DETROIT: An advertising sea-change is under way in Motown - the hub of the US auto industry. Foreseeing another bleak year in 2008, US automakers predict combined unit sales will sag below the 16 million mark, with adspend trimmed to match.

And since the sophisticates of the auto world are just as susceptible to promotional hype as Poughkeepsie moms, Detroit's marketing mantra for the next three years is [slow rhythmic breathing] 'di-gi-tal'.

Thus prophesies advertising researcher Kelsey Group, which forecasts that worldwide annual ad spending by automakers and their ancillaries will hold steady at $40 billion (€27.71bn; £19.80bn) through 2011.

Much of that moolah, says Kelsey, will be devoted to digital and out-of-home media - although in 2008 across-the-board spend will remain flat at best.

By 2011, however, online's share of global auto adspend will grow to 13%, up from 5% in 2007.

This contrasts with shrinkage in traditional newspaper classified ads from 14% to 10%; and a similar southbound move from 17% to 14% for newspaper display ads.

Kelsey's prediction reflects the current digital media spend trend, as reported by TNS Media Intelligence. Automakers and their local dealers have increased internet spending fourfold since 2002 - from $175m to $739m, says TNS.

Moreover, the digital spend predictions exclude search ads which are likely to account for many millions more.

Meantime Detroit's big guns are using their powers of persuasion to bring about a shift in dealers' hidebound marketing thinking.

According to Brent Dewar, General Motors' vp-field sales, service and parts for North America, he is trying to persuade dealer groups "to shift their focus to digital versus spot TV."

And Troy Clarke, president of GM in North America, likewise believes in Santa Claus, telling Ad Age he is confident that although 2008 will start slowly for the auto industry (as did 2007) it will gain momentum as the months pass. "I'm optimistic," he ho-ho-ho'd.

Data sourced from; additional content by WARC staff