Nick Morley explores strategies to optimise digital advertising in the automotive space.

Deciding to buy a car is a long and complex process. Only a third of all car buyers have an exact make and model in mind when they begin their search, while the average consumer spends nearly 15 hours researching and comparing brands, models, and finance options before making a final decision.

The purchase journey is now predominantly digital, with 60% of research time spent online, so it’s no wonder the UK automotive industry spends a huge £1.47 billion on digital advertising every year. In this competitive industry, digital advertising offers powerful consumer targeting at scale and, with 39% of millennials influenced by advertising when looking to purchase a car, the potential ROI is strong. Add to this the fact that over half (53%) of car buyers are using multiple devices while browsing, well executed cross-channel digital campaigns can reach the right consumer, via their device or platform of choice, at the opportune moment.

However, digital advertising can also bring a variety of media quality concerns, from ad fraud and brand safety to viewability - whether the ad was given an opportunity to appear on the screen. To make the most of digital, automotive brands must take proactive steps to ensure they are investing their advertising budgets in high quality impressions that will drive performance.

What could stall brand’s digital advertising?

Ad fraud is a challenge the whole digital media industry is taking steps to address. Fraud in advertising comes in many forms – from illegal bot activity, fraudulent URLs, specific page-level fraud, to more sophisticated forms of invalid traffic – and reportedly costs advertisers between $4.6 billion and $6.7 billion annually depending on who you ask. With up to 8.3% of digital ad impressions estimated to be fraudulent, automotive brands risk wasting valuable budget on valueless impressions - as there is no potential opportunity for an ad to ever be seen by a human.

Equally concerning for automotive brands is the impact of viewability to a digital campaign - whether an ad was in view. This is a prerequisite for engagement, after all a car buyer can’t be influenced by an ad they never see – whether the ad served out of view, below the fold or in a background tab. Digital ads are deemed viewable if they meet the IAB and Media Rating Council (MRC) recommendation that 50% of pixels are in view for at least one second, but only half (53.3%) of all ads served are meeting this. However, buying inventory based on time-in-view metrics can really provide a brand with added value. Instead of focusing on simply whether an ad had the opportunity to be seen, time-in-view metrics provide insight into whether the ad was viewed for long enough to drive online consumers to act.

Finally, brands moving further into digital should be aware of brand safety issues where ads are served next to content they do not wish to be associated with, resulting in damage to brand reputation. The definition of a ‘brand-safe’ placement varies by brand, for instance a manufacturer of diesel drinking SUVs might steer clear of articles relating to environmental damage, whereas an eco-friendly electric car brand would positively approach such a placement. But generally there are certain types of online content all automotive brands will want to avoid association with such as violence, illegal drugs, and offensive language.

Accelerating quality and campaign performance

Measurement of all digital ad impressions across an entire media plan, alongside third-party verification are key to driving quality in digital advertising. If automotive brands can verify whether or not their ads were served, in-view, to real people, in a brand safe environment, they can optimise campaigns towards high quality inventory and achieve not only greater performance, but also greater returns. 

Using ad fraud detection and prevention technologies, brands can not only identify and measure suspicious digital activity, but also optimise away from fraudulent inventory to ensure their ads are being served to real and valuable car buyers.

Access to granular viewability data by campaign, domain, placement, partner, and creative, allows brands to identify the best and worst performers across the digital media plan, and optimise accordingly. Some brands are already transacting on viewability, only paying for impressions that meet the MRC requirements. But to really make impressions work harder, brands must move beyond minimum viewability standards, and determine how long their ads need to be in view to drive an impact; looking into the average exposure duration will also help to inform creative execution.

Last but not least, automotive brands can use sophisticated tools to ensure their ads only serve alongside appropriate online content; blocking ads on pages identified as unsafe. By leveraging machine learning and data modelling, as well as understanding tolerance to risk and setting guidelines for campaigns, brands can better ensure risk-free ad placements and maintain their strong brand reputation.

Digital advertising has become the most effective tactic for automotive brands to reach engaged consumers across multiple screens and devices, as they embark on their car buying journey. By employing advanced measurement and verification techniques, and optimising campaigns to fraud free, viewable, brand safe impressions, automotive brands can be sure their budgets are spent on high quality ads driving the best possible performance.