto space,” Friedman says.
It’s not just the big brands that can benefit from such innovative technology. Companies such as Edmunds.com, a website that connects consumers with local car sellers, and 4 Wheel Parts, which sells off-road parts and accessories for trucks and Jeeps, both use Digital Element’s technology to target online users and drive sales at a local level.
For Edmunds.com, such strategies are necessary to provide the services they do. The company not only lists inventory from dealers and drives traffic to local stores, but also publishes marketing statistics and offers site visitors different rebates based on their location, according to Michelle Denogean, vice president of business operations. This is crucial in particular for auto manufacturers, who can purchase ad space based specifically on location.
“When it comes to data in general, the more information you can understand, the better experience you can provide for consumers,” Denogean says. “Technology that helps marketers and advertisers explore what is really relevant and provides background on the type of person their customer is could lead to increased personalization of the sales experience.”
Kevin Rourke, director of E-commerce and Internet operations at Transamerican Auto Parts LLC, which owns 4 Wheel Parts, says the company has seen significant success using IPS-based geo-location targeting information to promote its “Buy online, pick-up in store” promotion.
“Our consumer base has told us that our ‘pick-up in store’ program has been an additive to their buying experience with 4 Wheel Parts,” Rourke says. “To that end, Digital Element’s technology has allowed us to tightly focus this message to those consumers within reach of our stores, and conversely, freeing the website to drive different — and more useful — messages to consumers beyond the local market of any one of our stores.”
Geo-location allows companies in direct response and beyond to hone in on the needs of each individual customer, Rourke says.
“Online marketing is all about telling precisely the right story at the right time to the right audience,” he says. “Online marketing is about attending to the markets of one; each online consumer is expecting us to address their concerns.”
The Internet offers both promise and peril, and the challenge remains for auto marketers to provide richer value than that of their competitor, Rourke notes. As shifts in spending suggest a slight comeback from rougher economic times — the total number of vehicles sold last year rebounded to 11.6 million after four years of disappointing numbers, and this year’s sales are projected to reach 12.6 million, an 8.6-percent increase — more auto marketers are keen to capture consumers while the time is right. Surveys and research continue to show local automotive advertisers turning to online media as the solution.
“As granular as you can get your advertising, the better,” Friedman says. “The ability to specifically target and to sell better to each individual user and interest them more in your product is the holy grail for auto marketers. You don’t want to waste consumers’ time, and technology is the answer for both the user and the seller.” ■