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News
Executive Summary
Online Newspapers Drive Vehicle Buyers

By Melinda Gipson
NAA Director of Electronic Media
Article posted November 2004

The Internet's impact as a research tool for car buyers is greater than ever. It is both a persistent influence and a displacement medium for the more traditional ways auto manufacturers and dealers use to reach buyers. CNW Marketing Research of Bandon, Ore., has taken an in-depth look at which media influence buyers at various stages in their purchase decisions, and which formats Internet users consider to be effective.

The Internet, formerly cited as the most important influence for around 8 percent of purchasers throughout the decision-making process, now breaks into double digits two months out and tops out at 12.3 percent of purchasers two weeks before a buy. Print newspapers peak at 18.4 percent two weeks in advance of a purchase. Together they could well combine to become a formidable force for marketers seeking to influence shoppers.

Not surprisingly, the auto category was one in which online newspapers excelled, particularly in moving the needle on purchase intent.

Assuming these formats are applied effectively, the marketer is still left to decide which channel or channels are most efficient in conveying his message to the consumer. In a separate study, the Newspaper Association of America tasked Dynamic Logic with sifting through some 1,000 online advertising campaigns to find those employing online newspapers, and then determine how the latter performed against brand metrics in contrast to the other leading sites in its MarketNorms® database. Not surprisingly, the auto category was one in which online newspapers excelled, particularly in moving the needle on purchase intent. Dynamic Logic also offers valuable insights on what kinds of formats work best for high-consideration category campaigns.

But that still begs the question: how are online newspaper sites perceived by users in the market to buy a new or used vehicle? What is the user’s mindset in employing them, and how does he or she differentiate among auto sites when seeking information he considers trustworthy? In fleshing out this picture of online influence and the auto buyer, NAA employed comScore/MediaMetrix' nationwide panel of Internet users to offer additional insight.

In an in-depth survey of 210 people who purchased a vehicle in the past year, online newspaper classifieds rank second, just behind "branded vehicle site," as the one information source that was the most influential in respondents' search for a new or used vehicle. The print version of the newspaper followed closely in third, trailed by consumer magazines and many leading auto Web sites such as AutoTrader.com, Autobytel.com and eBay motors.

Other conclusions:

The Internet is a leading media source for vehicle shoppers.

  • Despite the plethora of vehicle auto sites available today, nearly one in five respondents that bought new cars and almost one in three used car buyers used newspaper online classifieds sites to assist them in buying a vehicle. This is an important distinction because 32 percent of auto shoppers visited two to three sites in the month prior to purchasing their vehicle, and another 28 percent of respondents said they viewed four to six sites.
  • Half of new car buyers indicated that an Internet site other than an online newspaper classified site helped them make a decision about their purchase — 34 percent of used car buyers said the same. (*Note that cars.com in this case would have to be considered "other" than an online newspaper classifieds site.)
Offline sources also contribute to the decision making process.
  • When asked what ONE source online car shoppers considered most influential in their purchase decision, they selected branded vehicle sites (12 percent) followed closely by newspaper online classifieds (10 percent). Each ranked higher than online sites like AutoTrader.com and KelleyBlueBook.com. When responses citing newspapers online and offline were combined on the "influence" question, the number jumps to 18 percent (19 percent including cars.com), higher than even "Branded Vehicle Sites" and second only to the unnamed "Other."
  • The most popular offline source for new car buyers was the print version of a paper, while used car buyers preferred a weekly newspaper or shopper.
  • Other key influences were dealers and friends & family.
Brands matter to online car shoppers.
  • More than half (54 percent) of the respondents visited a branded vehicle site.
  • KelleyBlueBook.com and Autotrader.com were visited by 49 percent and 35 percent of respondents respectively.
  • While cars.com shows strong recognition among respondents, it would take a combination of cars.com and more generic online newspaper classifieds to reach 43.9 percent.
Of course, a picture paints a thousand datapoints, so we also offer case studies of how the auto buyer may be targeted online by his or her behavior with special offers and arresting creative messages. Combining print and online newspapers for promotions also has proven to be effective for some leading marketers, and we'll share their experiences on how they used the medium to best effect.

And, finally, we compare the audience research results of NAA's major online consumer users study, performed by MORI Research of Minneapolis, and those of CNW's purchase funnel. Not surprisingly, they agree that the online newspaper reader is an affluent, attractive marketing target.

Taken together, we hope these data might combine to forge a convincing case for marketers to consider:

  • Combining print and online newspaper campaigns to add a multiplier factor that can exceed 100 percent.
  • Tapping the creativity of rich media to deliver brand messages to online newspaper shoppers — not just on newspaper car sites, but away from the clutter of these typical placements, as facilitated by behavioral targeting. Relevance engenders results. And creativity can counter the turnoff the user might otherwise feel for more intrusive ad units.
  • Using one of the newspaper industry's networks to accomplish one-order/one-bill buying, or search by Adconnections.org to fill in the gaps.

    We delight in opening a dialog with marketers so that they will more proactively share their case studies with us using the "Share an Idea" form on the Adconnections.org Web site or perhaps by joining one of our conference panels. Our goal is to be a resource to bring buyers and sellers of online advertising together. NAA doesn't sell or place online advertising, but can tap the more than 850 online executives in the New Media Federation for help in brainstorming creative solutions. We welcome advertisers and online newspaper marketer participation in this process.

    Access the report.