TV and print are more expensive than digital media and harder to measure, yet many dealers have long advertised there, said DHG's Brunotte. Dealers can track data about digital ads to learn how customers interacted with the content and whether the messages got in front of shoppers likely to buy. That's harder to gauge from TV or print viewers, making it tougher to determine the value, he added.
Rob Sight Ford in Kansas City, Mo., maintained its paid Facebook advertising and plans to increase investment there, said Bobby Sight, the dealership's operations director. He also now cultivates an audience through organic videos, which showcase incentives and cleaning practices. He also has paid for advertising campaigns on some of those videos.
Sight said the store pulled back on paid-search campaigns — possibly forever for used vehicles. It slashed its budget for paid new-vehicle searches by at least 70 percent from pre-pandemic levels because inventory was low.
Despite no paid-search spending on used vehicles, June was the best month for used vehicles in volume and gross profit in the history of the dealership, Sight said.
"We've all gotten a really good chance to evaluate what we think we really need and what we think works and what we can cut," he said.
LotLinx CEO Len Short, whose company targets likely buyers with ads for specific vehicles in dealership inventory, said he estimates some 20 percent of dealership advertising might never come back.
"If I'm smarter about this, more efficient, I can restore margins, and I can do just fine in terms of volume," Short said. "And they will take margin over volume every day."
Search engine marketing, or pay-per-click, typically makes up about half of Nielsen Automotive Group's digital advertising budget, Carrasquillo said. While it's on hold, he said, some of the group's stores sold more vehicles in June than a year earlier and at a higher gross profit per vehicle.
Some of that may be the result of pent-up demand. Even so, Carrasquillo said, he is now rethinking search engine marketing in general. If Nielsen decides to restart it, he would buy fewer generic search terms that deliver more eyeballs, though at a higher cost per click, in favor of specific keywords that cost less and generate less traffic but may attract serious shoppers.
"If I don't have to spend the money to get those kind of results," he said, "why would you?"