As in other categories, attribution capabilities in digital have led advertisers in automotive to want more timely and sophisticated accountability metrics from television, as well — metrics that can enable optimizing campaigns by identifying and leveraging the most effective touchpoints within the consumer journey to a sale or upsell conversion.
Attribution is now expected in automotive TV advertising at the national level, and adoption is picking up at the local level, according to television and supplier executives in a recent panel discussion co-hosted by BIA Advisory Services Managing Director Rick Ducey and television consultant Mitch Oscar.
The discussion played off some of the themes and issues discussed at one of Oscar’s recent advanced TV “Secret Society” meetings.
Ducey laid the groundwork by noting the ad spending trends that have made attribution important to local broadcasters and automotive advertisers alike.
BIA estimates that local automotive advertising will reach $15.1 billion in 2019, with a quarter of that going to local over-the-air (OTA) TV. But virtually all growth over the next five years will be in digital.
Across the 210 local markets tracked by BIA, digital spending is projected to rise from $6.2 billion in 2019 (38.9% of the category’s local ad spend) to $8.5 billion (50.6%) in 2023. That’s a compound annual growth rate of 8%.
Meanwhile, traditional local media spend in the category is projected to decline from $8.96 billion to $8.25 billion.
Ducey also noted that, in a real sense, direct response TV — tracking sales resulting from 800 numbers in DR ads or infomercials — was the first version of attribution.
TV’s second attribution stage was correlating web or URL outcomes from run-of-TV DR ads . Now, data science is enabling multi-touch attribution (MTA) — the ability to measure both online and offline consumer behavior resulting from a campaign, and weigh the influence of individual touchpoints, Ducey pointed out. In addition, some solutions can tie campaigns more or less directly to actual sales.
How deeply has attribution penetrated the automotive category?
“At the national level, agencies definitely do want it,” said Brad Danaher, director of TV solutions, Experian Marketing Services. “Most are very interested in defining the objectives and control groups, and get very much in the weeds — although some are not as advanced. At the local level, attribution is not yet a focus, but it’s coming. For local, prices have to come down. Measurement done properly is not cheap, so we’re all trying to figure out how to make it more cost-efficient for local advertisers.”
Angela Betasso, chief revenue officer, Tribune Media, agreed that network buyers are requesting attribution, and that in local, its use is mainly for dealers in major markets.
“Just as in broadcast, the salespeople at dealerships were once printing money — but they had to learn how to do things differently when people stopped showing up at their lots,” noted Gini Resnick, automotive research manager, Sinclair Broadcast Group. “And those who’ve dug in and gotten a handle not just on their web sites, but how to manage those leads, have moved far beyond the competition.
“They’re paving the way for the industry for the future,” she added. “Today’s sellers are being required to operate in a data-driven environment, and to prove that their advertising worked.”
“Automotive has always had a need to be able to provide proof of performance, and a lot of the public groups have long had to report back to boards about the effectiveness of the ad money they were spending,” said Greg Dixon, vice president automotive client development, TVSquared. “Now that the technology has evolved, we have a path how to provide that proof.”
Dixon said that, in addition to helping dealers drive sales, attribution can be employed to help them build profitability through their services and parts business — a business that generated more than $115 billion last year. Service is a key to creating lifetime customers, who may also buy more new cars over the years, he said.
In addition, attribution can be a tool to help dealers overcome a serious dearth of service technicians, he said, citing one recent local recruitment campaign that generated nearly 300 responses from technicians.
“While MTA is sophisticated and complex, it boils down to the consumer journey — initial lead to sales conversion or to some sort of upsell. It’s possible to get access to the necessary data, but what makes things difficult today is privacy,” said Cordie DePascale, senior vice president, connect partner management, Mediaocean.
“You have to get to a good set of anonymized information that you can tie back to your media plans. We can use phone numbers or or source codes or other data for attribution, and it’s all possible to do through the systems that were handling direct response television. But you have to understand that the data is important and private. As long as we’re protecting the consumer and ourselves, it’s possible to show that media spend generated results.”
Impediments: Education, Lack of Standardization
By and large, the panelists agreed that education and lack of standardization are the biggest impediments to wider adoption of attribution in automotive — as in the industry as a whole.
“We need education. It’s still a new topic to a lot of clients,” stressed Danaher, noting that some clients tend to want to fall back on the traditional methods rather than struggle with complex attribution models.
“We don’t necessarily need complete standards, but we do need some general agreement on some base metrics that would form a base-level metrics report," he added. "Having a report with [just a few] metrics that everyone would be familiar with would go a long way to moving the industry along. Clients could also choose to get more extensive metrics from their suppliers, if desired."
Betasso said that the industry needs a common methodology: “Suppliers are all using different analytics, weights, tracking and benchmarking,” she said, adding that the measurement suppliers are also using differing methods and terminology.
But the biggest impediment, in her view, is determining who should pay for attribution: advertisers or broadcasters.
Kevin Stuart, Vice President Research, Hearst Television, agreed that the industry needs a lexicon of common attribution terms and definitions, but argues that standardization guardrails shouldn’t be too high. “We don’t want to stifle advancements to attribution models as technology advances,” he said.
“But by all means, we need some tighter guardrails on the quality of data, data matching, and de-duplication across platforms,” he emphasized. “And by all means, let’s not forget privacy. With the GDPR and CCPA and other states getting on board, that’s one of the first things we look at when any attribution company approaches us.”
Stuart also noted that Hearst cautions all advertisers that attribution reports should be considered over time: “We recommend ongoing, repeat attribution reports to make sure that there aren’t external factors affecting the campaign.”
“And let’s not forget creative,” he concluded. “That’s always an issue, and we’re always looking for ways to assess creative.”