Car Shoppers Ignore Ads, Dealer Or Otherwise

Auto dealers are wasting their money on advertising, especially radio, TV, and direct. Consumers find them neither helpful or trustworthy. 

According to a new study by C+R Research, commissioned by, TV spots, radio and and direct are the least trustworthy or helpful sources of information, and therefore the least likely to drive consideration. 

Shoppers use two to three online sources to research and compare cars, with independent sites constituting half of those. Forty-nine percent of the 1,000 respondents said search engines are influential; 46% said manufacturer Web sites; and 42% said auto dealership sites. 

The study says online sources have influence early in the process, offline drive influence later. Respondents reported that they favor independent sites because they offer side-by-side comparisons of vehicles and dealerships. 



Only 9% of shoppers are influenced by outdoor ads. Just 8% cited radio advertisements as influencing their buying decision. And only half of all car shoppers reported contacting a dealership prior to visiting, with most citing that they felt it was unnecessary given the information available online. 

The study says the biggest influencers -- those deemed most trustworthy and helpful -- were manufacturer Web sites, expert review sites, independent research sites, search engines, newspaper Web sites and previous experience with the vehicle, which respondents said was the most trusted and helpful source. Respondents to the study also said that simply noticing a car on the street served as a driver for consideration. 

“Consumers can be overwhelmed by automotive content, but rather than tune it all out, they’re selecting the pieces that are most valuable to them, effectively curating their own car buying experience,” said Simon Tiffen, senior manager of advertiser insights at

Dealership visits are still obviously important, and 68% of respondents said they used online sources to fine one, with one in five shoppers visiting just one showroom and one in four visiting two. And 63% of shoppers reported using their mobile devices at dealerships. 

The study, "The Digital Influence: How Online Research Keeps Auto Shoppers in Control," examined online survey responses in late April and May from about 1,000 people, about half of whom said they were in market.

12 comments about "Car Shoppers Ignore Ads, Dealer Or Otherwise".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Chuck Lantz from, network, September 26, 2014 at 4:40 p.m.

    You mean to tell me that I shouldn't "Go see Cal", where I can buy a Ford that "looks just like a Mercedes!"? I am shocked.

  2. David Grisim from Exact Media, September 26, 2014 at 5:43 p.m.

    As a marketer I've long know if you ask consumers whether TV ads influenced their purchase decision (especially in mature categories and major purchases like cars), they will overwhelming say 'no.' Think about it. Few people will say, "I saw the great new Volkswagen ad, so I went out and dropped 30 grand on one!" Instead, they'll attribute their purchase to a very rational and data-based process of scouring expert reviews, independent research sites, and the like. This study is flawed, and almost certainly understates the impact of advertising in influencing buying decisions (and over-states the impact of left-brain pursuits).
    I'm not asserting there is a lot of quality car advertising. But this study does nothing to prove or disprove it.

  3. Hart Weichselbaum from the planning practice, September 29, 2014 at 9:07 a.m.

    Sure. And buying a car is mostly a rational decision.

  4. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, September 29, 2014 at 2:58 p.m.

    Think about it. A company closely associated with one form of advertising (internet ads) does research that attacks other major forms of advertising (broadcast) with which that same company competes. Seems self-serving and suspicious. Can we expect Hershey to fund research that chocolate is good for us?

  5. Hart Weichselbaum from the planning practice, September 29, 2014 at 3:01 p.m.

    Wait a minute. I think chocolate IS good for us.

  6. Melissa Banks from LiveIntent, September 29, 2014 at 3:13 p.m.

    It's also fair to note that any study where people recall what influenced them is inherently flawed. Other studies have shown that claimed ad awareness underestimates the efficacy of the advertising studied.

  7. Bob Gordon from The Auto Channel, September 29, 2014 at 5:44 p.m.

    As the co-publisher of the original editorial automotive web site, the tools we provided to online car researchers almost twenty years ago have become the lingua franca of auto info gathering on the web...
    The main question we got from auto dealers and manufacturers back then was a concern that giving the consumer the power of complete product knowledge would somehow push the earth off orbit, well it didn’t happen and I am still awaiting research that shows one incremental auto sale because of any media.
    When a consumer gets the hots or the need for a new vehicle it happens...not before.

    TV not a driving force (sorry) in a consumers choice of brand consideration is pretty rediculous.

  8. Bob Gordon from The Auto Channel, September 29, 2014 at 5:46 p.m.

    Oh by the way... Cal Worthington knew what hew was doing.. elephants and all... in fact Cal was a major advertiser on a TV station we built in Sacramento...RIP Cal... you showed the way

  9. Brooke Molineaux from ASU, September 29, 2014 at 8:10 p.m.

    I am not convinced that this study is accurate. Personally, I will use TV and radio ads as a thought when considering which car I am looking to purchase. The ads are highlighting the most exceptional features of the cars. Those dealerships that buy ad time get their name out there and are in turn researched and sought out more often, hence why they are commonly the top dealerships in the nation. Whether it is a conscious thought or not, companies who get their name out there more often are typically at the front of somebodies thoughts. If I am researching cars and remember seeing a company from a commercial or hearing a radio ad, I am going to research their brand and products over a company I haven’t heard of. I am not saying that these ads are sole reasons for a customer to purchase a car but it most definitely puts a dealership or company in the front running as their name is known to the public. A customer might not go to the dealership for the specific car that was being promoted but now that they are in the dealership, the employees can suggest cars that may be a better fit the customer. The hardest part is getting the customer in the store, after that convincing isn’t that hard. The ad’s must be catchy and to the point; appealing to a customer is the first step- reaching out to potential customers is easiest by TV and radio ads as opposed to word of mouth advertising.

  10. Krista Niess from MKT, September 30, 2014 at 12:18 a.m.

    This article is very interesting and insightful. I do agree with your statements in which car shoppers ignore ads and dealers. When looking to get a car the first place that I am going to look on is the Internet and the different ratings online, I am also going to take in account different opinions that my family and friends are going to give me. Anytime I hear a new car commercial on the radio or see something on the television for a car advertisement that doesn’t draw me in to want to purchase a car from that specific dealer. Although I think some of the facts in this article are not accurate, because if advertisements for car commercials were a complete waste of time and unnecessary then why would dealerships and brands keep spending millions of dollars on advertisements in a year. I also think there is difference in specific dealerships putting out advertisements verse car companies who are trying to promote a new car. I do believe that there is an importance in continuing to advertise but spending tons of money on advertising might be very beneficial in the end if there is statistics proving that these kinds of advertisements aren’t doing anything positive for the audience. I think that a purchase of a car is a very big decision for an individual therefor any additional information one can get is going to be best.

  11. Cliff Foyster from Dionysian Media, September 30, 2014 at 9:45 a.m.

    What's interesting to me is that the study is based on the two metrics of "trustworthy" and "helpful" (only), which are attributes that our media excels at and consequently we excel at providing a great service for auto dealers, but of course the study did not include our media and just went for the easy broad strokes. I think it's also important to keep in mind that after a consumer zero's in on a car they will then choose a dealer, and branding the differentiating factors (including reputation) of dealerships should not be underestimated.

  12. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, November 4, 2014 at 8:38 p.m.

    Rule # 1: Get them into the dealership. Rule #2: Get them into the dealership. Rule #3: Get them into the dealership. The system within the dealerships and how car "salespeople" manage their time not to "get them into the dealership" by standing around waiting for their next up that needs to change. There has been a system implemented by a few dealers at one time, but management falls down. The structure of auto advertising would also be affected.

Next story loading loading..