5 Automotive Advertising Strategies to Sell More Cars

The automotive industry is a high-ticket game. Thanks to thick margins, digital advertising is one of the top acquisition channels for car brands. In fact, U.S-based auto companies collectively spent a whooping $18 billion on advertising in 2018.

With such a huge investment in automotive advertising, you need to make sure it’s bringing a positive ROI. Especially when you’re an agency running campaigns on behalf of clients.

According to Google, search is the first place people turn to when looking to buy a car. So, how do you capture this attention and get buyers visiting your dealership?

In this article, you’ll learn five crucial strategies and channels all automotive brands should adopt. We’ll cover high-level principles, along with examples from industry leaders.

1. Customer Research: The Foundation of All Advertising

This is the most important principle in any automotive advertising strategy. Without a deep understanding of your customers, why they enquire, and why they buy cars in the first place, it’s harder to connect with them.

Also known as customer development, customer research is “a simple methodology and a process for getting out of the building and talking to potential customers, the market”, according to Vidar Andersen.

While this topic would require an article in itself, there are a few simple ways you can get a strong understanding of your customers:

  1. Customer surveys: The tried and tested approach, surveys are a great way to collect large amounts of information about customer demographics, interests and buying habits
  2. Customer interviews: Get on the phone with your customers, and ask them why they decided to buy from you
  3. Speak to sales reps & account managers: The people on the dealership floor speak to customers every day. Ask them what frequently asked questions and objections they hear to fuel your ad messaging

These questions will help you craft a more delightful experience for your customers. Why is this important? Because, according to IHS Automotive, only 56% percent of car buyers find rate their buying experience as satisfactory.

Customers demand a personal service. Conducting customer research can help you uncover this information, allowing you to craft a better omnichannel experience. This is especially critical when targeting a millennial audience, who have come to expect more personalized marketing when being sold to.

Good copywriting stems from knowing your customer better than they know themselves, and provide them with a buying experience they’ll remember. Collect this data, and use the language they speak. Everything else we cover in this article will fall into place.

2. Capture Consumers Searching for Relevant Keywords

The search engine marketing (SEM) landscape has evolved heavily. Agencies and automotive brands who fail to keep up risk losing attention.

How do you capitalize on the attention of your buyers when they’re searching for what you offer? To answer this, let’s take a look at some advanced SEM techniques to multiply your results.

Understand Why Your Ads Aren’t Working

If the keywords you’re targeting are too broad, it can be hard to connect with your audience, communicating you have what they’re looking for.

To fix underperforming ad campaigns, start by identifying keywords that are generating results. Prioritize and optimize those. Consider creating SKAGs, or invest in a machine learning solution to manage them for you.

Not matching ad copy to user intent may also be losing you enquiries. You must serve searchers and buyers with the message that makes them go “this is exactly what I was looking for!”

This means matching your headline and copy to the search query. Use messaging that demonstrates you have what your audience is looking for. This can be nuanced, so make sure you do your customer research when crafting your copy.

Following this theme, your landing pages must also match searcher intent (and the promise of your ad). If a buyer is searching for a specific make or model in your area, you must make sure you show them the landing page that contains all the information they need.

Finally, keep an eye on your Quality Score. One of the most commonly known factors that goes into ranking Quality Score is your relevance. If your automotive advertising creative and landing page match the searcher intent, then your score will increase. Which means a high ad rank and lower CPC to boot.

Bidding Automation

Managing your ad budget can be a time-consuming task. Instead of doing it manually, use tools that will make the process faster, easier and automated.

For example, you can create rules in Google Ads that change campaign budgets based on certain conditions:

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However, when you’re managing dozens (even hundreds) of campaigns, this can be complex to manage in itself.

An easier, risk-free alternative is to use third-party solutions that take care of these decisions for you. For example, using machine learning, you can optimize budget distribution for your campaigns based on the results of thousands of other accounts.

Focus On The Offer

When playing by Google’s rules, it can be easy to lose sight of everything but appeasing the algorithm. Factors like matching ad copy to keyword intent, and ensuring landing pages deliver on expectations.

Don’t forget about the one thing that encourages buyers to take action: your offer. It’s what makes the difference between a mediocre performing campaign, and one that converts like crazy.

At risk of sounding like a broken record, start with your customers. Speak to them and ask them what inspired them to visit your dealership. For example, this offer from Allen Motor Group emphasizes their low monthly payments:

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Knowing what buyers care about can supercharge results. For agencies, this can be done at scale by taking the time to talk to salespeople.

Your offer should reflect your customer’s end goal. For example, if they’re price-sensitive, then include copy like “The Best Deal Around at $190/ Month.” This will attract more qualified traffic to your website, yielding a stronger ROI as a result. Get specific about your offer, and don’t be afraid to use numbers to attract the best customers.

3. Hyper-Personalize Your Ad Creative on Facebook

Alongside Google, Facebook Ads is one of the most powerful social media ad platforms available for automotive brands. Along with powerful targeting, it also offers automotive inventory ads, making it even easier to set up your campaigns.

As Google Shopping doesn’t allow cars as part of their network, Facebook provides an attractive alternative. With it, you’re able to target visitors who have already visitors with ease. Here’s more info straight from Facebook themselves:

“Let’s say someone is researching and comparing vehicles across several car and dealership sites. Automotive inventory ads allow dealers to upload their car inventory with details such as make, model, year and location. We then automatically generate tailored ads that show the most relevant vehicles to the right audiences.”

The question is, what makes a great Facebook ad? How can you use your ad creative to attract more buyers? It all starts with personalizing your message to their interests and needs.

Your digital ads are usually the first touch-point of the digital experience you deliver. To get your customer’s attention, they need to feel like what you have was made just for them.

For example, this ad from Fiat uses copy that focuses on their sat-nav features:

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How does Fiat know that the person seeing this ad would be interested in what they have to offer? Because of the consumer data they have access to. For example, using Facebook’s targeting features, they may be able to identify those who have a negative sentiment with their current sat-nav system.

Here’s another example from CarMax, which offers a seven-day test drive:

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For buyers who are risk-averse, this simple message gets right to the heart of those concerns, giving them plenty of time to see if their choice of car is right for them. And thanks to their automotive inventory campaigns, they’re able to serve the make and model of cars the user has already viewed.

Now you see the power of personalization, here are a few practical tips you can apply to your Facebook Ad targeting:

  • Match inventory to demographics: There’s no point running ads if you don’t have what you’re offering. If you have a surplus of inventory for a particular model, look at who has purchased it in the past. You can use dynamic campaigns to make managing this easier
  • Be wary of placements: By default, Facebook will run your ads on its entire network. But if your audience isn’t engaged on Instagram or Messenger, you may be wasting budget on unqualified clicks. Instead, focus just on the platforms that matter most
  • Exclude certain age groups: By this, we don’t just mean from a market perspective. Sure, it’s unlikely people between the ages of 18-22 will visit your dealership. But you should also consider the ideal age range for the type of car you’re selling

In order to scale your dynamic campaign for all the Make, Make + Model and Make + Model + Year variations templates, keyword and ad templates are used.

4. Experiment With Over-The-Top (OTT) Advertising

With cable viewership declining and streaming subscriptions on the rise, the reach of traditional TV isn’t what it used to be. Which is why many brands are investing in over-the-top (OTT) advertising.

Instead of TV, OTT ads are placed on media streamed through “over the top” platforms. And while it’s unlikely Netflix will introduce ads as part of their service, they are available on platforms like Hulu.

Here’s how it works: streaming platforms communicate with devices through Video Ad Serving Template (VAST) or Video Player-Ad Interface Definition (VPAID), depending on the nature of the device. The ad delivery process looks something like this:

  • OTT audiences are created based on subscriber data, which can be enriched through other household data-points
  • Campaigns are then matched to the audience based on this data. Once matched, they’re pushed to the device, downloaded and buffered on devices
  • Ads are then served to the viewer on OTT devices
  • Engagement results are then sent back for the ad platform to process and serve to the advertiser

As it’s an emerging approach, it offers plenty of low-cost opportunities. Typically, the costs of emerging platforms are much lower. As there are fewer competitors, the demand is lower – and so is the cost.

The most exciting aspect of OTT advertising is how it blends the world of traditional TV with digital. You can reach people in their living rooms, while using analytics to act on the data you collect. Furthermore, you don’t have to go through channel executives who require a heavy upfront investment.

If you’re interested in getting started with OTT, one option is to connect directly with specific channels. For example, Hulu has a process you can follow to buy ads from them directly, offering some powerful targeting features:

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Another option is to go through a programmatic platform. Find one that has access to the right channels where your ideal buyers can be found. Most importantly, always test emerging technologies on a small scale before dedicating an entire portion of your budget to it.

5. Use Contextual Content on Instagram

We’ve talked about the benefits of Facebook Ads, but let’s not forget about it’s younger sister: Instagram. With over 1 billion active users, it’s highly likely your ideal buyers are there.

Not only that, but as it thrives on visual content, it’s a hotpot for car enthusiasts and petrolheads all over the world. A search for the hashtag #porsche911 alone yields over 2 million results:

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This means that contextual, visual content is the best way to grab the attention of car enthusiasts. Create content that is both candid and high-quality. It should appeal to brand loyalists as well as buyers looking for the models you have in stock

Stories are a prime format for this philosophy. Instagram even share guidelines and data especially for automotive brands:

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There are two approaches you can use in your promoted Instagram posts:

  1. High-quality production video
  2. Candid “behind the scenes” footage

One example of the former comes from Ford, who created an ad campaign featuring actor Idris Elba to tease on an upcoming announcement:

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But you don’t need blockbuster quality and A-list celebrities to attract customers. Again, a candid and authentic approach is just as effective.

For example, Emory Motorsports use Instagram to document how they restore classic Porsche cars:

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All they do is point the camera on their phones toward what they want to share, and hit “record.” With over 23,000 views, it just goes to show you don’t need fancy equipment to grab attention.

It’s their way of saying “look what we built” and sharing it with the world. And they do it with passion. Create content not just because you want to drive visibility, but because you’re proud of what you do.


To create truly great content, you must understand everything you can about your buyers. What do your customer segments look for in a car? Why did past customers buy from you? These questions will help you craft an effective message.

Then, it’s just a matter of putting that message in front of them. Identify your most effective keywords, and optimize your copy for more clicks. Use Facebook’s targeting features to present offers that your buyers care about.

Above all, ensure that the first touch-point in your customer experience is a delightful one.


Featured image: via Unsplash/ Reinhart Julian

Image 1: via Google Ads

Image 2: via Allen Motor Group

Image 3: via Fiat

Image 4: via CarMax

Image 5: Hulu

Image 6: Instagram

Image 7: Instagram Business

Image 8: Ford

Image 9: Emory Motorsports

Tom Whatley

Tom Whatley

Tom Whatley is the founder of Grizzle, a content marketing agency that helps B2B, SaaS and tech companies generate more traffic and leads through high-value content and distribution.

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