Web Key for Autos

For many consumers, skimping on a new car upgrade has created a lot of pent-up demand. While it’s unclear when buyers will be ready to buy autos en masse again, a new report from The Nielsen Co. suggests one of the best ways to reach them now is via online advertising, particularly video.

The report, released this month, found many consumers were still looking, but just not buying during the first four months of the year. However, 12 percent of the U.S. population said they will probably or definitely buy a new car or truck during the next six months, per the 250,000 U.S. adults that make up the Nielsen MegaPanel. That was up slightly from 10 percent in the spring.

Ford was the top shopped automaker online for the month of April, followed by Toyota, Chevrolet and Honda. Kia gained the most ground jumping up 11 spots to No. 13. Volkswagen shot up seven spots to No. 8. Subaru was up five slots to No. 22. The top three shopped cars were the Ford Fusion, Chevrolet Camaro and Honda Accord.

Redesigns and new vehicle debuts helped drive consumer interest. However, online marketing proved essential in communicating new launches.

While in the past, automakers may have pointed to the success of a splashy new TV effort as the driving engine behind a new vehicle launch. Scott Kelly, Ford’s digital marketing manager, instead, gave a nod to data modeling. “It allows us to make the most out of our limited budget. We’re efficient in targeting and reaching the right people.” SEO impacted sales, as did video showing off features and customer testimonials, per the report.

For example, incorporating quotes, incentives and videos on the Ford site proved successful for the launch of the Fusion, said Julie Enzweiler, research director, automotive at Nielsen (owner of Brandweek). To tap up into the pent up demand that exists “you have to create those strong virtual experiences. That’s what consumers expect now.”

While automakers spent 31 percent less on ads in the first quarter versus the year prior, allocation for online remained constant at 5 percent, the report says. Kia, meanwhile, will to boost its marketing spend 11 percent this year with online dollars increasing 20 percent.

“More money is migrating to digital. That makes sense because that’s where the shoppers are,” said Steve Wilhite, CEO, Jumpstart Automotive Media. Typically, consumers look at 3.3 to 3.4 third party auto sites like Cars.com before making a purchase. They view just under three manufacturers’ sites and two dealer sites.

Meanwhile, video use is rapidly growing among consumers with year-over-year video streams up 124 percent. Ford alone saw a 192 percent increase in video streams.

Kelly said video is essential “for bigger impact-type experiences. You have to really invest in video to show off features like Fusion’s hybrid system, the safety system of Sync system. Features are becoming more and more complex.” That’s why it featured actual engineers, rather than actors, in its online videos.

Kia, which has invested heavily in search, is also a proponent of online video and is the in the process of “ramping up its offerings,” said Tim Chaney, director of marketing, Kia. “We don’t just want to stick a TV ad online.”

Chaney said he feels a combination of the right products, like the Soul and upcoming Forte, and the right strategy has the company positioned to “to emerge from [the recession] stronger than before. We’ve got nothing but positive indicators across the board.”