Sector report: Motors

Insight from RAMetrics


Newspapers have a long-established relationship with the motors industry, whether it’s reporting on motorsports, carrying car ads or testing and reviewing new models. One of the world’s most iconic press ads is a “Lemon”.

Motoring editorial is still a key part of newsbrands across all platforms and readers still use newsbrand opinion and advertising when they are looking to buy a car. We know that newspapers are highly effective in the media mix: Benchmarketing’s analysis of econometric models shows that print newsbrands boost total campaign ROI by 71% for the motors category.

Despite this, automotive brands are underspending in newsbrands. In fact, Benchmarketing’s recent analysis of 684 econometric models, focusing on profit return on investment, shows that brands in the motors category are missing out on a significant £54 million of potential profit through underinvesting in newsbrands.

We’ve also got lots of detailed information about how newsbrands – along with other media touchpoints – help people through the buying process, particularly at priming, brand building and consideration stages. Newsworks’ How people buy research and the consumer journey planning tool show how the inclusion of newsbrands in your communications plan helps people towards a confident choice.

Analysis of RAMetrics data shows that, creatively, motors print ads are not involving readers as strongly as they could. Recall is below the all ad average (55% vs 62%), while brand measures show lower engagement. Of course, it’s also true that only a minority of people will be in the market for a new car at any one time. So we looked at how the motors print ads performed among the people who did pay them attention. Although well-branded, on average motors ads provoked lower than average emotional reaction and didn’t really convey a personal benefit to people. Given that people are usually pretty excited about buying a new car, it is worrying that the creative is not very inspiring.

It is also evident that, while print ads in general are working more strongly compared with 10 years ago, motors ads are not delivering this increased effectiveness to the same degree. Scores are higher than a decade ago, but they are falling behind the best print ads.

One reason for this rather muted response is that the most recent ads tested tend to be biased towards price ads rather than image-based ads. Historically, image-based motors ads (usually associated with big brand ideas) score better on almost all metrics – including action measures such as visiting the website.

It appears that image-based ads are better able to evoke the positive emotional aspects of car buying, which in turn makes people feel more confident in their reactions. There is, of course, a place for offer and price ads, but the data suggest that campaigns would be stronger if they also ran brand building print ads, to tap into the full potency of newspapers to deliver long-term customer growth, loyalty and profitability (see Peter Field’s analysis of the business effectiveness of newsbrands in IPA Databank study 2017).

There is a general tendency to focus on short-term sales nowadays, but the car-buying process is often long and complex. Huge rewards are available if brands are on a mental shortlist before the active buying process begins. We love this observation from Jeremy Bullmore, in an essay written for the WPP annual report 2016:

‘I was once given a lift by a 50-year-old friend who’d recently sold his share in an advertising agency and had celebrated by buying himself an extremely expensive car. “I bought this car because I saw an advertisement,” he told me. “Nothing very special about that, I grant you – except that I saw that ad when I was 14.”

‘Not all advertisements are still paying their way after 36 years. But the value of consistent brand advertising, advertising that remains true to the brand’s character, and continues to enhance it, can be almost timeless.’

Another important consideration is that motors print ads are lacking in appeal to women, who are less likely recall motors print ads than men and respond less positively on all measures except likelihood to discuss.

Research from Mail Advertising shows a similar female disconnection from car advertising and highlights a challenge to communicate with women more effectively, given changing attitudes and behaviour in the market. Women are less confident about buying and find negotiating stressful, but few feel that current car advertising speaks to them (29% vs 46% for men), often because the ads all look the same (see Pulse of the Nation: Motors Edition).

Interestingly, digital newsbrand ads are much more gender neutral in their appeal. There are no real significant differences in women’s and men’s responses, even though women are less familiar beforehand with the advertised brands. Whether this is due to the environment, or to the nature of the creative, is not clear.

On average, digital newsbrand ads for motors are noticed by readers about half as much as print motors ads – 26% versus 55%. However, the newsbrand digital audience is just under 32 million weekly, so that’s still 8.2 million people noticing the average motors ad. Looking at the responses of people who do notice the ads compared with those recalling print ads, digital creative appears to be more successful at influencing action. In addition, Lumen research shows that ads on newsbrand sites are 30% more likely to be actually seen, they achieve a 261% click rate and deliver a 51% conversion rate, so the newsbrand environment definitely provides a relevant and quality context for car advertising.

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