Chris Christodoulou
Chris Christodoulou 14 June 2019

Car Brands' Unexpected New Inspiration: From Dating Apps to Neuroscience

Car brands have embraced a new wave of digital content – taking advantage of dating apps, neuroscience techniques, customised CGI assets and more. Learn how and why.

With the rise of digital marketing, consumers are constantly being triggered by branded content—and with cars, there's no clear path to purchase anymore. Online research has completely altered the way that many prospective buyers approach the process of finding a new car, and informed buyers don't want to bother jumping through salespeople's hoops or cutting through their schemes. 

It’s no longer enough to emphasize the practical benefits of a vehicle—whether mileage, safety, or price — or to focus your lens on the sleek styling and curves of a new ride. Audiences become far more immersed in marketing that feeds into their aspirations, lifestyles, and allows for interactivity. New US-start up company, Hackrod, even allows buyers to design their own unique car using a real-time gaming engine, and have it delivered via UPS a few months later.
As a result, automotive brands are shifting their budgets — not only to newer channels, but also out of advertising. Production studios have led the way in providing innovative solutions that allow brands and their agencies to deliver more engaging content at volume to satisfy consumer appetites for a more personalised experience and customer journey. The automotive industry has needed to be time and budget conscious, which has meant turning to CG in their digital delivery and creating assets in volume to allow consumer customization via interactive websites and apps.

Making the match

Customers have come to expect swift, seamlessly integrated experiences when researching and buying products and services in other industries — and now they are demanding even more from automotive. In fact, there are indications that consumers actually associate brands and glossy advertising spend with a lack of innovation; solely relying on that way of selling cars can't help but seem old-fashioned in this day and age.
Nowadays, brands need to market an experience that goes far beyond the traditional point of purchase. Users interact with multiple devices daily, and we need to consider the context, environment, and value-add for each of these platforms in order to offer the ultimate personalised experience.
One key example of the changing face of car sales is the recently revamped website and app experience. The site’s new machine learning-powered algorithm allows users to find recommended vehicles based on their lifestyle choices, putting a humanistic new slant on the oft-rote process of buying a car.

It's like Tinder for buying cars, which comes through in the ad campaign, "We met on". Brands are advertising not only the car or its features, but rather a unique lifestyle (like a soccer mom or nudist) and the potential car that matches up. There’s even an aspirational element, as prospective buyers can wield a bit of well-meaning optimism and select the kind of lifestyle they’d like to live, in case the right ride might facilitate that shift.

Any comparison or aggregator site serves up content to the consumer using a set of filters based on their lifestyle specifications. It's here that the emotional power of imagery can make a difference. How do you, as a brand, go about drawing out the undeniably unique assets and details that can only be associated with your vehicle or brand? 

At Saddington Baynes, we have developed a neuromarketing-powered service called Engagement Insights®, capable of measuring the emotional impact of campaign assets before launch. It can identify a consumer’s nonconscious implicit reaction to imagery delivering actionable data to aid in the creation of a campaign.

We know from neuroscience research that the bigger a purchase decision, the bigger the emotional loading that goes into making that decision. We also know that most consumers buy cars based on ‘looks’ – whether colour, brand or design. We're emotionally attracted to the 'face' of the car, and almost every other feature, and we then spend time post-rationalising our decision. This is where Engagement Insights® can provide valuable insight by testing and measuring the most emotionally positive images for a brand. When the most resonant images are served up on a comparison site like, they reach the massively influential nonconscious part of the brain, where the purchase decision is ultimately made.

Carmakers need the flexibility to appeal to a wide range of consumers without crafting a bespoke campaign for each individual segment. That's where an integrated production approach with smart use of CGI techniques has proven to pay huge dividends both online and at the dealerships. This latest overhaul reflects changing attitudes in how to market vehicles – and not only are sellers making the shift, but so are brands. 

Finding the triggers

It's all about understanding the visual ingredients that distinguish one brand from another, and Engagement Insights® can reveal what those trigger points are, measuring the emotions that a creative campaign is trying to evoke. It's the perfect fusion of creativity and science, allowing for optimization of and emphasis on distinctive brand triggers that are much larger than they might seem. Consumers make brand associations from something as seemingly minor as LED tail light patterns, and it's up to marketers to sell those unique elements in a way that resonates.

Honda's largest European digital content campaign to date, Real View Test Drive, harnessed these emotional analytics by applying implicit neuroscience techniques to fine-tune a series of videos showcasing Honda's latest auto range in a virtual showroom.
Via testing, we discovered the visual elements that made the strongest impact on viewers and emphasized them, such as showrooms with a ‘window’ to the outside world being vastly more popular with audiences. The end result was almost 90 minutes' worth of video for 30 digital films, which immerse viewers in a way that glossy billboards and singular TV commercials cannot. After implementing Engagement Insights®, viewers spent six times longer on the Honda website and became twice as likely to book a test drive, configure their vehicle or download a brochure – a significant increase in the acquisition of potential customers.

Making the connection

Whether it's a car-shopping website taking cues from Tinder or integrated campaigns finding the right emotional focus points, the point is the same: it's all about making a connection with buyers beyond features, functionality, or sleek styling. It's not about manipulation or betraying a consumer's trust, but rather finding the real, unique qualities that resonate with buyers, and empowering their research via inventive integrated campaigns.
Creatives who can find clever and effective ways to bridge that gap will help brands embrace the future of car-buying, and ensure that clients are well-positioned to maintain relevance in the ever-changing market.

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