With sweeping roads, stunning locations, gleaming bodywork and the occasional celebrity driver, TV ads for the latest sports cars, family sedans, and SUVs are a staple of the TV experience. Auto brands consider TV advertising to be a core part of their marketing model, with the sector spending £314 million on TV ads in the UK alone last year.

But in the digital age, where the purchase journey begins online for nine out of ten (88%) car buyers, and 84% of consumers use mobile devices to research vehicles, how can TV advertising be a key part of the road trip?

Let’s explore why auto brands are still driving success through TV, and how they can make the most of this vital channel.

TV drives ad recall and action

TV is still a highly effective advertising medium for car brands, enjoying more success than any other channel at driving ad recall. More than three-quarters (76%) of respondents to IAB Research recalled car ads seen on TV compared to just 25% on mobile, 17% on desktop, and 16% on the radio. TV is also stronger in communicating calls-to-action, with 25% of respondents taking further steps after seeing a TV ad vs. 11% on mobile, 6% on desktop, and 4% on radio.

TV accelerates digital response

One of the key strengths of TV advertising today is its role as a primary driver of online activity, specifically search. Three quarters of Brits use second-screen devices when watching TV. This figure rises to 93% for the under-25s. These second-screeners are active-participation viewers, meaning when something on TV sparks their interest, they immediately engage online, and often through search.

TV ads are exceptional at providing brand awareness and promoting search activity, which then drives car buyers to websites for the next stages of decision making, such as model or price comparison. Research from the Video Advertising Bureau (VAB) reveals TV ads encourage car buyers to research vehicles online more than any other medium, with half of likely buyers visiting an auto brand website after seeing a TV ad.

Once the research phase is completed online, consumers will ultimately visit local dealerships to see the car up-close and take a test drive. As VAB's vice president of strategic research and insights, Evelyn Skukovich, explained “TV ads are pointing people to dealers and putting them in cars. And most often it's TV ads that direct people to auto websites, which is consistent with the catalyst role that TV plays".

Elevate middle-of-the-funnel metrics

There are certain best practices for auto brands to make the most of TV advertising. The biggest is accurately measuring performance. Rather than relying on just reach and frequency metrics (think ratings, GRP, CPM) to gauge TV success, they are also measuring middle-of-the-funnel metrics that reflect real-world response.

With the right technology, measuring a sale that is directly due to TV is easy. An advertiser can tie the spot airing to an immediate action like an online sale, subscription, or registration. Lower-consideration products enjoy conversions closer to the spot airing. But auto manufacturers, the sellers of high-consideration products, don’t enjoy that luxury.

When it comes to vehicles, the end result doesn’t happen right away, which can make directly tying a spot to a sale becomes more difficult. Since purchases might not happen for days, week or months, auto advertisers have turned to brand-specific, action- or intent-based metrics.

A few years ago, advertisers might not think these “middle-of-the-funnel” activities would carry any monetary value. But actions that lead to sales, whether right away or weeks down the line, are quantifiable and shown to be excellent indicators of TV performance.

Measure and optimise TV

Auto brands are now measuring TV, using real-time spot and response data, to see how ads drive online and offline actions. Using these insights (knowing the aspects of the buys that are working and those that aren’t), they make in-flight changes to campaigns to strengthen performance.

TV is still the most effective medium for auto brands to reach potential buyers, especially given TV’s role as a driver of online response. By measuring performance, targeting advertising based on response data, and continually optimising campaigns in near real time, auto brands can maximise response and ensure TV ad spend goes full throttle.


By Marlene Grimm, analytics manager at TVSquared

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