The South African automotive industry is among those most frequently impacted by the smallest conditional shifts within the country. When things are going well, consumers have more money to buy locally manufactured vehicles and when Eskom lets the lights go out manufacturing can grind to a halt. The commercialisation of electric vehicle technology in South Africa is also going to have a long-term impact on the performance of several local plants.
While local sales have slumped in recent years due to the economic crunch felt by consumers, good news has recently given new hope to the export half of the market with businesslive.co.za reporting “a potential R60bn could be invested by SA’s vehicle manufacturers and component makers in the next five years” and businesstech.co.za reporting that “South Africa on track for record vehicle exports”. But will this be enough to make up for the shortfall in local sales which shows few signs of improvement?
The motor industry as a whole is suffering from a poor global economy and tariffs dispute between America and China with potential extension of that market unrest between America, the EU and Mexico (where several major manufacturers operate out of to cut labour costs). Manufacturers operating out of South Africa specifically have concerns regarding the country’s stability and the poor economic spending power of consumers as well as power grid stability.
To counteract slumping in-store sales car manufacturers and their dealers are turning increasingly to a more cost effective form of marketing to try and get the message across that in a tight economy, their brand has the best solution. Some in the industry have relied on attractive websites and existing brand strength, such as Volkswagen and Honda, limiting their search and display advertising to smaller budgets and simple banners.
This Spartan approach to their online marketing would likely only work for them. As two of the most popular local brands (along with Toyota and Nissan) they can rely on most car buying South Africans to search for their brands by name if they don’t see an ad to click on. Due to the sheer volume of their vehicles in the country entering the used car market, exposure is also a key element and it’s not one that their competitors can counter with passivity.
It can be said of most South African divisions of large manufacturers however that many have been caught like a bunny in the headlights when it comes to digital marketing. Traffic and engagement remain unfalteringly low for all but the already established brands.
Let’s Look at Some Examples
Below we have some comparative traffic numbers for Honda, the now discontinued Chrysler, Fiat, VW and Volvo over the period of a year. Honda, despite some highs and lows retains a relatively stable average over the course of a year. VW appears as a somewhat distant but relatively stable second while Fiat and Volvo perform little to no better than the abandoned Chrysler website.
Mixing it up a little below it’s apparent that those with the lower brand recognition who don’t pursue a strong online marketing presence also perform on par with Chrysler. Renault stands out but Subaru, Kia and Peugeot are nowhere to be found. Renault’s slight bump here is likely due in some part to their display advertising. Renault, in general, appears to focus more on paid marketing tactics such as search and display than their ‘on tier’ competitors and it’s working for them.
On the other hand their marketing budget doesn’t appear to be that high which means that were a competitor to dedicate a real effort to their own online campaign Renault could quickly find itself losing this narrow margin. Below we get a further indication of paid media spend and effectiveness, with Peugeot, Fiat and Subaru with little to show for whatever efforts they may be putting into a digital strategy. It’s worth noting once more though that even though Kia and Renault are performing better, the degree to which they’re doing so is tenuous.
Zooming in on the ‘all traffic’ window again over Jun 2018 – May 2019 we get a clearer picture of Renault’s complete performance against same tier competitors.
So what are Subaru, Peugeot and Fiat doing wrong?
For one thing, although Fiat does some display advertising, Subaru and Peugeot do little to none and their search campaigns are limited to the degree where it becomes difficult to ascertain their actual scope. Subaru, Peugeot and Fiat have nice looking websites with varying degrees of emphasis on user experience. Fiat’s is very user-friend but has little to no content onsite in which to place critical keywords or run search ads to.
Peugeot’s site is not particularly pretty and gives an impression of being a financial or money lending site at first glance. While it’s easy enough to find the car model you might be looking for more information on there’s little more than technical specs once you get to the car’s page. The site doesn’t do anything to tell the browser what that particular model excels at, what it’s known for or why they should care.
Subaru has a nice looking website that’s quite user-friendly and even has a news section for posting content. Part of their trouble is that they don’t. Publications are infrequent and far from optomised for online searches. They dropped a lot of content in June and a single article in September with nothing else to show for the year on their News page.
The link to real sales
While there are many causes for poor sales numbers to consider there’s a clear pattern here as well.
According to the sales figures from NUMSA the same manufacturers not engaging in digital promotion are seeing lagging sales figures while those who already enjoy powerful brand recognition such as Toyota, VW and Nissan take the lions share of the market. For the lesser known brands to make it in South Africa they need to create an image, claim a niche in the public’s eye and this isn’t something that happens on it’s own.
How the SA market has misused display marketing and programmatic
The topic of the incorrect use of programmatic buying in the SA market crops up from time to time and I have learnt that clients and, more frighteningly, agencies do not know exactly how programmatic nor how real time bidding works (it is very complex.) In fact, in many cases a lot of client money has been wasted on so called ‘private networks’ and in the worse case the networks or agencies have benefitted at the expense of the client.
It comes up in the news as well occasionally sometimes highlighting a variety of large, and medium corporations that have found their online display advertising appearing on sites that are not right for the brand. This includes ‘fake news’ sites, but also includes sites with content that brands don’t want to be associated with such as politics, violence and adult content.
Essentially, one of the questions asked should be, “how did my advertising partner allow my adverts to appear on these sites? What brand protection was in place for advertising? And, what measures and filters should or have been added to avoid this in future?”
Looking at the issue in context as an example
Let’s also look at where the fault may lie by looking at another example to put it in perspective. After shopping around for a while I go to the dealership with what I think is the best offer, and buy myself a nice new car. The dealership gives me all the assurances that the car is safe, performs as intended and it’s going to get me to point B. I glide out of the showroom, and all the electronics fail at the first red light. Was it me? Am I responsible?
I don’t think I deserve the blame for breaking the car. I’m just a consumer, the end-user. Now, a lot of people would suggest that the dealership is directly to blame for not testing the vehicle, or for not having the means to test it. But, if this sort of failure happens with that particular car all the time, then perhaps the manufacturer bears more responsibility. You’ve probably guessed that in this example, I’m the brand, the dealership is the marketing agency and the manufacturer is the wider online ad network (of which Google is a large player).
For the sake of simplicity, the dealership should have test driven the car themselves (programmatic management) to ensure that the customer was positioned to reach their destination in it (better quality brand safe sites).
Basic Steps for display Brand Safety
I will highlight a few simple brand safety measure that should be followed, and one of them is NOT just relying on the ad networks inbuilt filters to block inappropriate content, as these may not be adequate especially if the ad network used is a ‘private agency network’, a smaller network or even a white label of a poorer quality network!
Again the use of a mature known engine like Double Click ensure that the filters they employ (while still fallible) are constantly being evolved, improved regularly due to the size and learnings that network has. Here are just a few quick wins when it comes to brand protection.
1) Actively use the brand safety filters and customise them!
In my business we start off by ensuring the brand safety features are active and we get into them manually. Using pre-set features within DoubleClick (which has by far the most robust and advancing filters) is a start, not the end of it. Google includes validation steps. In this way if your client is selling cars, you build protections against themes like “crash” and “accident”. Simply negative targeting a word is insufficient, you have to build out themes around that content as site may refer to automobile accidents or traffic fatalities….
2) Add another layer of protection
We also look at verification software, programs like Moat, comScore and DoubleVerify which doesn’t only enhance brand safety but increases ad effectiveness and allows clients to also see where inventory is being served, whether it is being seen by a human, a bot, or even served behind site content!
3) Actual impressions payed for
Billable impressions are the number of impressions that reached the intended or guaranteed audience. In a campaign with an audience guarantee, impressions that don’t reach the agreed upon audience (as defined by Nielsen, comScore, vCE, or other 3rd party) will not be charged for. This paves the way for Exchanges and Networks to ensure the correct labelling of audiences and delivery thereof of the correct ads.
The agency should be managing all of this, not simply buying up inventory wherever it’s available but what often happens is that, despite having access to one of the most accurate tools in digital display, there ends up being a spray-and-pray approach. Programmatic buy and referred deals are also a good strategy to mix into your campaign to ensure that your placements are on quality sites. And while manually blacklisting sites is a good idea, it’s also great to whitelist sites you would prefer to work through.
Programmatic done right should be relevant and add value
Programmatic has many emerging benefits such as omnichannel targeting and measurement, increased relevance and efficiency as well as reducing media costs (wastage). However it is not perfect, and does require skilled knowledgeable management in order to limit ad fraud and the risk of ads appearing alongside undesirable site content.
Despite a few lingering technical and philosophical challenges, a lot more is going right than wrong. The digital marketing space is tightening and enhancing customer targeting everyday to make ads more relevant, more useful to the consumer, and therefore less costly to the client. Today we can serve ads to any specific demographic, area, at any specific time. We can instantly adjust live campaigns to take into account special events new messaging without missing a beat, or remind you the day after you abandoned your shopping cart that you meant to buy that new pair of adidas, and there’s still a set left in your size.
However, all of this takes active and skilled management by the agencies and clients running the campaigns. To get this sort of granular marketing right takes a lot of work, system understanding and training. By no means should programmatic display have a “get it live and let it just run” mentality.
Simply put programmatic display is NOT only the placing of display banners on selected websites, this is display marketing circa 2004! Programmatic display marketing requires audience management, real time bidding, relevant content and expert management to succeed effectively
Artificial intelligence is all around us, and it’s no surprise that Google is at the forefront of its innovation and advancement. Google Lens is the company’s major investment into the AI space and it merges perfectly with its core search function.
Introduced to the world in 2017, Google Lens is image recognition technology developed by Google itself. It gives smartphone users the ability to find out more information about something they see by snapping a picture of it. Using visual based machine learning, it can identify and subsequently serve the user relevant information about the contents of the image. What’s more, the technology doesn’t only serve information on objects, but also barcodes, QR codes, labels and pieces of text.
Available on both Android and iOs, Google Lens has recently added features such as the ability to read handwriting, identify landmarks, plants and animals, and copy text. This year, Google has announced that even more features are to come, including the ability to recognize and recommend menu items, as well as split bills and figure out tips.
As Google Lens is essentially the newest edition to search engine marketing, how can companies optimise their online content for it? While Google Lens hasn’t receive full adoption by all consumers yet, it certainly won’t hurt to be prepared for this advancement in search marketing. Below are just a few ways to get your website prepared:
Ensure branding imagery is on point: From logos to signs, ensure your brand imagery is high quality and clearly visible. This makes your company easier to be picked up and your information served on Google Lens.
Fill in all alt tags: As imagery is your most important tool when it comes to Google Lens, all alt tags must be completed in detail.
Optimize photo data: Adding to the basics of your image information will help the platform to serve more relevant information to users. On top of image size, date, time and coordinates, use unique, high quality images, use the JPEG format, use appropriate image sizes for your website and add captions that are as descriptive as possible.
By 2018, Google Lens was officially available on both Pixel and non-Pixel phones via the Google Photos app on iOS, in Google Assistant and on the Google app. Languages it supports include; English, spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, German and Korean. This makes it clear how heavily invested Google is in the AI industry, making access to information simpler by the day.
Many of today’s successful technology companies like Google, Facebook, Netflix and Amazon are focused on building collaborative environments. Why? Because of greater productivity and creativity.
I’ve read somewhere that one of the biggest trends this year and the next in content marketing is more active engagement outside the silo. In an industry that is quickly evolving, this is essential for a culture of continuous improvement.
Far too many marketing agencies still maintain school playground dynamics; the content producers are huddled in one corner, the PPC’ers in the other, and the Display team somewhere in the middle. This tribalism can easily result into either a popularity contest about which department is the “cool kids table” or into a sort of communal disinterest in what others are up to.
This is perhaps unavoidable in large corporates but luckily at TMI, we’ve learned that giving support, input, sharing resources, and approaching others for information has enabled different departments to be creative and solve problems together.
To quote Rick Bosch, Head of Earned at TMI: “At TMI we have a knowledge sharing culture, meaning we work together, closely. This covers more than just a single department or discipline. Besides working closely across numerous departments, we also work closely with our clients. From hotdesking in their offices, to upskilling internal marketing teams in the latest digital trends and techniques, we don’t keep our knowledge to ourselves, we share it.”
The bar for quality continues to rise as the technology used to create and publish campaigns and content improve. Content marketing, for example, becoming more automated, customised and multichannel. This means that where content producers used to think creatively to produce online material, they might also need an analytical input of the Search and Display specialists to offer value to the target audience.
Here’s a very likely scenario: a new client hires us to execute and manage a PPC campaign for their launch. After two years of a successful PPC partnership, the client upgrades to content as well. The content team is ready to woo the client with their creativity, and whilst it’s all good to have them let their imaginations run wild, how can they make sure their content addresses the problems, questions and desires of the brand’s target audience?
The Search and Display specialists have already pinpointed the client’s marketing and advertising needs, which means they have the data to identify content opportunities.
Each marketing department in the agency has different ways of attracting, engage and convert the client’s customers – and will be able to offer varying insights into the requirements and expectations in terms of the content that will communicate value to the audience.
The point is, every client success story isn’t credited only to a few rock stars in the agency or a single, best performing team, but on the objectives that align different departments to work together. When we extend involvement on a campaign to more people, we enable clients to tap into a deeper pool of ideas, knowledge and skills.
Almost like assembling our very own Avengers team of superheroes.
Remember the note that WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum kept taped on his desk: “No ads! No games! No gimmicks?”
Well, it seems WhatsApp is backing off on its promise and will begin to slot ads after all, replacing the dropped WhatsApp subscription fee as a revenue stream for its parent company, Facebook.
The unveiling comes on the back of WhatsApp’s debut last year of its Business API. That service enabled businesses to answer customers’ queries via automated messages. While customers could limit the messages they received from business, they will not be able to skip or block status display advertising.
How WhatsApp Ads will work
WhatsApp users worldwide will be able to view full-screen ads shown in-between friends’ status updates. Launched in 2017, the Status feature allows users to share photos, videos and GIFs that live on the section for 24 hours
It is likely that Facebook Ads will be a blueprint for WhatsApp advertising channel, serving up personalised content to users based on their profile, device use information and off-Facebook activity.
There is the question, however, of how well brands and consumers will react to the app’s monetisation. Businesses and digital agencies are always on the lookout for the next big marketing channel to reach as many people as they can, but consumers still regard WhatsApp as a secure, private communication platform between their close friends and family. Targeted ads could be a form of violation of the platform’s end-to-end encryption privacy principles, which might be turning users off.
With 1.5 billion users, WhatsApp will have great potential for sales and brand awareness. What will work in brands’ favour is the brevity of the feature; viewers can move on quickly as possible when presented with an ad. However, brands will need to take a strategic approach to their creative and targeted messaging in order for their investment in this uncharted territory to really pay off in the end. It will be all about determining how to make those few seconds to their disposal count.
Social networks have grown more crowded and for brands looking to break away from the noise and find a new way to be seen or discovered, WhatsApp could be the ideal solution. What’s more, advertisers will also not view their Facebook News Feed budget separately from their WhatsApp ad budget as they might be able to use Facebook for automatic placement on WhatsApp. Its success will depend on whether the company can prove that brands and customers will benefit from valuable interactions. In the end, brands will only start planning their paid advertising budgets around WhatsApp once they have a clearer picture of the rewards they will get out of the platform.