Memo Pad: Start Your Engines for Auto Ads... A Visionaire A Day...

Could a rebound in automotive advertising rev up in the fourth quarter?

START YOUR ENGINES: Could a rebound in automotive advertising rev up in the fourth quarter? As the year comes to a close, there’s more optimism in Detroit compared with last fall. “The mood was very dark last year at this time,” said Paul Caine, president of Time Inc.’s Entertainment Group, which encompasses People, People StyleWatch, People en Español, In Style, Essence and Entertainment Weekly. “We were talking about bailouts and doomsday. We didn’t even have a federal bailout in place. This year I’m seeing much more sunshine.”

Through the first three quarters of this year, auto advertising in magazines fell 42 percent to $673 million, according to figures from Publishers Information Bureau. In that time, promotions for cars focused on short-term incentives to move cars off lots, such as the government’s Cash for Clunkers program. Such ads got plenty of play on television and in newspapers. “The first part of the year was focused on what they call the lower part of the funnel,” said Wayne Powers, president of Time Inc. Media Group. “Automakers were speaking to the consumer in a tactical way. What they realized was that there was this whole conception that auto [brands] were losing their identities. They wanted to get back to differentiating themselves.”

Post-Cash for Clunkers, auto brands are turning toward corporate branding initiatives. And several new models are getting major fanfare, such as the Chevy Camaro and Ford Taurus.

To wit, Ford, which spends nearly $1.5 billion annually on advertising, recently told Automotive News it would increase its marketing budget by up to 20 percent in the fourth quarter, as part of the second phase of its “Drive One” campaign. General Motors said it, too, is looking at more ways to market to consumers via “more social media and digital plays as we get closer to direct customer dialogues and further away from ‘carpet-bombing national ad buys,’” said John McDonald, a General Motors Detroit spokesman. And after shuttering a few underperforming models, the company is putting more ad dollars behind its individual brands. That could equate to more advertising across magazines and Web sites.

Some titles are already seeing a boost. GQ pulled in 13 percent more auto ad pages in November and will carry 11 pages in its January issue compared with five this year. Men’s Journal’s November issue will carry Lincoln on its back cover. At Rodale, Women’s Health will carry 10 pages in its December issue, compared with three in last year’s issue. Time Inc.’s Powers said the company’s automotive business will be up “significantly” compared with last quarter. And Hearst magazines is poised to pull in 75 percent more ad pages across its portfolio of brands in the fourth quarter than the same period in 2008, or 64.75 pages. In fact, Hearst’s executive vice president, chief marketing officer and publishing director Michael Clinton said six of its magazines — Cosmopolitan; Country Living; Good Housekeeping; House Beautiful; O, the Oprah Magazine, and Marie Claire — will report better numbers for their December issues than last year.

— Stephanie D. Smith

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