Automakers Expected To Put 14% of Ad Dollars Online

Overall automotive ad investment has declined during the past couple of years, but the auto industry remains one of the largest U.S. spenders by sector. And its choice of channel is increasingly online. eMarketer predicts that automakers, dealers and after-market vendors will account for $2.69 billion, or nearly 14%, of the $19.5 billion anticipated to be spent on Internet advertising and marketing in 2007.

DaimlerChrysler, which ranked No. 41 in online ad spending in 2006 with a total investment of $44,451,400, is trying short films for its Jeep Patriot brand. A choose-your-own-adventure online film broke at PatriotAdventure.com on Thursday, and is part of a 10% increase in Jeep ad spending online. The microsite and affiliated digital marketing comprise 25% of Patriot's ad budget.

Digitas of Boston, which handles the back-end Web work for all GM brands and interactive AOR status on Saturn, is seeing similar commitments to digital media among its clients.

"Allocation to online spending absolutely is increasing in auto as well as everywhere," says Barbara Goose, senior vice president for the GM account. "We definitely recommend clients go where their customers are." According to Hachette-Filipacchi Media, 67.5% of new car buyers went online to do research before making a purchase.

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"The right thing to do is to map where customers are to deliver a variety of messages," Goose says. This includes brand messages that synch with lifestyle interests of ESPN.com visitors and direct sales messages for consumers looking at auto enthusiast site Edmunds.com.

For the recent GMC "Keys to Victory" promotion, former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann hosted a GMC microsite with trivia games and interactive features in which potential car buyers could engage with GMC vehicles. Visitors shopping for a GMC were directed to the brand's general site for product specifics.

Pontiac Underground--a consumer-contributed content site that Pontiac hosts through Yahoo--offers a blog that posts insider information on Pontiac models direct from the car maker, but also runs videos posted by Pontiac drivers. Goose heads up ad efforts for the GMC and Pontiac brands.

Manufacturer marketing aside, online publisher Hachette-Filipacchi, parent to CarandDriver.com and RoadandTrack.com, primarily attracts interactive brand awareness advertising from car makers and dealer associations. The sites' readers tend to be at the wide end of the purchase funnel.

The publisher shares an interest with its advertisers in programs that leapfrog traditional banner ads. That inventory is at a premium, given the finite amount of content the sites post--to attract and influence prospective car buyers, says Robert Ames, vice president of online marketing for the New York-based Hachette-Filipacchi.

"There are only so many page views, so manufacturers are looking for ways to create more content and more compelling content to keep feeding more information to consumers," he says. Virtual test drive advertorials lend consumers a view of a vehicle, "and they get a lot of information in a very engaging format. They watch the car go for a test drive with an expert," Ames says.

Interactive programming and video is all the rage Internet-wide.

"The ad publishers and dealers and OEMs know the appetite for video is certainly there, but they can't simply just repurpose what they do for TV," says Jim Townsend, editorial director for Classified Intelligence in Altamonte Springs, Fla., and author of "Auto Advertising 2007: Are You Ready to Roll Video?"

The firm's research predicts U.S. auto dealerships expect to spend 23% of their ad budgets online in 2007, largely to see what type of interactive entertainment works with consumers.

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