Automotive advertising expenditure is forecast to shrink by 21 per cent in 2020 across 10 key markets, according to Zenith’s Automotive Advertising Expenditure Forecasts. That’s two-and-a-half times faster than the decline of the ad market as a whole in these markets.
The spread of COVID and its effect on the global economy have left consumers uncertain about their financial futures and unwilling to commit to large purchases. Car manufacturers have also suffered from disruption to their supply chains, as lockdowns shut down manufacturing in different countries at different times. Faced with pressure on both supply and demand, car brands cut their ad budgets very sharply when the severity of the crisis became clear. The months of April and May had the greatest decline in most markets. Year-on-year declines have since eased, and Zenith expects them to moderate progressively over the rest of the year.
However, automotive ad spend is poised to outperform the market in both 2021 and 2022, with 10.5 per cent growth in 2021 and 11.4 per cent growth in 2022. Initially, the large decline in 2020 will make the comparison easier in 2021, but delayed purchase decisions, and persistent reluctance to use shared and public transport are expected to lead to the first growth in passenger car sales since 2017, fuelling sustained growth in automotive advertising in 2022.
Automotive ad spend will remain behind its 2019 level in 2022
Despite the speed of recovery in 2021 and 2022, automotive advertising is forecast to be 2.8 per cent lower in 2022 than it was in 2019. It will have recovered less lost ground than the market as a whole, which is forecast to be just 0.6 per cent below its 2019 level in 2022, giving automotive advertising the potential to outperform the market beyond 2022.
Auto brands lag behind the market in digital
Digital advertising is the most important single channel for auto brands, but automotive advertising is less digital than the market as a whole: automotive brands spent 42 per cent of their budgets in digital channels in 2019, while the average brand spent 49 per cent digitally. Automotive brands are also less prominent in magazines and out-of-home.
Television is the second-biggest channel for auto advertisers, which spend substantially more of their budgets in television (32 per cent) than the average brand (27 per cent). Television is still a key platform for their mass-audience brand-building, though premium digital environments are starting to take over this role for some audiences. Auto advertisers also spend more in cinema, which is good at brand-building among young, relatively well-off audiences, and radio, a particularly relevant medium given that a large proportion of radio listening takes place in the car.
Automotive brands spend substantially more on newspaper advertising (11 per cent) than the average brand (seven per cent). That’s primarily due to two markets, Germany and India, where newspapers still have high reach among well-educated, wealthy readers. Auto brands make use of their ability to convey more detailed information such as brand values, specifications and accessories.
But digital advertising is the only channel forecast to grow
Zenith predicts that digital will be the only channel in which auto brands spend more in 2022 than in 2019. Brands will focus more on premium digital video to compensate for declining prime-time TV ratings, and make better use of their customer data to target digital ads more effectively. Even before the pandemic, digital channels were becoming more important in the path to purchase, and the pandemic has only accelerated that trend. Zenith expects this to continue over the next few years. Auto brands are forecast to spend nine per cent more in digital channels in 2022 than they did in 2019.
Newspapers and magazines have been losing market share for years as their readers migrate online, and are forecast to recover barely any of the ad revenues they lost in 2020 by 2022. Newspaper ads pend will be 27 per cent lower in 2022 than in 2019, and magazine adspend will 28 per cent lower. Out-of-home and cinema, by contrast, are forecast to recover strongly in 2021 and 2022 from even steeper losses in 2020, which were caused by social distancing restrictions. Still, out-of-home auto adspend is forecast to decline by a net 10 per cent between 2019 and 2022, while cinema adspend is forecast to decline by 16 per cent.
Television and radio will remain important media for automotive advertising, with relatively restrained declines of six and seven per cent respectively between 2019 and 2022.
Australia and Canada are pioneering digital-led auto marketing
Australia and Canada are the most advanced markets for automotive digital advertising, each devoting more than 70 per cent of total spend to digital channels. Even here there is potential for more growth – digital’s share of spend is forecast to rise in Australia from 75 per cent in 2019 to 79 per cent in 2022, and in Canada from 72 per cent to 75 per cent.
In other markets the potential for digital growth is even higher, especially in the markets that are currently lagging behind. Zenith forecasts the digital market share of auto advertising to rise in India from 15 per cent in 2019 to 23 per cent in 2022, in Switzerland from 27 per cent to 33 per cent and in the US from 31 per cent to 38 per cent.
“The coronavirus recession has been particularly tough for auto brands, making it especially important for them to adapt to consumers’ changing behaviours and needs,” said Jonathan Barnard, Zenith’s Head of Forecasting. “Brands that have got closer to their customers online, by investing in first-party data and personalised communication, will be well-positioned to benefit from resurgent demand during the upturn.”
In terms of overall auto ad spend in Australia, Nielsen AdQuest figures reveal the market experienced a 58% decline between January to August year on year. However, August showed a 92 per cent increase from July, proving there are definitely signs of positive growth. Mainstream brands have been more affected during COVID-19, compared to luxury brands. This implies that those with higher incomes and travel overseas regularly – or are not as heavily affected by unemployment – are now spending their money on cars.
Joshua Lee, Zenith Melbourne’s Head of Digital said: “According to Nielsen, time spent online with automotive content across all devices in June increased by 29 per cent year on year, which signals growing interest and consideration to purchase as restrictions begin to ease across Australia. This surge in engagement and overall digital consumption should further encourage greater digital share of spend as we continue to see positive category growth.”
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