Automotive advertising spend is enjoying healthy growth, with visually driven product ads a standout among digital tactics, according to Adobe Digital Index’s “2015 Automotive Report.”
While brand loyalty is still a key Web site-traffic driver for auto makers and dealers, according to Matthew Roberts, senior marketing analyst at ADI, online consumers are also heavily drawn by visuals. As such, automotive marketers might want to consider product ads coming into the next quarter. This ad format enjoyed large increases in click-through rates (CTR) during Q4 2014, as cost-per-click (CPC) declined.
Search advertising made up the largest portion of ad spending for auto marketers, but the ADI analysis also concluded that marketers should spend more on display ads, which showed higher ROI. Display ads’ CTRs were up 154% through 2014, while CPCs were down 14%. Email and social became more important tools to build loyalty after the sale by offering service information, news of new model releases, and communities where car owners can build an emotional connection with the brand.
The analysis involved more than 36.4 billion ad impressions and 500 million social-media mentions gathered anonymously online throughout 2014 and the first half of 2015. (Note: Adobe is CMO.com’s parent company.) It found that, as expected, spending on digital auto advertising was seasonal, climbing in the last two quarters as the arrival of the new model year meant old models must be cleared off lots; both manufacturer and dealer sites saw an increase in frequency of visits to their sites in 2014 as the year went on, peaking in the fourth quarter.
Auto-parts sites saw a similar, but smaller, increase and a peak in the spring months. “They should keep their powder dry and save their spending for Q2, when consumers are most likely to be in search of parts to fix cars after a winter beating,” Roberts said.
However, the analysis found that overall higher traffic did not translate to engagement, as measured in pages viewed per visit, which dropped by double digits from the beginning of 2013 to mid-2015. Auto-company sites were off by 10%, dealers were down by 14%, and auto-parts manufacturers dropped 19%.
“This is not necessarily a bad sign but could indicate marketers are getting savvier at presenting up-front the information consumers need,” Roberts said. Most auto shoppers begin their search on their desktop computers before going to the dealerships, and the auto sites have become easier to navigate in fewer clicks as they become more mobile-friendly, he said.
According to the study, the build-and-price (B&P) feature on some sites—which allows a customer to create his or her dream car and get a list price before going to the dealership—is a key to customer engagement. And it’s increasingly going mobile. The share of B&P tool starts on smartphones doubled year over year.
However, the tools, while performing well today even on mobile, could be more mobile-friendly; the study found completion rates on smartphones averaged 42%, which suggests the tool is still too desktop-centric.
“Mobile is becoming a more useful tool in the car-buying experience. Most consumers do their reconnaissance through the week via a desktop-type device, while mobile is a very useful tool in obtaining additional information while consumers are out and about showrooming different vehicles,” Roberts said.
Larger smartphone screen sizes will help in that regard, as well as creating simpler versions of the desktop tool for on-the-go viewing on phones, he added.
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