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How are car brands performing on social?

The strongest auto brands on social media – and why they’re succeeding

Like all of us, carmakers have been doing it tough for the last couple of years. Most obviously, the global pandemic that shall not be named has affected sales – with numbers falling by 23% during 2020. Although revenue is forecasted to increase by a modest 3.7% in 2021-22 and continue to grow over the next five years, that’s not necessarily a given – particularly with ongoing uncertainty around outbreaks and lockdowns.

The changing face of advertising has also had an impact on the industry. With so many consumers turning away from traditional television in favour of streaming services and people spending more and more time online, car brands need more than just the cinematic, big-budget car TVC in their marketing toolkits. To succeed today, these brands need to shift gear and focus on investing in digital advertising, social media marketing – and being culturally relevant.

Of course, some brands have pivoted more gracefully than others.

Automotive advertising in New Zealand

The automotive category is intensely competitive, with brands – and big budgets – clamouring for attention across social media.

Delving into Zavy’s data for the category, one brand stands out from the crowd: Toyota. Over the past year, the brand has come out on top in terms of social media performance – beating out rival brands like Ford or BMW.

The graph below shows the overall Zavy scores of automotive brands in New Zealand over the past twelve months.

Zavy ranks Toyota at Number 1 for performance on Facebook, Number 2 on Instagram and Number 3 on YouTube. That Facebook ranking is key – because the platform has such a powerful reach, it puts Toyota way above its competition.

The brand also outperformed its rivals in engagement and sentiment – two key measures of success on social. It received four times as many shares as other car brands and connected with its audience on an emotional level with second equal ranking in sentiment. 

Overall, Toyota achieved a Zavy score of 332 – with 100 being an average score for the automotive category. We’re comfortable calling it a stand-out performance.

Behind the scenes of a successful brand

There’s no single factor that accounts for Toyota’s success in the automotive category. The brand seems to have done the hard yards in its switch to digital, posting frequently across multiple platforms and working with partners to produce different types of content. These strategies, along with strong creative work and smart tie-ins with big cultural moments, helped it surge ahead despite the challenges of the last 18 months. 

Riding the wave with cultural moments

Cultural moments can be a big driver of engagement on social – Zavy’s research shows that it can boost engagement by 7X – and if brands can come along for the ride, they benefit from that enthusiasm. Toyota did just that with two major sporting events in 2021, sponsoring the New Zealand Olympics team and Emirates Team New Zealand in the America’s Cup challenge.

It was able to tap into positive sentiment around the Olympics, speaking credibly about supporting New Zealand Olympians and associating its brand with the team’s success. The strategy paid off – with a single post about kayak superstar Lisa Carrington gaining a 56% positive sentiment score along with 3,300 likes.

Similarly, aligning the brand with the high performance, high-tech, high excitement America’s Cup bid was a winner – particularly with the event happening in Auckland. Kiwis got really invested in the event, and Toyota was able to hook its brand onto that key cultural moment.

Frequency, positivity, partnerships

Toyota was the most frequent poster in the automotive category, which helped it achieve the highest overall engagement numbers – with four times as many shares as other auto brands. This frequency and engagement correlated with the positive sentiment on the majority of its posts.

Partnering with other brands also proved effective, driving positive comments and conversations about the brand across digital media, social platforms and blog posts. One promotional post with ZM radio created record engagement, attracting over 2000 comments.

Strong creative still matters

Advertising may have changed significantly over the past few years, but thoughtful, engaging creative can still be powerful – as Toyota proved last year. Zavy’s analysis shows that the most popular ad from any brand – not just automotive – in the past 12 months was a Toyota Hilux TVC.

Although the ad originally aired on TV, it was also promoted online and shared on social media. With almost 300,000 views, 4000 likes and 1000+ comments on Facebook alone, it clearly resonated with consumers.

Comments like “This ad is awesome. I wanted to rewind and watch again. Not normally something I feel the need to do with ads. Great work Toyota!” and “Certainly a great advert for Toyota. Am so pleased my vehicle of choice is a Toyota. Love it.” reflected the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the creative.

Success in a radically changed world

It’s clear that, even in a radically altered advertising climate, Toyota still knows how to grab customer attention. Frequent posts, strong partnerships, tapping into cultural moments – and a touch of old-school ad creative – helped it drive engagement, boost sentiment and shoot ahead of other brands in the automotive category. 

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