Automaker TV Spending Soars In December

Automakers had more than a 40.3% increase year over year on TV ad spend in December, according to

The estimated $625.2 million in spending is also a 13.5% increase compared to November 2020. 

However, impressions were actually down 5% this December.

The top five brands by spend are Toyota ($76.6 million), Nissan ($54.1 million), Ford ($51.4 million), Hyundai ($49.2 million) and Jeep ($38.4 million), according to 

Correspondingly, the top five brands by impressions were Toyota (3.9 billion), Nissan (3.6 billion), Ford (3.4 billion), Hyundai (3.0 billion) and Chevrolet (2.6 billion).

Football once again led the way between the NFL’s stretch run to the playoffs and portions of college football’s bowl season. NFL games made up 15.3% of automaker TV ad impressions, while college football games were 5.3%. Comparatively, sports programming made up 30.1% of auto brands’ TV ad impressions in December 2020, vs. 39.6% in December 2019, per iSpot.



By impressions, the top five shows were NFL football (3.32 billion), college football (1.16 billion), SportsCenter (256 million), "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (216 million) and NBA basketball (205 million). Top networks were NBC (2.14 billion), FOX (1.62 billion), CBS (1.47 billion), ABC (1.12 billion), and ESPN (1.08 billion).

For the entire month, 10 different automaker ads were seen at least 700 million times. Chevrolet's “Wherever You Go” spot, which advertises how the General Motors' employee discount is available for everyone, had the most TV ad impressions, with 1.46 billion. It was the second straight month that Chevy had the most-seen ad in the industry. In all, nine of the top 10 spots by impressions were focused around holiday sales to close out 2020, per iSpot.

The desire to move vehicle inventory was at least part of the major uptick in estimated TV ad spend for auto brands, says Stu Schwartzapfel, senior vice president, media partnerships at

“Automakers’ late TV ad push in December showcased both a commitment to traditional late-year sales and an increased confidence in consumer spending heading into 2021,” Schwartzapfel tells Marketing Daily. “With an expanded NFL Playoffs ahead in January, these brands should see an even larger opportunity to reach audiences during games as they showcase new messaging and vehicle stock.”

Of the top 20 brands this December, 17 increased spend compared to December 2019, including Porsche, which didn’t spend on national linear TV ads last year but showed $8.6 million in December 2020. Beyond Porsche, the biggest year-over-year jumps belonged to Nissan (up 236%), Toyota (up 126%), Lexus (up 120%), GMC (up 97.3%) and Lincoln (increased 82.5%). 

Just three of the top 20 brands saw decreases at all: Chevrolet (down 0.66%), Honda (down 9.4%) and Mazda (down 29.3%) compared to December 2019.

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