Langley Steinart, founder and CEO of CarGurus.com, an auto enthusiast and buying-information website, made the suggestion following a six-month study of new-vehicle shoppers on CarGurus that showed 62% of the pages viewed were of photos and videos instead of articles, user reviews, specifications or pricing.
"The internet is becoming a more visual medium," he told Advertising Age. "Cars are a very emotional and expensive purchase. Automakers have to connect with consumers emotionally."
Online shoppers "first and foremost want videos," said Mr. Langley, ex-chairman and co-founder of TripAdvisor.com, which was sold to Expedia in 2004 for $210 million.
He said he personally visited 15 auto brand sites he linked to from online ads elsewhere. On the landing pages, he was dismayed to find charts comparing car models. Mr. Steinart said he also found lots of text and lists of vehicle features on the linked landing pages. "You have to fall in love with the car visually," he said. "Are you going to fall in love over braking power?"
Automakers generally do a good job with their online photo galleries, although Mr. Steinart said he would like to see them expanded. "Instead of just five photos, I'd have 50 of the interior and 50 of the outside of the car."
CarGurus.com reports nearly 500,000 unique visitors monthly for all areas of its site, which includes blogs, editorial content and shopping for new or used vehicles or parts and accessories. Mr. Steinart said he had "no way of knowing" the demographics of the shoppers on his site who were covered in the research, saying they "cut across all ages." He also did not reveal how many of CarGurus.com' unique visitors were shopping for a new vehicle and thus counted in the research from March through August 2007.
Different types of sites
Ian Beavis, VP-marketing of Kia Motors America, said consumers have different reasons for visiting enthusiast sites and carmakers' sites. He said visitors to third-party auto sites are generally in the very early stages of buying a new car. "They're basically grazing," he said.
An "inordinate number of people" are car enthusiasts, and as such they are just looking for pictures. "They are not buying a car," said Mr. Beavis. By the time consumers get to an automaker's site, they have pretty much decided on the brand and are getting into details, he said.
Nearly half the visitors to Kia.com configure a new vehicle -- picking options packages or transmissions, for instance -- or look for a local dealer or want a dealer to contact them, Mr. Beavis said. Kia's surveys showed some visitors want more pictures, while others want more data.
"It's a balancing act," he said, so Kia aims for easy navigation so consumers can find what they want.
Kia's site has photo galleries once a visitor clicks on a specific model.
Jenny Howell, manager of interactive marketing at American Honda Motor Co., said carmakers need text plus videos and photos. She said photos have traditionally been one of the most popular sections on Honda.com and Acura.com.
Honda.com was redone in July by RPA, Santa Monica. The new site trimmed text and started video introductions accessible on the home page, she said. While photos and videos have always been important, they are becoming more popular due to increased broadband usage.