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Rather than narrow, the number of car brands considered by shoppers actually doubles throughout the shopping journey, reveals Nielsen in its Auto Marketing Report 2018 [download page]. Although car shoppers’ path to purchase begins with 2-3 brands under consideration, by the time they’re actively searching and ready to buy that list has expanded to 5. (The number of brands considered is from a list of 34 measured during the purchase journey.)

It’s crucial for auto marketers to break into that set because as they consider more brands, shoppers focus more exclusively on them. Or as the analysts say, “car shoppers develop ‘tunnel vision’ and focus on researching and evaluating on the cars that have made their expanded shortlist.”

Which Media Do the Trick?

The study indicates that the vast majority of purchase intent is due to unaided, top-of-mind awareness, as three-quarters of all car buyers surveyed said they intended to buy their top-of-mind brand. Indeed, consumers with unaided brand awareness, while accounting for only 23% of total awareness, generated 60% of all purchase consideration and 90% of purchase intent in the study.

The analysts suggest that high-reach media such as TV and radio are important for driving early-stage awareness, but that they require reinforcement across other touch points, including digital ones. While TV has by far the highest level of ad recall of all ad channels (consistent with MarketingCharts’ own primary research), purchase consideration among those who recall an ad is higher for other channels, such as direct mail, mobile and billboards.

TV ad recall also tends to drop over time as shoppers get closer to purchasing a new car. Despite remaining easily the top channel, its ad recall drops by 18% from initial exposure (1-2 years out) to when the shopper is currently searching for the car.

By contrast, during that same time period, ad recall soars for in-theater advertising (+258%), mobile (+217%), direct mail (+135%) and digital (+99%).

Nonetheless, 71% recall the ads they see on linear TV when shopping for a car, 4 times more than for digital (18%).

These averages mask significant differences among generational cohorts. Some 48% of Millennials recall digital and mobile ads while searching for a car, up from 40% at initial exposure. That matches the 48% who recall linear TV ads when searching for a car, down from around 80% at initial exposure.

Older adults are far more likely to recall TV ads when they’re conducting their search, though. Some 73% of Gen Xers recall linear TV, compared to 30% recalling digital and mobile ads. For Boomers the gap is even more acute, with 81% recalling linear TV ads versus 15% recalling digital and mobile ads. These gaps are likely in part due to differing media consumption trends, with Boomers watching far more linear TV than Millennials.

The analysts note that digital targeting can mean that shoppers are exposed to a smaller set of brands. Their lower TV and higher digital consumption seemingly contributes to more “tunnel vision” among Millennials. Moreover, it appears that when Millennials get serious about buying a car, their favored digital media channels reinforce their brand choices with targeted advertising, rather than expose them to alternatives.”

The implication for auto brands is that while Millennials are open to considering brands, it’s important that they are engaged early on in the process before they develop that heightened “tunnel vision.”

The full report is available for download here.

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