Slow growth masks big swings in ad budgets

The placid flow of automakers' advertising dollars toward digital platforms last year masked some rather powerful currents below the surface.

According to Advertising Age's annual list of the 100 Leading National Advertisers, the 10 largest automaker advertisers spent a combined $6.05 billion on unmeasured media last year, a category that includes search-engine marketing, online videos, social media and other digital efforts. That's just a 3 percent increase from 2012 -- a sharp slowdown from the 34 percent growth rate the previous year.

Yet budgets at individual automakers saw much more volatility. Ford Motor Co. spent $1.42 billion on unmeasured ads last year, up by more than $222 million, or roughly 19 percent from 2012.

Daimler boosted unmeasured spending by about 17 percent to $218.9 million, and Nissan spent 12 percent more.

Meanwhile, Kia reduced its overall ad outlay by slashing unmeasured spending by about 24 percent, or roughly $59 million. General Motors offset 6 percent lower spending on unmeasured ads by spending 10 percent more on measured media, such as TV, print, radio and Internet banner ads.

After a big launch year in 2012 that included a redesigned Accord, Honda cut its overall ad spending by 20 percent.

Overall measured ad spending among the 10 biggest automaker advertisers grew a modest 2 percent last year to about $8.47 billion.

Combined measured and unmeasured ad spending for the 10 largest auto advertisers gained 3 percent to $14.52 billion.

Automakers continued to tinker last year with their advertising mix between measured media - such as TV, radio, print and Internet banner ads - and unmeasured formats - including search-engine marketing, online videos and social media. Here's how the 10 top-spending automaker advertisers allocated their 2013 ad budgets (spending in millions of dollars).
1. GM$3,149.603%$1,812.0010%$1,337.70-6%
2. Ford$2,559.4012%$1,137.606%$1,421.8019%
3. Toyota$2,090.304%$1,275.101%$815.209%
4. Fiat-Chrysler$1,973.701%$1,165.700%$808.004%
5. Nissan$1,254.6011%$862.1011%$392.5012%
6. Honda$1,068.20-20%$662.30-23%$405.90-14%
7. VW$810.60-2%$526.90-3%$283.700%
8. Kia$588.60-8%$403.903%$184.60-24%
9. Daimler$551.3017%$332.4017%$218.9017%
10. Hyundai$474.200%$288.80-1%$185.302%
Source: Advertising Age 100 Leading National Advertisers

You can reach Ryan Beene at

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