March 26th, 2020

Auto Industry Ramps Up Response to Coronavirus Pandemic


Ace Metrix

Still early in the COVID-19 pandemic, the auto industry is leading the charge of brands with ads responding to the crisis. We wrote about Ford’s COVID-19 efforts last week, as it was one of the first (across industries) to address the virus. Since then Hyundai, Toyota, Lincoln and GMC brands came through with similar ads offering words of encouragement and/or proactive payment options. 

In the first two months of this year — pre-plummeting stock markets and mass layoffs — on average 19% of respondents reported they would be purchasing a new (not used) vehicle in the next 6 months. Looking at the past 14 days dating back to March 11th (the day the WHO declared the Coronavirus a pandemic), that number dropped down to 16%. Not zero, but the industry is definitely aware of the challenges that lay ahead in the coming weeks and months as consumers’ auto shopping plans change.

The good news for brands across industries? There’s still plenty of opportunity to take action (and promote it) with 84% of over 2,400 consumers reporting brands have a responsibility to help out the general public in these tough times. That jumped from last week’s survey where 75% agreed. 

Additionally, consumers aren’t fatigued with Coronavirus-related messaging (yet). Comparing those same surveys, a slight increase in consumers thought “yes, any mention is ok” in regards to brands addressing the Coronavirus in advertising:

Ace Metrix COVID-19 Survey results
*Note: Consumer respondents in each survey were completely unique from the other

We recently released our Cultural Perception scoring system, which measures the risks (Exploit) and rewards (Empower) of communicating values and social objectives in these modern times. While we developed it way before COVID-19 was even a thing, it’s situations like this where we imagined brands getting the most benefit from the new measure.

As for automotive ads, those survey sentiments are echoed in Cultural Perception scores, with minimal Exploit signal fired among the ones examined further below. In fact, only one ad scored on our Exploit metric, but it wasn’t particularly alarming as it landed on the weakest end of the lowest band of signal. 

Instead, viewers have expressed much stronger positive cultural impact from this type of advertising. All auto COVID-19 ads have achieved some level of Empower signal — impressive considering only 12% of all ads score on this measure — with a majority breaking into the Solid and Strong bands (Universal Appeal):

Ace Metrix Cultural Perception Chart for auto ads with COVID-19 focus


A Closer Look at Auto Ads:

The level of Empowerment exhibited above is thanks in part to the supportive “here to help” messaging auto brands emphasized in their COVID-19 ads. Chevrolet’s “Doing Our Part” — the most empowering — took it one step further with a subtle call-to-action for consumers (not just the brand itself) to lend a “helping hand” in these challenging times. It was also the strongest performer overall with an Ace Score 16% above 90-day automotive industry norms:

Viewers welcomed the positive, uplifting messages from auto brands, with a majority of respondents choosing this element as the Single Best Things about the ads. These brands haven’t mentioned anything about charitable contributions, but they’ve offered very generous payment options for potential or current customers, like 0% APR financing for 84 months (GMC) and 6 -month payment relief (Ford). The latter, which Ford clearly communicated in “Helping Hand,” was the only Deal that stood out just as much as the Message when viewers were asked to name the Single Best Thing about the ad.

Relative to 90-day automotive industry norms, most of these spots excelled on our Information component save for Toyota’s “We Are Here For You” and Ford’s “Built for Right Now.” Toyota was the only brand that didn’t provide any information about payment offers or delivery options instead relying on emotional appeals to connect — and that it did (emotional heat map is further below).

Given the subject matter and timely responses, this crop of ads also benefited from strong Relevance and Change (new direction) components. The latter stemmed from the flexible purchasing coordination (delivery) and/or payment options each brand offered.

Information, Change and Relevance scores for auto industry COVID-19 adsLooking at emotional impact, viewers mostly connected with the Corporate Responsibility aspects of each ad, which indicates the empowering messages and forgiving payment options portrayed the brands in a compassionate light. Viewers also expressed Heartfelt responses in regards to half of the ads, with Toyota’s “We Are Here For You” earning the highest score on this metric:

Emotional heat map for auto COVID-19 ads

Also important to note in the Ace EMO heat map above, almost all of the ads were able to avoid triggering negative emotions among viewers. Ford’s “Built For Right Now” was the only one with some Signal on Awful and Inappropriate as well as Solid signal on But (internal conflict). As we already revealed in this COVID-19 update, this response was in large part due to the lack of entertaining execution in the text-only spot. It’s also what contributed to its Exploit score as viewers thought the lackluster presentation gave off an insincere feeling from Ford. 

Overall, COVID-19 responses from auto brands were met with positive reception. While advertising during sensitive times can be a risky proposition, scores on Empower show that these ads successfully connected with viewers in this somewhat discouraging and confusing cultural moment. Being among the first in the industry to address the coronavirus pandemic could fare well for these brands.



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