Car buyers put wheels in motion

While the motor trade celebrates record August sales figures, marketers are soberly studying the trends. It seems direct mail advertising scored poorly compared with other media, while TV ads – which tend to feature new models – appealed to do

Six per cent of drivers were expecting to buy a new or secondhand car, or to get one from their company, during August 1996. As NOP calculates that principal drivers make up about half of all adults over 17 years old in Great Britain, this represents more than 1 million cars changing hands last month.

Purchase intention is split equally between people currently owning new and secondhand cars, and between company and private motorists. A further 22 per cent of drivers expect to acquire a car in the next 12 months, another 28 per cent in the next two years.

Sixty-six per cent of company car drivers have cars which were bought new, compared with 24 per cent of private owners; and a third, compared with a fifth of private owners, expect to replace their car in the next 12 months.

Company sales therefore supply a disproportionate number of new cars, passing recent-registration used cars to the private market and supplying the impetus for secondhand car exchange throughout the purchase chain.Twenty-seven per cent of drivers had acquired a new or used car in the past 12 months. The under-35s are more likely than other drivers both to have bought a car in the past year and to be intending to buy in the next 12 months, perhaps because this age group experiences the most rapid change in affluence and lifestyle, prompting change of car.

Advertising awareness

More than 35 car marques were named as advertising during July 1996, nine were named by ten per cent or more drivers and a further 15 by two per cent or more. Forty-five per cent recalled Ford ads, making it the clear leader. Vauxhall with 29 per cent, Renault at 27 per cent and Peugeot at 26 per cent were the only other campaigns remembered by a quarter of the sample. Rover, Citroë, Nissan, BMW and Volvo scored between ten and 19 per cent.

Car ads appear to have more impact on men than women. Men tend to recall more ads and make up the majority of recall for the less prominent marques. The skew is particularly marked for BMW and Daewoo, men being nearly three times more likely than women to remember these ads, and the bias holds across the top ten marques recalled, with the exception of Renault, Peugeot and Citroë.

ABC1 drivers are more conscious of car advertising than C2DEs, perhaps because they are twice as likely to be driving new as opposed to secondhand cars. Of the ten marques with the highest recall levels, only Ford, Nissan and Vauxhall have higher recall levels among down-market than upmarket drivers.

Recall of direct mail

Twenty-seven per cent of drivers remember receiving a direct mailshot promoting a car during the previous month. This rose to 37 per cent of company and new car drivers, although there was no significant increase in recall among people intending to buy in the next year, or who had bought in the past year. A total of 25 marques were named as mailing, but only eight were given by two per cent or more of the sample.

Recall order is very similar to that of advertising awareness, with Ford leading the line-up at nine per cent. BMW is the only marque not to figure in the top ten for both advertising and mailing recall, its place is taken by Honda.

Car purchase activities

All respondents were asked which of a list of activities they had done in the past six months. A third had watched a specialist car programme on television, and a quarter had visited a car showroom or dealer. Sixteen per cent had bought a local newspaper for dealer or classified advertising, compared with nine per cent buying a specialist car magazine. Eight per cent had taken a test drive; five per cent had been to a motor show or requested a brochure.

TV programmes and motor show visits were the only activities which were not more prevalent among recent and current buyers; these obviously fit equally into the general interest or hobby aspect of motoring as into the specific information gathering which leads up to buying a car.

Men are more likely to take a wider interest in the market than women, making up three-quarters of the readers of car magazines and car programme viewers, they are also more likely to have visited a showroom. But women are just as likely as men to have participated in the core selection activities of test driving, brochure request and local media scanning.

People who are driving new or company cars show a different set of interests from the secondhand and private motorists (who are, of course, the majority of drivers). Over a third of new/company car drivers have made dealer visits, and they are twice as likely to have taken a test drive as the private motorist; but local classified or dealer advertising plays a lesser role in their car selection.

Usefulness of ads

NOP asked everyone who was intending to replace their car in the next five years, and had some influence over its choice, to rate six forms of communication as being very, quite, or not very useful, during the purchase process.

Both local press advertising in general and local classified listings were found useful by the majority of active buyers when looking for a car, placing the medium considerably ahead of national press, TV or direct mail. Both forms of local press advertising appeal more strongly to private drivers, who are trying to locate a specific vehicle rather than just finalising their choice. Classified advertising has more appeal in the North than the South and to C2DE drivers, the profile for local press advertising in general shows less bias.

TV and national press ads jostle for third place: TV is rated very useful by slightly more people, but overall, fewer dismiss national press advertising outright.

Television – which tends to feature new models – is stronger among company and new car drivers, but also among downmarket drivers; national press has a more general appeal, and is stronger among ABC1s.

Fewer buyers find classified advertising in national newspapers and magazines as useful as the local equivalent. It is most relevant to company car drivers, who may well be searching for a particular model, and are less tied than private buyers to a convenient sales location.

Direct mail scores poorly compared with other media in the survey, although this may relate to the comparative lack of awareness and presumably exposure shown earlier. However, fewer than 40 per cent of company and new car buyers claim to find mailings useful, maintaining its position at the bottom of the chart for even its most favourable market.

Active buyers gave higher ratings to all the types of advertising. The ranking of usefulness, however, remained unchanged, except perhaps that press advertising scores more highly than TV.

This is because of its information content. National press increased its usefulness by the greatest margin, direct mail showed the smallest increase in usefulness of any of the media.

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