If you’re the type of TV watcher who multi-screens, you may have noticed that Cars.com was particularly active on social media during the Super Bowl — responding to the commercials of everyone from Amazon Prime Video and WeatherTech to Burger King and Michelob Ultra.
But the posts weren’t just random reactions.
Rather, they were part of “The Big Match” campaign from Cars.com, where the company’s social media accounts responded in real-time to commercials with car-related quips and clips designed to drive traffic to the website.
“We found car shoppers are on their mobile devices during the game and are interacting with Cars.com to research the auto brands and cars they see during commercials,” said Seth Goldberg, Cars.com senior director of brand marketing, in an emailed Q&A after the game.
“Also, by meeting them on their devices with targeted creative ads we were able to intercept the Super Bowl commercials and capture even more eyeballs to our website and our dealer customers’ vehicle details pages and make/model/year pages,” he said.
Weeks before the Super Bowl, Cars.com and its agency of record, RG/A Chicago, started monitoring the commercials slated to run during the Super Bowl, then shot more than 50 pieces ahead of time to have ready to responde to the spots. There was also a “war room” of more than 40 people from Cars.com, Twitter and RG/A developing and responding with social media posts in real-time during the game.
In addition to the creative on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, the campaign also included paid media on Google and YouTube.
“We learned a couple of important things: 1) Car shoppers are on their mobile devices during the game and flocking to Cars.com when auto commercials air to learn more about the brands and vehicles promoted; 2) We can support our dealer and OEM customers and break through the noise during Super Bowl by going digital-first and not relying on a single TV commercial to share our message,” Goldberg said.
“We asked ourselves ‘How can we make our brand relevant to Super Bowl conversations and make consumers act?’ Our campaign, ‘The Big Match,’ was a strategic push to respond to every Super Bowl ad in real time during the game to drive in-market car shoppers to Cars.com,” Goldberg said.
“A group of more than 40 people came together to work a war room during the game across Cars.com, Twitter and our agency of record R/GA Chicago,” he said. “We responded in real time to TV ads and social activity from other brands, meeting consumers directly on their devices as they cruised content during the game and directed them to our customer’s inventory on our site.”
Goldberg said that Cars.com saw a 42-percent year-over-year hike in site visits during the game and few hours following (5 p.m. to midnight CT) the day of the game. The Cars.com Twitter account generated more than 970,000 engagements, and the pre-roll and video website card campaigns had a combined total of nearly 27 million views, Goldberg said.
Of the automakers airing ads during the Super Bowl, Hyundai had the most significant increase in traffic to their brand page on Cars.com at 1,831 percent, Goldberg said, followed by Mercedes-Benz (720 percent) and Audi (691 percent). Following its RAV4 Hybrid spot, traffic to the brand page of Toyota on Cars.com was up 225 percent; after the Supra commercial, it was up 138 percent. Kia showed a decrease of 14 percent.
Overall, there was a combined 384-percent uptick, Goldberg said.
“Hundreds of millions of consumers are on social media during live events like the Super Bowl. It makes sense to reach consumers where they are in the moment to engage with them and drive influence. Digital advertising is much more targeted and efficient compared to a TV buy,” Goldberg said. “While OEMs may have a big TV spot during the Super Bowl, it’s also important for them to be reaching in-market shoppers on digital and social channels.”
In a separate but related Q&A, James Grace — founder and chief executive officer of digital marketing firm Wizely, who previously led analytics at Cox Automotive Media Solutions —said this behavior of watching multiple screens during an event like the Super Bowl can be a positive.
“The multi-screen environment is actually good for advertisers in my opinion. It’s increasingly common for people to immediately reach for their phone and search for things that they see during advertisements,” he said in an emailed Q&A.
Grace points to a company called EDO that monitors ad campaign effectiveness in driving search volume. “I spoke with them (in late January) and they told me that consumers are (three times) more likely to do this kind of search during the Super Bowl than at other times.”
Super Bowl ads: ‘Something that works well’
While some might scoff at the large dollar investment made in Super Bowl advertising and question its return, it may be more effective than some think.
The larger issue, says Grace, involves some of the poor practices around “wasted” digital advertising spend.
“One of the biggest issues I’m identifying here is a lack of coordination between the OEM, Tier2 and dealership with respect to digital advertising,” Grace said, referring to a data set Wizely provided on digital ad spend. “Much of the waste happens because there is typically no decision about who in the value chain is bidding on certain keywords (‘new Honda Accord,’ for example.)
“The Super Bowl advertising is actually a good counter example of something that works well. The OEM invests in a national spot at the Super Bowl, which leads not only to additional search interest on the OEM site, but also increased search interest and traffic at the dealership’s site,” he said.
For instance, total visits to Dealer.com dealer websites were up 689 percent on Super Bowl Sunday, with “quality visits” up 659 percent and VDP views up 384 percent, according to statistics shared by parent company Cox Automotive.
Over at Edmunds, some of the traffic winners from Super Bowl Sunday, on the OEM side, were Audi and Toyota.
Audi led all car brand advertisers with a 116-percent traffic spike on the Edmunds site during the game, including a 13,578-percent spike for its e-tron GT model, stemming from Audi’s “Cashew” ad.
Likewise, the Toyota Supra enjoyed a 13,304-percent lift on the Edmunds site following the automaker’s “Wizard” spot.
“Even as automakers explore new ways to use the buzz around the big game to grab the attention of car shoppers, our data continues to prove that the traditional broadcast spots still have a place,” said Jessica Caldwell, Edmunds executive director of industry analysis, in a news release.
“A commercial that both entertains and shows a car people have never seen before tends to be the winning formula to entice people to go online immediately to learn more,” she said. “Even though base size does play a role when looking at website traffic lifts like this, the fact that Audi and Toyota were so successful in getting immediate interest shows that they’re clearly doing something right.”
More brand winners
On the brand level, Kia saw a 166-percent lift in new-car page views on Kelley Blue Book’s website, with Hyundai next at 62 percent, according to the Cox Automotive data.
“The car ads were more entertaining than the actual game AND half time show put together,” said Brian Moody, executive editor of Autotrader, in a news release. “The Hyundai spot with Jason Bateman was both entertaining and informative. Kia and Audi also scored big with their spots.”
“The Kia Telluride ad clearly resonated, probably because it had all the major factors you want in a Super Bowl ad,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher for Kelley Blue Book, in a news release. “First, it had a human connection, which has worked really well in the past. Second, it was exceptionally well produced, with a sense of purpose and a great message. And finally, it was advertising an impressive-looking SUV, which market is hungry for these days.”
In another win for Hyundai, its new-car search share on CarGurus climbed from 3.1 percent to a 2019 high of 3.7 percent. A CarGurus spokesperson said via email that this upswing “bucks a Super Bowl advertising trend, where usually we see a search increase at the model level, but not the brand.”
Auto Remarketing has launched a new series, “DRIVING FORCE: The Business Intersection of Sports & Automotive,” to discuss the car industry's involvement in sports business — through marketing partnerships, ownership stakes, working as sister companies under the same corporate umbrella and other ventures.
For more, see the Feb. 1 edition of Auto Remarketing magazine.