Vehicle Marketing Can't Live On Social Alone

Automakers are lining up more and more of their marketing ducks behind social media, although it is still just a fraction of their total media expense. That’s probably good because a study from market research firm TNS Global suggests that if they aren’t doing it in an integrated fashion, versus just advertising on Facebook, it’s a waste of money, however much the spend is. 

The reason is that American car buyers are more likely to be swayed by traditional marketing versus all forms of social, including blogs and forums, per TNS research. Consumers consider these platforms sullied when they start to look like advertising and marketing channels. 

The firm, in its “Automotive Path to Purchase Study,” argues that the most effective advertising actually integrates social media with traditional old-school ads. The example given by TNS is VW's Super Bowl campaign centering on an ad depicting VW engineers in Germany getting their “wings” each time an owner crosses the 100,000-mile mark on his or her VW car odometer. TNS says the program works because (besides the creative itself) the social media portion is tied directly to the campaign and it is effectively staggered across Facebook and Twitter.

In China, things are a lot different. The study looked at that market as well, finding that a third of Chinese consumers consider branded auto content on social media as the most trusted source of information on cars. That’s true of only 7% of Americans, according to TNS data. Almost six in ten U.S. car buyers cite TV and print as their most trusted source, compared to 43% cent in China. 

The study also shows TV advertising has the biggest effect in persuading buyers to go online, or dealerships, or to friends and family. "Digital-savvy car buyers in the U.S. are increasingly suspicious of brand involvement when it comes to supposedly ‘independent’ sources like blogs and forums," said Andy Turton, global development director at TNS. “In China, where the car market is comparatively young and people are keen to explore new digital channels, it’s a different story.”

Foreign brands do the best job of tying up different media channels, both traditional, digital and social, to drive purchase consideration. The study says that Honda is best at using different media to pull consumers down the purchase path from awareness to consideration to purchase. Toyota comes in second. The study says that in both China and the U.S. the dealer plays a crucial role in getting buyers to sign the line that is dotted. Almost four in ten of U.S. buyers and one quarter of Chinese buyers cite dealers as their most reliable information source.

“The idea of the dealer being the car buyer’s ‘best friend’ is abundantly clear in both markets. As the U.S. auto market shows continued signs of recovery -- with over 15.6 million vehicles sold last year -- it is only brands that can keep customers engaged throughout the whole buying process that will see these rewards,” said Turton.

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