The Quiet Revolution in Automotive Advertising

New Car ShowroomA new milestone is set to be reached in 2014.  For the first time, digital advertising will represent over half of all ad spending in the U.S. automotive sector.

That means that TV, radio, outdoor, newspaper and other print advertising, taken together, will represent only a minority of the roughly $36 billion advertising industry, the second largest advertising category in the United States (behind general merchandise stores).

This is great news for all of us who have suffered through high-decibel radio advertising, TV ads with sophomoric production values, and “carnival barking” poster-like print ads that have been so ubiquitous in the automotive category for so many decades.

A just-released report from media research company Borrell Associates, titled 2014-2015 Automotive Advertising Outlook, notes the following key factors that have influenced the “drive towards digital” in the automotive advertising category:

•     Over the past decade, the number of franchise auto dealers has dropped by ~3,500 (18%), even as the number of new vehicles sold per dealer has grown by ~18%. Fewer-and-larger dealerships reduce marketplace clutter and the clamor for audience attention.

•     Also contributing to reduced clutter, six major car brands have disappeared from the market over the past 10 years: Hummer, Mercury, Plymouth, Pontiac, Oldsmobile and Saturn.

•    The per-vehicle cost of advertising for a new car has declined ~20%.  No it’s only about $500.

•     More than 90% of auto purchases begin with consumer online research. This change in behavior has transformed auto dealerships from acting like showrooms to being more like fulfillment centers.

•     As their “media channel,” dealerships are able to use the Internet to offer special customer deals in the form of rebates, incentives and loyalty programs. These marketing schemes now amount to ~$2,400 per vehicle sold — dwarfing the amount spent on advertising.

Automotive print advertising is declining -- thankfully.
The end of an era? Thankfully, yes.

Thanks to these major trends and developments, we’re now spared the volume and intensity of intrusive automotive advertising that was so common before.

Instead, car dealerships are ready and waiting for us when we’re in the market to purchase a new automobile by using online ads, search engine marketing, social media and other digital platforms to be easily accessible and available when we go online.

According to Borrell, nearly $300 per vehicle will be spent on online advertising this year, whereas just a little over $200 will be spent on traditional advertising.

Five years ago, online ad spending was about one third the amount of traditional advertising.

The information-rich web is also changing another aspect of the car buying experience:  It’s making the job of automotive sales easier rather than more difficult.

Here’s proof:  Only a few years ago, more than half of all car shoppers would end up not buying a vehicle.  Today, that proportion has now dropped to just 25%.

When customers come into the showroom today, they’re better informed, they know what they want to purchase, and they’re up on various the options and pricing deals.  In short, they’re ready to buy.

Fewer intrusive ads … better educated consumers … less stress on sales personnel … satisfied buyers.  It seems like a win-win for everyone, doesn’t it?

Get Ready for the Endless Political Campaign …

New forecasts about political advertising have just been released. They confirm what many of us have suspected: The political campaign season, traditionally defined every two years by the presidential and off-year congressional election contests, is morphing into one gigantic mega-campaign that basically is with us all the time.

Instead of the nice breather we used to get from political advertising after the campaign season ended, it’s becoming one long, never-ending experience — some would say nightmare.

And if this surprises you, consider the past year alone in U.S. politics. First, there was the inauguration and the early fight over the economic stimulus package, with many political ads run pro and con.

This was followed by the health care debate which attracted an even bigger volume of advertising – probably because there were even more special interests involved. That initiative also sparked the Tea Party rallies and town hall meetings, which became fodder for still more political posturing (and paid advertising).

In the midst of the health care debate, along came the gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey as well as the “circus sideshow” in Upstate New York’s special congressional election where the Conservative Party candidate forced the endorsed Republican from the race – another opportunity for all sorts of campaign spending.

And just about the time the health care debate finally came to a vote in Congress … the Christmas Bomber shows up – still more fodder for paid political advertising, this time on national security.

As the year 2009 ended, when we thought we were over with politics for at least a few short months, out of nowhere comes the Massachusetts special election for senator that attracts millions of dollars per day in contributions over the Internet and sparking – you guessed it – beaucoup bucks in paid political advertising.

And this past week, when the exciting Superbowl and extreme weather events should be dominating the news, what’s prominently on our TV and cable channels as well? The Tea Party convention in Nashville, capped by an announcement that this group is forming a campaign political action committee to raise millions in funds to — of course — run new candidates for office.

More politics … more money … more advertising.

Of course, all of this is great news for local television and cable stations, which can snap out of their torpor and pocket a ton of new dollars in advertising revenues. In fact, media research and analytical firm Borrell Associates is predicting that U.S. political spending of all stripes will hit a record $4.2 billion in 2010.

Helping this along is the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that lifts restrictions on corporations and gives them the freedom to buy political advertising. Borrell estimates that this ruling will add ~10% to the total pool of funds this year.

It seems hard to believe that 2010 – a non-presidential election year – is on track to break 2008’s record for political spending, considering the huge amounts of advertising that were done by the McCain and (especially) the Obama campaigns in 2008. But the prognosticators insist 2010 will be the biggest year yet for political spending … to the tune of $1 billion more than in 2008.

What role does online play in all of this? The Internet is expected to account for less than $50 million in advertising revenues in 2010 – a comparable drop in the bucket. But growth will be very strong in this segment – not least because the web does a very good job of bringing in more campaign donations! The bottom-line prediction: Internet advertising will likely double to reach $100 million for the presidential campaign in 2012.

So the endless political campaign continues endlessly on … never ending … world without end. What fun for us!