Automaker National TV Spending Up 20% YTD

Automakers spent an estimated $2.67 billion on national television in 2021 through Nov. 30, a 20% increase year-over-year, according to iSpot. tv.

But TV ad impressions were down just slightly to 301.6 billion YTD compared to 302.1 billion for the same period in 2020.

The top 10 brands by spending for the first 11 months of the year were: Ford ($264.7 million), Toyota ($261.1 million), Chevrolet ($179.7 million), Nissan ($179.2 million), Hyundai ($174.9 million), Jeep ($153.6 million), Subaru ($150.6 million), Lexus ($138.6 million), GMC ($133.9 million) and Ram Trucks ($131.6 million).

The most-seen automaker ads, 2021 were Jeep, Wildly Civilized (3.80 billion TV ad impressions); Lexus, Fearless Leader (2.93 billion); Nissan, The New Nissan (2.85 billion); GMC, Made To Be Used (2.70 billion); Nissan, Return to Rugged (2.60 billion); Lincoln, Where Does the Stress Go (2.50 billion); Chevrolet,  Anywhere (2.49 billion); GMC,  Ready. Set. Go. (2.20 billion); Jeep, The Best Things (2.16 billion) and Lincoln, Comfort In the Extreme - Cold (2.13 billion).



Automakers accounted for 6.6% of national TV ad spend in 2021, and 4.3% of TV ad impressions, per iSpot. For the year, 57% of auto brand ad impressions were attributable to adults aged 25 to 54. And 24.2% of automaker ad impressions were local (slightly lower than last year’s rate of 25%).

The top 10 brands by TV ad impressions share of voice for the 11 months were Toyota (9.08%), Ford (8.00%), Nissan (7.90%), Lexus (7.67%) Hyundai (7.52%), Chevrolet (7.00%), Subaru (6.31%), Jeep (4.82%), Kia (4.41%) and Ram Trucks (4.38%).

The biggest spending increases among top 20 brands by estimated national TV ad spend, 2021 vs. 2020 were: Buick (151.4%), GMC (79.6%), Jeep (63.4%), Mercedes-Benz (58.2%) and Acura (47.4%).

Of the top 20 brands by spend in 2021, 18 increased national TV ad spend compared in 2020, and 13 increased by at least 10% compared to the previous year. 

For Buick, in particular, the jump was fueled by the return of the NCAA Tournament. Nearly 64% of Buick’s 2021 spend came from college basketball – versus just 3% in 2020.

The top programs for automakers by TV ad impressions SOV, 2021 were NFL (6.5%), college football (3.1%), college basketball (2.0%), NBA (1.9%) and Tokyo Olympics (1.6%).

Sports were clearly the top programs for automakers, as eight of the top 10 by impressions in 2021 were sports or sports-related. Notably, reality TV also accounted for 12.1% of all automaker TV ad impressions, while drama & action shows made up 9.2% and televised movies were 8.2%.

The top networks for automaker TV ad impressions SOV, 2021 were NBC (9.0%), CBS (8.3%), FOX (5.2%), ABC (5.1%) and ESPN (4.8%).

A sports emphasis, and a specific emphasis on football, obviously leads to the big four networks plus ESPN accounting for a large share of automakers’ TV ads, per iSpot.

For NBC, Sunday Night Football and the Olympics combined for 35% of auto brand impressions on the network. For CBS, the NFL (including the Super Bowl) and college basketball (including the NCAA Tournament) alone combined for almost 32% of automaker impressions on the year.

After 2020, automakers were eager to get back to “normal” TV ad approaches this year, says Stuart Schwartzapfel, senior vice president, media partnerships at iSpot.

“The return of tentpole events like the NCAA Tournament and Olympics afforded opportunities to get in front of large audiences, while also paying more to do so,” Schwartzapfel tells Marketing Daily

While the cost of national TV advertising is climbing as linear audiences shrink, spots during major sporting events have become the last remaining premium ad inventory, he says.

“Auto brands and other large advertisers have responded accordingly, keeping themselves top-of-mind despite the price tag associated with appearing alongside this programming,” Schwartzapfel says.

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