VAB Study: TV Ads Drive Auto Decisions

Television commercials remain the key to getting consumers to drive away with new cars, according to a new study by the Video Advertising Bureau.

At a time when auto marketers are increasingly turning to digital advertising to target people likely to buy a car, the VAB study finds that TV is the most influential medium in helping consumers discover attractive brands and models, adding those to their selection set, deciding to take a test drive and ultimately signing on the dotted line at a dealership.

Related: Marketron Measures Foot Traffic Created by Ads

Automakers are among the biggest advertisers, making their spending decisions crucial for ad-supported businesses like television.

The study, entitled Start Your Engines, was conducted online by Research Now among 1,000 adults who indicated they are likely to purchase or lease a new or used car in the next six months.

The car buying process was broken down into four phases, and during each phase TV was among the most-influential media. The phases were defined as discovery, consideration/evaluation, shopping (test-drive) and vehicle purchase.

Related: VAB Report: Undecided Voters Turn to TV

During the first phase, the VAB study says TV generates instant brand awareness, particularly among millennial consumers. Among adults 18 to 34, TV was named by 47% of respondents as the place they were most likely to first learn about different vehicle brands, topping online search, which was cited by 45% of millennials. Vehicle review sites were mentioned by 32% of respondents; social networking sites 21%; online video 15%; online banner ads 14% and mobile apps 12%.

Surprisingly, among adults 25 to 54, search edged out television 46% to 42%.

Related: TV Preferred By Millennials: VAB Study

TV held an even bigger advantage during phase two, when consumers form their consideration set. TV was named by 46% of millennials and 45% of adults 25-54 as helping decide which vehicles to consider. Search was named by 37% of millennials and 38% of adults 25-54. Consumers who identified themselves as auto enthusiasts or who said that price was a priority also cited TV most often.

For most people, no more than three vehicles make the consideration list. And 83% of those surveyed said they make their list within three months of when they expect to buy a car.

TV commercials also drive traffic to automaker websites more often than other media.

The number of consumers who said TV ads motivated them to go to a dealership was considerable larger than for other media, including search, which came in second. TV was cited by 56% of adults 18 to 49, 53% of adults 25 to 54, and 44% of people in households with incomes of $75,000 or more. Search got 26% of millennials; 30% of adults 25-54 and 27% of those $75,000 households.

When it comes time to make a final purchase decision, TV continues to rank high. Among millennials, 37% said TV influenced their final vehicle purchase decision, compared to 33% of adults 18 to 34. Among adults 25 to 54, vehicle review sites and search had more horsepower than TV, with review sites mentioned by 33%, online search mentioned by 32% and TV mentioned by 31%.

“These findings fly in the face of several automakers’ recent requirements that 50% of local advertising go to digital media,” said Evelyn Skurkovich, VP of strategic research & insights at the Video Advertising Bureau. “TV ads are pointing people to dealers and putting them in cars. And most often it’s TV ads that direct people to auto websites, which is consistent with the catalyst role that TV plays in social media.”

Jon Lafayette

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.