If it's got a screen, automakers want to advertise on it.
The top 10 automakers among Ad Age's 100 Leading National Advertisers continued their rapid shift to new forms of digital advertising last year, plowing $5.82 billion into unmeasured disciplines, a category that includes search-engine marketing, online videos and social media. That was up 34% from 2011.
But they're also showing enduring faith in the American couch potato. Those 10 advertisers spent about $6.25 billion on all kinds of TV ads last year, up 7.3% from 2011, according to Kantar Media data.
"If you have a big launch, you need to be in television," said Ian Beavis, exec VP of Nielsen Co.'s global automotive group.
Honda Motor Co. recorded the biggest increase in overall spending (29%) among automakers last year. The Accord launch—billed as the brand's largest ever by American Honda's marketing boss Mike Accavitti — helped boost American Honda's TV ad spending 27% to $649.2 million in 2012. Nissan's TV budget grew 33% to $638.3 million to support the Altima launch.
TV and outdoor advertising were the only growth areas in the top 10 auto advertisers' measured media, a category that also includes newspapers, magazines, radio and internet display ads. Overall spending on these formats rose just 2% to hit $8.26 billion last year at the 10 largest automaker advertisers.
Ed Beadle, manager of media strategy for the Honda and Acura brands, said the automaker broadened its media planning this year with a "video-neutral" approach, meaning it would build awareness across a variety of video-based media.
Select cable shows also draw big, committed audiences who engage with programming online. Hyundai has had a regular campaign aligned with AMC's "The Walking Dead," which has become a top-rated program in the coveted 18-to-24-year-old demographic.
Overall, the automotive industry, including dealers, spent $16.15 billion on measured-media advertising last year, up 6% from 2011.
General Motors outspent all other automakers, laying out $3.07 billion on measured plus unmeasured spending last year, second only to Procter & Gamble. With new agencies in place, GM is in the midst of launching 13 new or redesigned Chevy models.
Ford, which in 2011 became the first in the industry to spend more on unmeasured advertising than traditional ads, widened the gap last year. Campaigns with major social-media components helped push unmeasured spending to roughly 53% of the total.