Automakers Evaluate Ad Plans In Reaction To COVID-19

Automakers have begun shifting their media plans and campaign creative as the COVID-19 crisis spreads though the nation.

Looking at the past two weeks, spending is down 18% vs. a year ago, but impressions and reach are only down slightly, while total airings are up, according to

“The absence of NCAA and live sports is the major difference,” Stu Schwartzapfel, senior vice president of media, tells Marketing Daily. “Without the big-ticket items, [automakers] are finding reach elsewhere at a lower cost. They also have moved a few percentage points into local and connected TV year-over-year.”

Demand for streaming inventory is increasing as audiences are on the rise, says Mike O’Donnell, senior vice president, platform business at Vizio, which sells direct-to-device inventory across 150 streaming channels and advertising-based video-on-demand apps.



"The big conversation with brands and agencies is around evaluation of creative to make sure it's appropriate for the times and the call to action is sensitive,” O’Donnell tells Marketing Daily. “Similar to restaurants, when all the creative is geared to drive foot traffic, the messaging needs to change.”

Most of the automakers in the U.S. are halting production for varying lengths of time to help curb the spread of the disease via employees -- who work closely together in plants with many hard surfaces, which can remain contaminated for three days. 

Reduced production means reduced dealer inventories, but many dealerships remain open.

“Nissan is assessing the situation in regard to optimizing our national and regional advertisement planning, as the conversation around public health takes the front seat,” according to a statement from the automaker to Marketing Daily. “In support of our dealers -- most of which remain open for the time being -- we are still delivering national and regional advertising, including special offers and deferred payment options for existing and new retail customers to provide some financial relief during these tough times.”

A spokesperson for Infiniti, Nissan’s luxury division, says it continues to work closely with retail partners to support their business.

“Currently, most of our retail facilities are open for business in some form, using state and local guidance regarding curfews, staffing levels and operational hours,” the spokesperson tells Marketing Daily. “Many of our stores have instituted an hourly shift program, which allows employees to support their family at home when schools may be closed, which also assists to keep the number of people at their facilities to a minimum.”

With the goal of social distancing and minimizing the spread of the pandemic, some Infiniti retailers have instituted a pick-up and delivery program for new and used vehicle deliveries, service appointments and parts fulfillment.

Inifiniti joins previously announced programs from Hyundai Motor America, Genesis and Ford Motor Co. in allowing both new-car buyers and current retail and lease clients access to deferred payment programs.  General Motors is advertising 0% APR financing for "an unprecedented 84 months for very well-qualified buyers" on select models. 

A spokesperson for Hyundai said the automaker is “evaluating current and future campaigns and determining the best way to move forward. We are focused on the health and safety our employees, agencies and production partners.”

Honda said its strategists “constantly adjust our activities based on market conditions and business objectives, but we have nothing specific to communicate.”

Kia Motors America said it "evaluates all marketing communications activities on an ongoing basis.To date, Kia has not reduced efforts outside of those events that have been cancelled or postponed due to government order, including auto shows and large-scale events."

A spokesperson for Mazda said the automaker as a result of COVID-19, "is assessing all areas of the business, including current marketing and advertising efforts. At Mazda, we know that a car plays many roles in each customer’s life. It is a vital part of helping to keep families safe and healthy, and it can also provide a sense of joy and freedom. Our top priority is caring for our employees, dealers, customers and communities, and we are exploring many options to help ensure what we say and do as a company supports our core values."

A spokesperson for FCA said advertising plans are “fluid,” and could not offer further specifics. A spokesperson for Toyota declined to comment on any plans to alter the company's advertising schedule.

Automakers currently are well-stocked with inventory -- and as more of the country moves to follow shelter-in-place orders, vehicle sales inevitably will be softer, says Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds' executive director of Insights.

“If the proposed stimulus package ends up moving through the Senate, this could help sales get to a bit of a healthier place when normal life resumes,” Caldwell says. “Once the country gets past the worst of the pandemic, automakers will need to be prepared to get back on line quickly to capitalize on the wave of deferred consumer demand.”

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