On the latest edition of Ad Age’s “Marketer’s Brief” podcast, Evans makes his case as to why Google is not efficient. His arguments include findings detailed in a report by auto industry consultant Brian Pasch that concludes that dealers are not effectively measuring Google search ad results. Notably, Pasch argues that leads generated via search ads often are simply calls to a dealer for service requests—not calls about buying cars. “Google Ads generates a mix of sales and service shoppers, with most conversion outcomes for service,” according to the report.
The upshot, Evans says, is that Google ads are overpriced, and have “reduced the efficiency of what you think you can do with Google on paid search and search engines today. It’s just mind-blowing.”
In a response to an inquiry from Ad Age about the report, Google stated: “This report contains inaccurate statements. Our sales teams help auto agencies, dealerships and OEMs [automakers] deliver relevant messages to car shoppers at scale and connect Google Ads investments to dealerships’ business goals. We are dedicated to their ongoing success and provide immense resources, training, and support to agencies who directly manage their clients’ campaigns and reporting.”
A Google representative referenced its “Dealer Guidebook,” which includes one case study that states a Chevrolet dealer used the company’s Smart Bidding product to optimize spend that led to a 185% increase in-store visits.
What about the Super Bowl?
Evans’ advice to automakers and dealers is to focus more ad dollars on people who are actually shopping for cars. TV, he says, is typically not the place to do that. “If you really want to have a competitive advantage as an [auto brand], be marketing in front of the people shopping every day, and make that a priority in the marketing mix. Don’t spend it all on TV,” he says.
Cars.com launched Fuel in 2020, positioning the digital video ad service as a better alternative to what it says was $9.7 billion spent on TV advertising in the U.S. auto market. “More than 50% of U.S. automotive advertising spend goes to traditional, untargeted TV — well above the global industry average across all categories—even though consumers are spending more time on mobile devices than on traditional TV consuming content from a variety of social platforms and streaming apps,” Cars.com stated at the time.
Of course, Evans spent plenty of dollars on TV while CMO at Hyundai from 2015 to 2019, when he departed for Cars.com. He says TV still works—if used right. TV ads should “stay above the fray of everyday selling” and focus on inspiring people, he says. “Beneath the covers you are marketing like hell,” he says, referring to digital tactics that directly target people who are actively shopping for cars.
Evans also still believes in Super Bowl ads. “Once in a while you’ve got to be in front of everyone to tell them your point of view— make them laugh, make them cry,” he says. “Not to mention, consumers all know it takes big, swinging budgets to be [on the Super Bowl]. So if you’ve got a big swinging budget, you must be kind of big enough for me to want to pay attention. And so there is some ‘psychological-ness’ to … being there.”