- April 13, 2009

Auto Advertisers Go Digital: Doing a Good Job

Based on the results of a study Comscore released two weeks ago regarding the state of automotive online advertising, we know that the industry has continued with strong online marketing efforts for SUV models - even in the face of severe financial difficulties during the current economic downturn. Despite the financial headwinds of the moment, however, businesses still need to advertise and promote their brands and products if they hope to generate sales. Right now, cost-effective marketing is more important than ever, and that may be a key reason why the auto industry is increasingly moving its ad spend online.

In order to understand how automakers have taken to the online channel for marketing purposes, let’s take the example of one of the larger model-specific campaigns that ran in January: GMC Yukon. Using Comscore Ad Metrix, our competitive display advertising intelligence service, we learned that the Yukon went to market with an online media strategy that delivered ad impressions across a broad set of site categories and achieved a commanding 34% share of voice versus its SUV competitors, with the campaign reaching 4.4% of the total U.S. Internet population an average of 2.7 times per person in just one month.

January 2009, Total Campaign Levels:

  Display Ad Impressions
Reach (%) of Online Consumers Frequency Levels
Auto Industry 2,570,848 65.1% 21.4
SUV Category 64,951 9.2% 3.8
GMC YUKON 21,986 4.4% 2.7

In addition to examining total plan levels, I returned to Ad Metrix to compare the Yukon advertising strategy to that of the overall SUV category. Was there something else at play here that could both contribute to an interesting blog post, as well as lend insight to help other marketers? You betcha. The data showed that Yukon executed a plan that was concentrated in different site categories than its SUV competitors. For example, Yukon allocated more than one-half of its impressions to the News/Information category, while only 20% of SUV ads ran in the same category. Consequently, Yukon achieved an impressive 78% share of voice (SOV) in the category, enabling it to stand out among its competitors. Let me repeat that… a 78% share of voice! Below is a view of the top 10 site categories in which Yukon advertised compared to those of SUV advertisers in total.

January 2009, GMC Yukon SOV by Site Category:

Rank Order of Site Categories by % of Yukon Display Ad Impressions % SUV Ad Impressions % of Yukon Ad Impressions Yukon SOV within Site Category
News/Information 20% 53% 78%
Community 6% 17% 87%
Services 5% 9% 53%
Entertainment 17% 6% 11%
Business/Finance 1% 4% 91%
Automotive 22% 4% 5%
Games 1% 2% 54%
Real Estate 0% 1% 86%
Directories/Resources 1% 1% 44%
Promotional Servers 1% 1% 19%

Clearly, the ad placement strategy of Yukon differed greatly from that of its competitors, so I then decided to look at the Yukon campaign in more detail. As a former media planner, I regularly checked total audience delivery numbers in combination with targeting data to best understand the value of the consumers reached. So, I used Plan Metrix, Comscore’s leading lifestyle and product consumption service, to conduct an in-depth analysis for the Yukon campaign. The Plan Metrix data revealed that Yukon placed display ads across site categories that delivered a high reach of SUV owners (e.g. News/Information sites can reach 78% of SUV owners), as well as categories that delivered a highly concentrated audience of SUV owners (e.g. Real Estate sites are 55% more likely than the average site category to deliver SUV owners). This type of media strategy is common advertising practice within any medium, and helps to ensure a sufficient reach of the target along with deeper engagement of those consumers most likely to make a purchase in the product category.

January 2009 Site Category Delivery of SUV Owners:

Rank Order of Site Categories by Number of Yukon Display Ad Impressions % Reach of SUV Owners Within Category Site Category Lift Index of SUV Owners*
News/Information 78.1 100
Community 72.1 99
Services 95.6 96
Entertainment 81.8 95
Business/Finance 70.9 124
Automotive 33.6 136
Games 47.9 87
Real Estate 25.3 155
Directories/Resources 77.4 121
Promotional Servers 90.1 98

*Site Category Lift Index indicates the likelihood of a particular target segment consuming content in a given site category; an index of 100 represents content consumption equal to that of the average Internet user

Aside from smart media planning tactics, the Yukon campaign also employed a unique creative message that its competitors could not match. Yukon is the recipient of the 2009 Consumer Guide Best Buy Award. In addition to providing competitive advertising data, Comscore Ad Metrix allows media planners to visually analyze a campaign by viewing the actual creative executions. The analysis of Yukon’s creative revealed an emphasis on its 2009 Consumer Guide Best Buy Award, a message that was apparent in more than two-thirds of its ad placements. At a time when there is much debate about the overall quality of autos being produced, this is a particularly strong message.

The Yukon creative and media strategies reveal a campaign that is highly differentiated from those of its competitors. And, it certainly appears to have the elements of a very effective strategy.

Successful advertisers are always seeking to outsmart the competition, and that can best be achieved through a strong creative execution in tandem with an effective media placement. In this case, the Yukon campaign accomplished both with its Consumer Best Buy messaging and ad placement that focused on site categories that are under-utilized by its competitors. (Incidentally, one potential ancillary benefit of this latter strategy is achieving a more cost-effective campaign by steering clear of the placement of competitive ads, which can drive up CPMs. This is clearly a significant benefit, and may have played a role in the media planning process.)

But, to really confirm whether a campaign was effective or not requires a deeper layer of analysis. To gauge the actual impact of the online ad exposures, an advertiser or media planner might want to conduct a post-buy analysis to answer key ad effectiveness questions, such as:

  • What was the view-through rate of the ads?
  • Did brand awareness of the Yukon increase? If so, by how much?
  • What was the consumer recall of the brand? Of the ad?
  • Did the ad-exposed consumers become buyers?
  • Did Yukon sales increase?

Beyond the auto industry, and the specific Yukon example, marketers generally turn to online advertising for its cost-effectiveness, flexibility, accountability, and appeal to consumers. On a final note, a key contributing factor to online marketing success is choosing the right data partner to help you address important media planning issues. You can guess who my choice would be!