The auto industry has always been a solid partner for local media sellers. The past few years have seen redefining, as supply chain issues and the pandemic hampered it. Well, things are looking up in 2023. BIA Advisory Services projected in its Local Ad Report that auto advertising would increase by 4.9% in 2023.

While the expectations for 2023 are still under 2019 spend, there is a reason for cautious optimism as new inventory normalizes and promotions return.

What Will Drive Growth?

BIA put together a video on the forecast for auto advertising, identifying the channels that will see the bulk of this. Those are:

  • Broadcast TV
  • Display
  • SEM (search engine marketing)

For a more granular view, there are three growth categories for auto dealership advertising:

  • Tires, parts and accessories
  • Repairs
  • Used car dealers

The rebound isn’t expected to be fully realized until Q4 2023, but it’s a good time to get strategies and plans in motion. One key thing to consider is how the car buying experience has changed.

Consumer Behavior Shifts in Car Buying Impact Future Advertising

The 2023 Capital One Car Buying Outlook offers insights on changing consumer behavior. During the pandemic, many dealerships shifted to digitizing the sales process. They were also eager to catch up to disruptors in the space like Carvana. The convenience of the online buying experience was significant. The report found these insights from car buyers:

  • 45% believe digital tools make the process more transparent.
  • 67% want dealerships to enhance digital tools.
  • 45% said it made financing easier.

However, buying a car is a big decision, so a new hybrid model seems to be the future. Most consumers (83%) and dealers (74%) stated that half of the buying process is in person. That half includes pricing, financing and “tire kicking.” The online part includes research and inventory searching.

These are national perspectives, and your auto advertisers may have a different take. Have a conversation about the success of online buying programs versus foot traffic in the dealership. Their sales data should point to clarity around what their specific market wants.

If dealerships are ramping up spending, you’ll want to provide them with some fresh ideas to make the most of their budget and match where the market is.

5 Clever Ideas for Auto Advertising

Go into meetings with your dealership clients with pitches that are anything but standard. Get inspired by these ideas.

Emphasize OTT/CTV Tactics

As noted, this is a tactic expected to grow. Local OTT/CTV is an excellent option for car dealerships. It’s video, so it’s engaging and isn’t skippable. There are many targeting options relating to location, demographics and behaviors, and it can reach cord-cutters. It’s a great complement to linear TV to strengthen recall and nudge people through the buyer’s journey.

These ads can feature new inventory, promotions, service centers and more. They are also ideal for online buying programs, as those watching OTT/CTV may be more likely to want an online experience, but you can dial in to that specific audience with advanced targeting.

Optimize SEM Spend

Search ads are an area where dealerships invest lots of money. It’s highly competitive, so this spending can balloon considerably without some guardrails. If you provide them with SEM optimized for conversions, they can see a better ROAS (return on ad spend). Conversion-based optimization in SEM automatically allocates budget to keywords and text ads that drive the most conversions. It means there are in-flight campaign adjustments based on data.

Another way to discuss spend optimization is to recommend multiple campaigns based on what provides the best margins for them. It may be car sales (new or used), or it may be specific models. Search ads also work for service, tires, repairs, accessories, rental cars and other lines of business. Spreading the spend around to deliver the best profitability is a solid strategy.

Encourage Storytelling in Ads

For any tactic, there is the opportunity to tell a story. While dealerships aren’t going to shift completely away from promotions, they may create more awareness and recall by including how they contribute to the community or their values. Customer testimonials are also compelling and showcase the customer, not the brand. These approaches can create more emotional responses to advertising, which can increase the likelihood that buyers will shop with them.

Suggest Transparent Messaging

The Capitol One report asked consumers how transparent the car buying process is. Only 21% said it was completely or very transparent, while 68% of dealers did. That’s a big gap and indicates that dealers may not understand the buyer’s perspective. Dealers are experts; consumers aren’t. So, why not use this as a conversation starter for advertising?

Display ads could use copy like “Car buying should be transparent. Here’s how we make it that way.” An honest and straightforward message is likely to resonate with consumers. Unfortunately, stereotypes of people in the auto industry trying to dupe customers are still rampant. Your customers can disrupt this notion by creating a campaign around what it means to be transparent and open. Such a campaign would also be great for geofencing around competitor lots.

Remind Them of the Power of Radio

Local radio is an old friend to many, and they have respect for it. As a result, many people trust ads on radio more than other channels. It remains a solid investment for dealers to create awareness, announce events and promote specials. If dealers are considering shifting spending away from radio, you can share with them how radio lifts digital advertising and that it reaches people from every generation every day.

What they can do on radio is again pivot messaging to focus on the customer and storytelling. They can also vary the messaging — promotions, events, service, etc. — to align with different programming or dayparts.

Local Auto Advertising Recovery: Be Prepared with New Ideas

Other local media sellers might keep throwing out the same themes for campaigns they’ve used for years. The industry has seen so much change and evolution, meaning advertisers must evolve to stay relevant. With these ideas, you can share a fresh perspective to help them connect to car buyers and see more value from their ad budget.

For more ideas, check out these industry case studies:

Case Study: Harley-Davidson Dealership Uses Specific Targeting and Geofencing to Steer Riders Online and In-Store
Case Study: SEM Drives Leads for Connecticut Car Dealership