Selling the inside spread: The flipside of the Evening Standard's BMW ad deal

Roy Greenslade seems sanguine about the Evening Standard making space for a BMW ad on its opening spread this afternoon.

. . . I guess it is a painful reminder to journalists of a reality too many in our trade – even during a recession that has seen advertising revenue plunge – affect to ignore: newspapers depend on advertisers. Right now, those prepared to advertise can call the tune.

True. But there’s something else going on here — something more than sharp elbows, media deflation and a short-term dip in car sales.

Car makers are a mainstay of press and TV advertising. But the automotive sector is bedevilled by over-capacity. By some definitions, vast swathes of the industry are technically bankrupt. (Not just in the US, either.)

Under these circumstances, it’s legitimate to ask whether the car industry will ever again spend as much on traditional advertising as it did before the bust. Ford is WPP’s biggest client. So it means something when Sir Martin Sorrell says that the ad industry “can return to what it was, but it’s not going to be the same”.

At the moment, something entirely predictable is occurring. According to New Media Age, Honda, VW, Fiat, Toyota, Land Rover and Mercedes have all upgraded their web sites during the past 12-18 months.

“What we thought would happen at the beginning of the recession was people would become more cautious and do more research before buying, so we immediately focused on digital. . . We knew consumers would be keen not to make expensive mistakes.”

– Simon Rutherford, head of digital at Toyota UK

Note, too, Rutherford’s suggestion that Toyota’s UK board only really started to get interested in digital marketing this year. Gearheads might be late adopters, but even they are getting the message. “Stats hadn’t really been presented to the board like that before,” says Rutherford. “So their eyes opened.”

They weren’t the only ones. New Media Age paraphrases Rutherford on Toyota’s thinking: ‘As the company realised it was probably under-investing in the [digital] channel, competitor activity exacerbated the need for action.”

So much for web sites. What about social media?

Volvo has reduced its overall marketing spend, but increased investment in search optimisation and social media. Fiat is inducing its customers to compile playlists on Spotify. And VW has been asking its customers for their ideas on how to sell the Tiguan.

Experiments all. But some of the results have been encouraging. Here’s Rutherford at Toyota again, discussing how a company with 5% of the UK car market ended up, in his estimation, with “about 20% share of the clicks” generated by consumers researching scrappage.

“If there hadn’t been a recession we wouldn’t have been that dedicated and that sharp with digital marketing. It [has] proved to be incredibly valuable for us. . .”

Recession might be forcing the Evening Standard to hand over prime editorial space to BMW. But it’s also encouraging car makers to look beyond traditional media.

Some kind of revival in traditional brand-led ad spend is inevitable. But some of the change in advertiser behaviour underlined by New Media Age is going to prove permanent.

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