Measuring success from digital advertising is particularly challenging in industries where, historically, purchases are made offline. A clear example is the automotive sector where three main challenges consistently arise.

Rapidly changing car buying habits 

As times change so do our car buying habits. There has been a seismic shift in how we purchase cars, our research window has reduced dramatically, the number of brands we consider has increased substantially and therefore, the window of influence for the advertiser has diminished significantly. The way people buy cars is now more similar to how people buy a mobile phone. They pick a car, they pick their finance option and off they go. 

Traditionally, advertisers had a window of up to twelve weeks to entice and persuade customers. Now that this window has decreased to a meagre two weeks, advertisers are under a lot more pressure to generate sales. Alongside this, advertisers also face issues with competition. Consumers are not as loyal to one brand, making the advertiser’s job of keeping the consumer interested a lot harder.

This shift in car buying habits has not only changed how advertisers have to work, it also makes the measurement of successful car sales difficult using traditional online measurement metrics. According to AutoTrader, 61% of new car buyers walk into dealerships as the initial contact, so a large proportion won’t pre-book test drive online. Therefore, measuring the success of advertising through test drive bookings doesn’t truly reflect the performance of digital marketing.  

Traditional methods of offline data collection

The difficulty of data collection in automotive lies in non-effective, traditional methods of success measurement. Cars are predominantly bought offline therefore, the data collected as key indicators of sale success are brochure downloads and test drives. However, the amount of content available digitally to potential car buyers means a brochure download is arguably irrelevant. 

Unreliable third-party data 

Third party data is widely used amongst companies who are trying to reach their consumers programmatically. But, by opting to use third-party data to build scale instead of a first or second party, the data runs a larger risk of being unreliable. This is because most third-party data will criteria their consumers differently and not as efficiently as a first and second party. For example, third-party data tells us that 1.2 million people are in the market to buy a Honda Civic. Whilst this data may seem like a big win for Honda, it is more than likely wrong, and won’t help them target their audience efficiently and correctly. Another big issue in this is the transparency of that data. How was this defined? Where has it come from? 

This doesn’t mean that digital isn’t a fundamental part of the overall marketing mix. Programmatic, with its targeting capabilities and performance efficiencies, is clearly going to be the bedrock of digital activity. What we are now seeing is a shift in the way marketers are looking at this key area.

The use of high quality, non-assumptive data

A lot of third-party data is unreliable and non-reflective because it is too assumptive but, as programmatic has evolved, there is now high quality, non-assumptive data available. Outside of using first-party data to retarget a website’s visitors, there is first and second party data available that can define in-market buyers and their next car purchase requirements that are a world away from the capabilities of third-party data. 

But, by knowing the best third-party data suppliers and using their best data to supplement first-party data, you can start to do some really interesting things. Examples include separating genuine in-market buyers from petrol heads who just like reading up on cars and identifying the different types of prospective car buyers. Which buyers are buying cars based on their family needs and which are buying for in-car tech or engine performance?   


With the introduction of strict data collection policies, the implementation of GDPR will help weed out poor quality data suppliers and bring legitimate data to the fore. Third party data sources will reduce in number, less reliable data will be eradicated, and it will be much easier for the automotive sector to gain niche, reflective and applicable data about their in-market buyers and sales success. 

Move out of the market norm 

Programmatic is now a mature part of the marketing mix, and the key part that is being left behind is the world of third-party data. Now is the time for businesses to be clean, clear and transparent in helping marketers achieve their business objectives. 

We should continue to challenge our views on what success looks like both in the way users buy cars as well as how technology can allow us to monitor digital impact against offline purchase.