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US car makers struggle to convince a nation of social sceptics

New study shows ‘back-to-basics' marketing holds most power in US auto market, as only 7% of buyers are influenced by social media

Car buyers in the U.S. are more likely to be persuaded bytraditional marketing, rather than blogs, forums and social media, which areoften seen as less reliable and ‘infiltrated’ by brands.


This is in stark contrast to China, the world’s largestauto market, where almost one third (31 per cent) of buyers see consumer-drivencontent – such as automotive blogs or reviews on social media – as their mosttrusted source of information, compared to just seven per cent (7%) in the U.S.


The Automotive Path to Purchase Study (TAPPS) by globalresearch consultancy TNS, shows that brand-controlled sources, particularly TVand press ads, are most influential in the U.S. buying process. Almost six inten (59 per cent) of U.S. car buyers cite these as their most trusted source,compared to 43 per cent in China.


Although social media still has a role to play innarrowing down choices, car manufacturers looking to build their name in theU.S. should focus their efforts first and foremost on traditional media.  The study also shows TV advertising has thebiggest effect in persuading buyers to consult other sources of information,whether that is a brand’s website, a car dealership or friends and family.


Andy Turton, Global Development Director at TNS, said:“Digital-savvy car buyers in the US are increasingly suspicious of brandinvolvement when it comes to supposedly ‘independent’ sources like blogs andforums. In China, where the car market is comparatively young and people arekeen to explore new digital channels, it’s a different story.”


“That’s not to say that social and digital channelsshould be neglected entirely in the US. In fact the biggest success stories arewhere auto brands successfully integrate digital engagement with more of the old-style‘Mad Men’ advertising strategies.”


The latest Super Bowl TV advertisement from Volkswagenhas been praised for successfully translating to social media. The ad, whichshows German engineers suddenly sprouting wings as cars they designed pass the 100,000-milemark, was accompanied by a staggered social media campaign across Facebook andTwitter.


While most U.S. buyers show an affinity to Americanbrands – including Chevrolet and Ford – the study shows it is actually foreignbrands that are most effective in linking up all their different channels toconvert interest to purchase.  Honda ismost effective at pulling buyers through from initial consideration to finalpurchase, with Toyota following close behind.


In both the Chinese and U.S. markets the role of thedealer is also critical in persuading buyers to part with their cash. Almostfour in ten (38 per cent) of U.S. buyers and one quarter (26 per cent) ofChinese buyers cite dealers as their most reliable information source.


Turton concluded: “The idea of the dealer being the carbuyer’s ‘best friend’ is abundantly clear in both markets. As the US automarket shows continued signs of recovery – with over 15.6 million vehicles soldlast year– it is only brands that can keep customers engaged throughout thewhole buying process that will see these rewards.”



TAPPS is the first interactive, online study to measurethe new car-buying process in real-time, offering a more fine-grained picturethan traditional “look back” studies, in which consumers may overlook detailsof past behaviour. It is based on interactive and continuous conversations withover 1000 consumers who intend to purchase a new vehicle within the next 4 to 6months, tracking their activity throughout their pre-purchase period. Theresearch was conducted in the US from July to October 2013. In addition to theUS this study has also been conducted in China. 


About TNS

TNS advises clients on specific growth strategies aroundnew market entry, innovation, brand switching and stakeholder management, basedon long-established expertise and market-leading solutions. With a presence inover 80 countries, TNS has more conversations with the world’s consumers thananyone else and understands individual human behaviours and attitudes acrossevery cultural, economic and political region of the world.  TNS is part of Kantar, one of the world’slargest insight, information and consultancy groups. Please visit www.tnsglobal.comfor more information.


About Kantar

Kantar is the data investment management division of WPPand one of the world’s largest insight, information and consultancy groups. Byconnecting the diverse talents of its 13 specialist companies, the group aimsto become the pre-eminent provider of compelling and inspirational insights forthe global business community. Its 28,500 employees work across 100 countriesand across the whole spectrum of research and consultancy disciplines, enablingthe group to offer clients business insights at every point of the consumercycle. The group’s services are employed by over half of the Fortune


Top 500 companies.

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