Commentary

How Brands, Media Planners Miss Out On Mid-, Lower-funnel Auto Campaign Strategy

As auto brands struggle against unrelenting pressure to meet margins and adapt to the massive impact digital technology has had on the consumer purchasing journey, the role of the media planner as a visionary strategist and creative has never been more critical in the arms race to sell cars.

They are continuously challenged with being at the forefront of tech adoption, experimentation, and campaign brilliance to grow volume and extend marketing reach for brands. They are often faced with a data deluge that’s become synonymous with agency life, and the constant pressure to drive efficiency while still maintaining a consummate understanding of their target auto-buyer audience, and where to reach them. It’s a lot. 

Then you have demanding auto brands that want creative ideas from their agencies — but are they really willing to experiment with lower funnel strategy and new ad formats outside their comfort zone? I wish I could say yes, but there’s still an endemic tendency to play it safe within the automotive marketing sector, on both the brand and agency side. 

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Brands shoot down experimental advertising ideas all the time. I hear about it from my agency contacts, and that makes some media planners overly cautious when it comes to straying from familiar results. But it's so important for the auto vertical to be expanding not contracting, and to be leading not relenting. Why not experiment with an entirely new set of success metrics?

Here are three fresh approaches media planners can take to breathe new life into campaigns and satisfy auto brand clients who are willing to expand and lead when it comes to advertising innovation.

1. Embrace Images

In our increasingly visual world, where images have far greater impact on us from a neuro-scientific perspective than words do, the power of contextual, image-based advertising is an important complement to a media planner’s already proven lower-funnel strategy.

According to Mary Meeker’s latest Internet Report Trends, more than 3 billion social media messages posted daily on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat contain images. The human eye is naturally drawn to an image on a page, whether it’s a magazine, a web page, or a mobile device. 

When relevant ad content is non-intrusively integrated within the context of that visual experience, attention quality and engagement naturally align and there is significantly higher viewability and brand lift than industry averages.

2. Marry Images with Mid-Funnel

With the bulk of many ad budgets going to third-party automotive sites, or Facebook and Google, media planners miss out on the opportunity to target auto intenders that might be engaged with longer tail websites. They fulfill on lower-funnel strategy but often overlook the untapped mid-funnel consumers who are still in the consideration and trial phase of the car-buying process. 

We found this segment to be far more receptive to contextually relevant advertising in the online environments where they naturally dedicate their time and interests when not doing car-buying due diligence on sites like Cars.com and Edmunds. At a time where behavioral targeting is under peril due to regulatory and user concerns, contextual targeting is proving to be highly efficient. 

A recent example is a regional auto dealer campaign for a luxury imported automaker using contextually relevant images and content targeted at auto intenders. The campaign objective was to drive mid- to lower-funnel consumer action at a low CPA, while maintaining strict standards in brand safety and viewability.

The results delivered a significantly lower CPA at less than a quarter of the campaign’s initial CPA goal. The campaign also featured a 29.6% overall view conversion rate, a 2.4x better than benchmark engagement rate, and it was in-view for 84.2% of the time.  

3. Mobile Still Needs Work: Get Integrated First

A study exploring older ad formats versus new formats using proprietary GumGum eye-tracking technology analyzed how consumers interact with mobile ads and discovered that those formats were typically ignored by users. 

The average time spent looking at mobile ad formats was 1.42 seconds, whereas integrated advertising that was tailored to the web page environment that the user was organically experiencing garnered significantly longer attention spans than the average mobile ad. Additionally, the study concluded that 50% of users were more likely to remember the brand in the integrated ad format as opposed to the standard ad format.

Conclusion

There are many missed opportunities media planners are ignoring by staying too closely within the swim lanes of tried-and-true campaign strategy. While lower-funnel strategy can successfully capture the interest of car buyers in the active awareness phase, new ad experiences not only invigorate the media planning process, they speak directly to auto intenders in exactly the environments that are most personal and meaningful in whatever stage of the car buying journey they are.

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