Cars Get Digital

Cars Get Digital

The number of consumers using their phones to research cars has doubled in one year, but are automotive brands ready? Jessica Kennedy investigates


The fight for car buyers’ attention is set to migrate to mobile as a new study reveals the number of new and used car buyers using mobile to research has doubled in one year.

Almost a third of car buyers (29%) used their mobile phone to access online content about a vehicle they were considering in 2012, up 15 percentage points from the previous year.

Tablet usage also increased, growing 5% in 2011 to reach 26% in 2012.

Nielsen’s Australian Automotive Report 2012 found online resources are now second only to visiting car dealerships among new car buyers.

The majority of new car research still takes place on laptops (64%) and desktops (62%), but the rapid rise in mobile proves that mobile is “where the game is”, according to News Australia’s general manager of automotive sales, Agostino Giramondo.

However, auto brands have been slow to break into mobile in Australia, putting us behind the US and the UK.

“In this country we kind of wait a little bit longer than others, but we are not that far behind,” Giramondo says. “We will be seeing some mobile only campaigns from manufacturers this side of the financial year.

“The idea of mobile advertising is on everyone’s radar but just getting their head around it not being a typical banner and what you can do in that space has been the big challenge.”

Getting it right should be a priority, as a 2011 report from Millennial Media and comScore Automotive Study says: “Mobile users who access auto content tend to be more affluent than the general mobile population. ComScore finds that mobile auto users over index in both the $US75,000+ and the $US100,000+ annual income brackets, providing auto brands – including those promoting luxury vehicles – an affluent audience.”

Mobile devices need to be part of a strategy that includes paid media, owned media and social environments, according to Melanie Ingrey, research director of Nielsen Media Division APMEA.

“Mobile devices are opening up all sorts of opportunities for location-designed content – for example, content designed to be browsed while at the dealer – and more opportunities to keep the consumer highly engaged and moving through the decision making tunnel,” Ingrey explains.

Channelling the experience of his clients, Giramondo says mobile advertising tends to work well early in the week, “so it raises the awareness, and then it becomes more of a desktop and newspaper execution.”

While mobile devices are used on the go, Ingrey says “marketers should be mindful that a lot of consumption is taking place in the home on a mobile device, particularly as the second screen while watching TV in the evening, which presents a lot of cross-screen marketing opportunities.”

For 41% of new car buyers, television is still an important source of information. That percentage may increase, not diminish, in the future as Smart TVs infiltrate the market.

“Internet connected TVs hold the potential to be used as shared online devices in the living room,” explains Ingrey. “This new connected screen, once penetration increase, holds opportunities for marketers and content providers to support ‘family’ or group experiences to move car buyers through their decision making process.”

Giramondo describes Smart TVs as “unchartered territory” and says “the mind boggles” when imagining the possibilities.

Hugh Page, who works as a strategist on the Volvo Cars account at Mindshare, believes the NBN will fuel consumers’ appetite for interactive content and drive the growth of Smart TVs.

“When consumers aren’t concerned about data caps or wasting 10 minutes trying to download a minute-long clip, we will see some very clever marketing campaigns taken out of the lounge room and into any location,” he says.

And by all accounts, car buyers are ready and willing to interact with car manufacturers.

Nielsen’s study revealed that the number of new car buyers who engaged with an auto brand on social platforms rose 18% last year, to 28%.

A quarter of used and new car buyers also used social media as part of their decision making process, pointing to the importance of word-of-mouth and peer reviews.

“Reviews and word-of-mouth have always been vitally important to a car’s success and social media has made anyone a critic,” explains Page.

“The challenge for media is not just to get people talking about a car but taking those conversations and then feeding them back to people that might be looking to buy that car.”

Auto brands’ marketing is not the only thing going digital, according to Giramondo who believes ‘connected cars’ will be the next big thing.

Connected cars are wireless internet connected cars, or ‘smart cars’, which are set to act like giant smartphones on wheels.

The number of connected cars is predicted to rise to more than 60% globally by 2017, from 11.4% this year, according to RBI Research.

Car manufacturers are likely to have apps built into their vehicles’ consoles. The app could remind drivers about upcoming

services due for their vehicle and allow them to book their car in, among many other things. “This is all about keeping customers, and how your car becomes your device for keeping customers,” Giramondo adds.

Regardless of the technological advancements in store, creative conversations and stories around cars should still be the goal of ads.

“Consumers will test drive your competitor’s car and that car is likely to be as good as your car, despite your designer’s rhetoric,” says Kevin Macmillan, creative partner of Sydney advertising agency The Works, which counts Skoda as a client.

“So a good car salesman will steer the conversation away from the car and onto the customer and their needs. The successful car marketer will have to do the same thing, steer the conversation beyond the car.

"Talking to my client, I always say that, in a nutshell, we have to have a story that is beyond the 59 air bags.”

Kia Australia is one manufacturer that has achieved this with its ‘Fathertism’ push. The campaign, for the Next Gen Kia Sorrento, was built around the idea of children giving their fathers preferential treatment because they chose Kia.

“I just thought that was wicked,” Macmillan says.

“If you think about Volkswagen you could argue that they have a story that is about them, Kia have had to create one.”

Car sales were up 10.3% to 1.112 million last year, according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, and manufacturers have their fingers crossed that the momentum can be maintained. With forecasts going either way, only time will tell if sales increase or decrease.

One thing does remain certain though: Australia is one of the most cluttered automotive markets – and that drives a higher level of competition.

To stand out, automotive brands need to shift their move to mobile up a gear, start to think about the potential that SmartTVs hold, and focus on story-driven advertising.

From an advertising point of view, Macmillan sums up the year ahead: “It is going to be noisy, retail heavy and one or two brands will stick their heads above the parapet with smart, story driven communication.”

This feature was first published in the March 15 issue of B&T Magazine.

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