LOS ANGELES -- If it's got a screen, automakers want to advertise on it.
The top 10 automaker advertisers continued their rapid shift to new forms of digital advertising last year, plowing $5.82 billion into so-called unmeasured advertising, a category that includes search-engine marketing, online videos and social media, according to Advertising Age's annual list of the 100 Leading National Advertisers. That was up 34 percent from 2011.
But they're also showing enduring faith in the American couch potato. The 10 largest auto advertisers spent about $6.25 billion on all kinds of TV commercials last year, up 7.3 percent from 2011, according to Kantar Media measured-media spending data analyzed by Advertising Age.
Driving that increase were major product launches in high-volume vehicle segments. For example, in the crucial mid-sized sedan segment, the industry's largest in sales volume, redesigned versions of the Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Ford Fusion were launched last year.
Honda Motor Co. recorded the biggest jump in spending among automakers last year, with a 29 percent increase including measured media and unmeasured spending, according to Ad Age DataCenter estimates. The Accord launch helped boost American Honda's TV ad spending 27 percent to $649.2 million in 2012, while Nissan's TV budget grew 33 percent to $638.3 million to support the Altima launch.
"They're all very important products in a big segment, so you need to have a big launch," said Ian Beavis, executive vice president of Nielsen Co.'s global automotive group and a former marketing executive with Kia Motors America and Mitsubishi Motors North America. "And if you have a big launch, you need to be in television."