[column] Automotive: smart switching to media

Each car brand prepares an integrated sales and marketing plan in advance and also deals with the proposals in consultation with its dealers. Ultimately, it is the brands and dealer companies jointly that must have confidence in the annual strategy. The preparation of the annual marketing plan in the car country is thus a joint effort of both importer and dealer organization. The role of the media in those annual plans is a very relevant component. Not only because of the share in the marketing costs, but also because media means reach and reach produces data and data leads, which ultimately generate sales again.

Media is therefore an essential part of a car brand’s marketing plan. Certainly also because the purchase of a relatively expensive car requires several contact moments with a consumer.

That is why this time a deepening of the crucial role of the media in the purchase of a car.

Push market

The push mechanism of the auto industry does not only take place in the factories, but certainly also further down the funnel when the cars are built and – often in stock – are waiting for sale. Factories keep turning and the parking lots of the production sites are filled with cars already produced. Cars that have not always been sold and therefore have to be pushed into the market. After all, a new shipment will arrive tomorrow. Shutting down a car factory is difficult and expensive. Large streams of cars are put on stock yards in the hope that the importers and dealers will be able to sell them quickly.

Importers who for this reason often quickly pass cars on to their dealers and dealers who ultimately have to sell all cars to the consumer. That sales process then goes a lot faster if there is a lot of advertising for the produced cars. After all, the media creates a stir and that triggers the buying intention of the public. The media is primarily used in the automotive industry to push (built) cars into the market and to help dealers to market cars quickly.

Brand goals are always on a lower priority at the end of the line, as the industry remains a volume industry with a push mechanism.

Sales are therefore the most important thing in the automotive business model and media helps keep that business model going.

More than with cheaper goods or fast moving items. In the latter, brand preference is a more important component.


Now the whole media story has gotten more and more complicated over the decades. For brands in general, but certainly for car brands that need to be present 360 degrees over a longer period of time to get consumers moving. After all, you don’t just buy a car just like that. Long ago, a TV commercial, a daily newspaper ad, and a radio commercial was enough to build ad recall. The dealer then did the rest in the showroom.

Nowadays, car sales via media pushing is a lot more complicated, because on the one hand there is a multitude of media channels available, on the other hand almost every car brand now has many model variants, niches, on offer. Small models, mini-SUVs, traditional hatchbacks, a set of station wagons, SUVs, Sport SUVs, SUV Coupes, and often a convertible somewhere. They all have to be sold. It is therefore quite difficult to build up sufficient reach in this fragmentation and to actually be able to sell all these (niche) models.

On the one hand, it will be extremely expensive to push all models via broad media campaigns, on the other hand, due to the enormous amount of channels, it takes almost endless before consumers have a message (or offer) in their heads. In short, car manufacturers face the necessary dilemmas with their expensive products and long purchase funnels.

As a brand, which models do I use media on and how do we ensure sufficient media pressure and thus conversion results within reasonable investments?


The above question is actually the basis of every automotive marketing plan. A car brand looks ahead to the new year in the last quarter of the year. The factory planning is the first document that is consulted. Which models are available, which new cars are being introduced and how many cars does the brand in question have to “do” from the factory. In today’s landscape where a niche model has been created for almost every audience, many models all need to be kept under the consumer’s attention. And so a lot of media money is needed.


After all, unknown makes unloved. Know that for the Dutch market you need at least about two million euros in media money to be able to keep a good cross-media attention for a model throughout the year. And if a little more euros are available, it is even better for performance and conversion. After all, reach builds up quickly, but advertising reminders and with that the top of mind status are also gone in no time and you need that to convert prospects into sales. The media stop of certain brands in the first COVID era has shown that once again. Not using the media for a period of about 10 weeks has put several big brands 3-0 behind in this year’s sales lists. Consumers quickly forget and even in less favorable times, media is needed to keep brands top of mind and to keep buying sales. If you stop for a moment, the consumer ends up with your competitor and you only sell again once you are top of mind again. And that takes a while. Media therefore also requires attention in the automotive marketing plan for these reasons.


A good indicator for car brands is always the reflection of the market share in automotive media versus the desired market share in the car market. This ratio makes the dominance of a brand visible. Both figures can be mapped out well with the help of experts, so a car brand can estimate reasonably well in advance which media investment is required for the desired performance. Taking a good look at the strength of the brand.

A strong or premium brand can afford a less aggressive bet, a volume brand can better bet on a higher share in media than in market share in sales, because that requires extra power to achieve the same top of mind level. A media dominance index of 1.2 or 1.3 is quite normal for volume brands looking to “buy” the market, while strong brands like Volkswagen get away with an index below 1.0. So a lower market share in automotive media compared to the market share in car sales. Introductions of new models and model names also require a relatively large media budget. After all, it takes 2 to 3 years before the aided awareness of a volume model with a lot of mass media pressure is sufficiently known. Putting a new model on the market and getting a bit of mind when buying a car in the Netherlands therefore costs just a million or seven or eight. Radio, TV, OOH, and digital investments added together over a period of about three years. Media use is the basis of traffic, leads and sales for car brands. A long-term route to sales that you set out and that must therefore be maintained consistently before the results really become visible.

Reach building takes time. Cool activations, impactful activations, a role for successful infuencers can help get a model earlier and / or better, but of course also increase the price tag. The more cars on the road help, the faster the build-up of the most important KPIs. In any case, the correct dosing of the media budget and applying focus to it requires the attention of the car brands. Media, once again, as the driver of results.


Multiple introductions per year and ‘maintaining’ your existing models requires a 10-million-plus budget from car brands in terms of media. That’s a lot of money and it makes car brands major advertisers. Media that must be used cross-channel for sufficient awareness growth, because only then will it work. The time has been that the bet of stand alone media result shows. The miracle recipe for revelry in the sales department is therefore synchronous use of TV, radio, OOH, digital and social media. Parallel to the basics on Google and the adjustment of YouTube that is too often forgotten by the car industry. Keep in mind that in addition to Google, consumers also use YouTube in their search for a new car.

Media deployment is therefore more than once a strategic puzzle that must be cleverly placed for car brands.

The high costs of such a media plan often cause frowns in the boardrooms. Certainly with several new models in the coming year, nowadays with all niches commonplace, the counter is running up very quickly. Millions at the same time. Marketing bosses are so often tempted to shave off media money to cut costs. An action that is counterproductive for car brands because somewhere in the funnel you are presented with the bill for limited reach and therefore convert much less well. It is much better to look at the priority when making the annual plan. Make a choice which car models should push reach, data and leads and support (very) many other models only with ‘hygiene’ media basic. Strengthening the models that get the hands of the consumer together.

Working with two or three flagships in media also has the advantage that long-term consistency is built, KPIs for advertising recall and awareness increase structurally. Regardless of the number of models that have to be sold, it pays off for car brands to limit the number of mass media campaigns to about three, while providing them with sufficient weight (GRPs, views) and spread over the year. Smart retargeting does the rest, also for the models that are not in the TV spotlights.

The power of repetition

In the current landscape of an abundance of media channels, impact is also an important one. As a consumer, we get about 5000 media incentives on our retina every day. We also scroll down a waterfall of content on our two or three timelines. This 24/7 media flow also contains a lot of automotive content, because the car brands are active advertisers.

It is therefore logical that as a consumer we do not automatically receive all car messages per day. Impact and creativity make the difference in addition to the media pressure itself. And it is precisely with those first two that things do not always go well in the car industry. Generic spots are used internationally and are more than once lukewarm against local spots, in which the country’s humor and customs are recognizable. Although centrally produced material does save production costs, it does not always hit the right note and so car brands are often better off with two or three good (and pre-tested) spots. More of the same simply yields too little in the current media landscape. Consistent and long-term use of good material ultimately generates more traffic, data and leads. Repetition is also an important element in the automotive business. The orientation for a new car usually takes about three months. All the more reason to be often present during these three months and to ensure consistency across the various media channels. After all, the purchase of a car takes some time.

Dealer communication

Car brands often use 360 ​​degree media, capture prospects and interested parties via data driven marketing strategies and slowly but surely convert visitors into leads. As soon as there is a lead, the baton is handed over to the dealers for most brands, who follow it up (or have it followed up). That is the first stage on the way to conversion.

The second “path” that is relevant for automotive brands is to capture the reach of national media with local communication that then takes the prospect to the dealer. Often this is done by adding an extra trigger (discount, temporary benefit) in retail communication and indicating urgency. Dealer communication in and on local media is therefore a valuable addition. Again, the best dealer communication should focus on the strongest models. It also increases the conversion to a reason to buy add (discount, temporary promotion) and indicate urgency (decide now, profit now). Consistent dealer communication with the right triggers and urgencies therefore help car sales well.


Media effort to sell cars is therefore not just buying TV commercials and managing some digital channels. No, a good media strategy for a car brand is a consistent long-term approach that builds ad recall and awareness. Media stimulates the business in the automotive industry like nowhere else, it gets consumers moving, especially if there are enough triggers and urgency in the converting part of the campaign.

While media is a cost item, it is precisely in the case of an expensive product such as a car that it also triggers the consumer to guide them further into the purchasing funnel.

Especially now that many top managers of car brands will be pushing for cutbacks, the old adage “unknown makes unloved” is more relevant than ever. If you, as a car brand, want to sell more cars in 2021 than in this special year of 2020, optimal dosing of media input is more than ever a must.

Choices, consistency and long term are benchmarks. And dear car brands, in addition to solving the media dilemmas properly, make sure that you remain findable. On Google, but certainly also on YouTube. After all, the youngest generation of buyers hardly ever watch linear TV. So it’s time to add the YouTube puzzle piece to the media mix as well. After all, only the complete media puzzle optimally pushes car sales.

Jos van den Bergh (1973) worked for almost 20 years in various PR & communication positions in the automotive industry and nowadays advises with his company MediaMondo automotive and media parties in the field of marketing communication, PR and media. He is also a dealer marketing advisor to BranchePartners in Houten. For MarketingTribune he critically follows developments in the automotive world. Do you also need marketing advice? Mail Jos without obligation at

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