Imports Are Most Cost-Efficient in Ads

DETROIT Import car manufacturers were more cost-efficient in attracting shoppers last year through their advertising, according to data coming next week from Compete, a Boston-based research firm.

Foreign-based companies spent an average of $182 per shopper in 2006, compared with $223 per shopper from the domestic automakers. Last year, Honda had the most proficient spend per shopper at $118, trailed by Toyota at $158.

The highest in the million-plus sales range was Ford at $240 a shopper.

Saturn’s “Like always, like never before” campaign helped bring down its cost-per-shopper by 35 percent, from $187 in 2005 to $121 last year, the report noted. This was due to a strong increase in shoppers and little change in media spending.

Scion dropped to $30 per shopper from $44 the previous year. Kia also honed its cost from $191 to $144, a drop of 25 percent.

“The smaller brands with a clearly defined target performed the best,” said Mike Jennings, head of the automotive practice at Compete. “Brands like Scion and Mini have a product line that also corresponds, whereas Ford has to go from an F250 truck to a Fusion. It shows a fundamental of marketing, which is, ‘ID a target and hit it.'”

Jennings, who compiled the study, used ad-spend figures from Nielsen Monitor-Plus and Compete’s data gathering from 29 third-party auto shopping sites, including kbb.com and cars.com.

ROI, while increasing across the category board, is trickier to gauge in the auto category as opposed to other consumer goods.

“These are very tough to measure in auto, and ROI looked at like this can be affected by all kinds of things,” said Wes Brown, an analyst at Iceology, Los Angeles. “You look at the import brands and they have enjoyed this tremendous success with brand image, so they can spend less for more shoppers. And you look at domestics and they have things like incentives and they have to spend on those, which drives the costs up. An agency and a manufacturer has to look at this and put it in context before they say they aren’t getting their money’s worth out of advertisements.”