Ford, Subaru Lead Automakers In TV Spending, Up 56% In May

Automakers spending on TV advertising continues to rise with Ford and Subaru leading the way. 

In May 2021, automakers spent an estimated $145 million according to -- an increase of over 56% year over year. Impressions were up nearly 43%, to 26.6 billion, compared to May 2020.

The top five brands by spend were Ford ($18.0 million), Subaru ($14.6 million), Lexus ($10.9 million), Nissan ($10.0 million) and Ram Trucks ($9.6 million).

The top five brands by impressions were Lexus (2.5 billion), Toyota (2.2 billion), Nissan (2.1 billion), Ford (2.0 billion) and Hyundai (2.0 billion).

Tentpole events -- mostly absent from last May’s TV schedule -- were a driving force behind the increase in both spend and impressions. NBA games accounted for over 4.6% of the spend total, and NHL games accounted for 3%. 



“May 2020 was still full of uncertainty for TV advertisers, and many automaker brands pulled back spend without the typical slate of prime-time programming and live sports,” said Stu Schwartzapfel, senior vice president, media partnerships at “This May, however, auto ad spend surged during prime time (up 47%) and weekend afternoon (up 135%), dayparts that are key to getting messaging in front of big audiences.”

Six of the top 10 shows by spend were sports-related, and sports-related shows accounted for over 25% of auto spend for the month (nearly 20% of impressions).

The top five networks for automaker TV ad impressions in May were CBS (1.24 billion), NBC (1.13 billion), MSNBC (900 million), ESPN (810 million) and Fox News (767 million).

The top five shows were NBA (647 million), NHL (411 million), "SportsCenter" (282 million), "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (248 million) and MLB (221 million).

For the month, 11 different auto brand spots were seen at least 500 million times. Nissan’s “The New Nissan” ad starring Brie Larson led the way with 1.2 billion ad impressions. 

That was followed by Chevrolet’s “Anywhere” (904 million), Subaru’s “Barn Wedding” (792 million), Subaru’s “Dog Tested: Honk” (784 million) and Hyundai’s “Question Everything” (765 million) to round out the top five most-seen ads.

In May, “The New Nissan” earned 9,7% greater attention than the norm for auto ads that month, according to Ace Metrix Creative Assessment. Subaru’s “Dog Tested: Honk” was 31% more likeable than the norm, while 44% of survey respondents found the characters (all dogs) to be the single best thing about the ad.

Out of the top 20 automakers, all but one (Toyota) increased year-over-year national TV ad spend in May. With so much more premium programming available, 12 of those brands more than doubled spend compared to last May. 

Jeep was among the top 10 spenders this May after not spending a dime on national TV ads in May 2020. Beyond Jeep, some of the biggest increases came from Ram Trucks (up over 306,000%), Volkswagen (up 18,650%), Buick (up 9,815%) and Nissan (up 752%). 

Although Toyota was the only brand out of the top 20 to decrease compared to last year, dipping a little over 41% to $8.6 million, it was also the top spender last May while many competitors pulled back.

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