Automotive Advertising During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In these uncertain times, is a phrase you are going to see a lot during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Everyone is searching for answers, both consumers and advertisers, and it can be difficult to decide which direction to go with your marketing. If you are uncertain what to do with your advertising, The Automotive Advertising Agency can offer some advice, and some assurance that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

You Should be Advertising

So, should you still be advertising now? We answer with an emphatic “Yes!” While it’s true that many industries, and many of your competitors, are significantly slowing or even canceling their advertising, that just means a bigger, less divided audience for you. Consumers are not buying as much right now, but they are still shopping and consuming online content. Voraciously. Since shelter-in-place orders have been issued, we have seen a 20% increase in time spent online, a 14% increase in time watching videos, and a 14% increase in reading the news.

This is a huge influx of viewership that is up for grabs, and if you keep advertising, you are looking at a big bump in your market share. Even though sales are down across the board right now, we are seeing an increase in shopper engagement, meaning many shoppers are spending this time planning on what cars they want to buy in the future. An investment now can lead to a big payout down the road, and that may not be nearly as far away as you think. In-market travel decline reversed in China after just 5 weeks post-quarantine, and the US is tracking on a similar timeline. That means you could see people back on the roads and needing vehicles in just a few weeks. If you keep your message consistent now, consumers will pay attention.

Create a Consistent Message

As far as messaging goes, one of the biggest pieces of advice we can offer is to address the pandemic directly. If you carry on with messages of “BIG SAVINGS” or “HUGE SELECTION” you can come off as insensitive due to the current situation. Keep your messaging up to date and community-focused. Make sure you are as clear as possible that you are open for sales and service. There is a lot of confusion and uncertainty right now, and customers will respond to clarity and assurance.

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If your store is open, let customers know what you are doing to keep them safe. New sanitation protocols, social distancing, etc. Highlight your online or at-home services as much as possible. We highly recommend offering at-home or at-work delivery and test drives, along with any other no-contact services you are able to offer. Use phrases such as “Essential Retail Service” to solidify that you are open and available to help during this crisis. Remember, right now it’s less about marketing and getting customers into your store, and more about keeping presence of mind and letting customers know you are still there.

We don’t recommend hard sale messages, but be sure to highlight offers in some capacity. Many OEMs are putting out very aggressive offers related to low APRs and payment deferment, and these can be powerful tools to let customers know that even if they have lost income, they can still get the vehicle they need. This also helps to keep your messaging consistent with national campaigns.

Also, it is essential that you show that you are committed to the community. You should be a source of assurance and support, providing services that customers need. This can be as simple as letting customers know that you are there to help, but we recommend more. For example, some of our clients have found great success providing an errand-running service for local seniors. They volunteer their currently unused employees to pick up groceries, prescription medication, and other errands that can help the elderly.

This is a big win for them across the board. It gets customers talking, strengthens relationships with both current senior customers and their families, introduces new customers to your store in an extremely positive way, and brings a huge influx of goodwill from the community at large. Some of our customers have even gotten local news coverage for this service, and with everyone at home glued to the news, you can create customers for life just by picking up some milk and eggs for a senior in need.

Keep Up with Media Trends

Pandemic Auto AdsWhat you say is very important, but where you say it can be just as impactful. Media trends are changing rapidly right now, and what worked pre-quarantine might be highly inefficient now. Consumers have a lot of time on their hands and are mainly turning to online media for entertainment and information. As we stated earlier, we’ve seen a 20% increase in time spent online, so it is vital that you put money into online campaigns to capture this inflated audience. This 20% increase presents an opportunity to increase your brand awareness and lower your CPM.

With this increase in audience comes changing habits. We use the new Google Trends Coronavirus Hub to ensure that we are up to date and adding new keywords as they become relevant, and it’s a tool we recommend any digital advertiser keeps a close eye on. Search times are also changing rapidly, with a steep rise in online search late at night during the week, with a 15% increase after midnight. It is important to keep track of these shifting trends to tweak your dayparts and maximize your spend. With all of this taken into account, inventory-driven marketing can be an especially effective tool in your kit.

According to Nielsen, current events have caused media consumption as a whole to rise by nearly 60%, with Connected TV (TV watched from a living room on a TV), and Over-the-Top (online streaming TV, OTT), accounting for much of that increase. We have long touted the benefits of OTT, and right now it is proving especially valuable.

Lastly, it is imperative that you keep your social media channels active and up to date. For paid ads, we recommend keeping your messaging consistent and extending your high-performing ads, as Facebook is currently undergoing staffing disruptions, resulting in delays of new campaigns. When it comes to organic social, post content that is relevant, uplifting, and informative. People are on social media now more than ever, so it is a great time to re-engage with consumers that have engaged with you previously. Post about your new services and community-related successes, and provide people with a source of reliable, consistent, and assuring content.

We Can Help

So, should you be advertising during these uncertain times? Certainly. If you’re looking for a reliable partner to guide your marketing efforts and COVID-19 response, please reach out to us at The Automotive Advertising Agency. Our marketing specialists have experience with crisis response, and can help increase your dealership’s market presence. Give us a call at 512-610-7300, or contact us at for more information.

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About the author

Michelle Camacho is the President of The Automotive Advertising Agency.