Auto Trader brand boss on why it has in-housed media buying in marketing overhaul

The comments come amid a marketing shakedown from the brand

Auto Trader has in-housed its digital media planning, acknowledging that it's already acting like a Google or Facebook for other brands and agencies so the shift to manage its own was inevitable.

Leading the change is Lei Sorvisto, who joined the digital marketplace from iProspect as head of audience and brand earlier this year. Over the past four months, she has managed the transition which will be completed in full by September when all online media – including paid search, social and programmatic advertising - will be overseen by an internal Auto Trader team.

However, external guidance is still being sought for the time being on the traditional a media side, with the brand having just appointed Specialist Works to handle its TV, outdoor and radio planning and buying functions.

Sorvisto said the shift towards an internal media planning department was an intrinsic one for a platform that serves car brands and agencies in a way akin to the way Google or Facebook supply their clients.

“We are a publisher and an advertiser at the same time and we run a lot campaigns for manufacturers,” she told The Drum. “It feels really natural that we actually handle our own media strategy in-house as well [and] based on that we have brought it in-house completely.”

The move is not an altogether surprising one. Little over a year since the company revealed it had been fine-tuning its data management platform (DMP) to better offer automotive data for manufacturers, dealers and agencies investing in programmatic.

While a chunk of the marketplace's revenues still flow from classified ads, the company’s improved dataset has allowed it to seize an opportunity to build out the programmatic and native features it offers advertisers, something it clearly thinks will benefit from being fostered via an in-house proposition.

The shift also comes in the wake of a brand safety scandal which affected Google's display network, and a further a series of difficulties which have forced advertisers to re-examine the “murky at best, fraudulent at worst” media supply chain as now infamously described by P&G’s top marketer - in turn putting pressure on publishers.

Through its own brand lens, internalising its online media planning and buying will give Auto Trader greater control and a level of transparency often-cited by brands that make the move to bring media buying in-house.

Though the Google furore was before Sorvisto took the wheel at Auto Trader, as a media purveyor the brand acknowledges there were conversations with clients to ensure further safeguards were in place. Though, the company said, in comparison to other platforms the Auto Trader offering is relatively safe that doesn't mean the situation is not being "monitored closely" according to the team.

Given the new state of play, it has consciously recruited different expertise to build out its capabilities across both arms of the media department.

"We have a really strong data science team which serves as a platform for the whole business, and within the audience and brand department we have a dedicated data team," she explained.

'More Made Easy'

The shake-up of its media buying strategy comes amid a wider marketing shakedown from the brand as it seeks to humanise its function in people’s lives. Underpinning this is a fresh strapline – ‘More Made Easy’ – which Sorvisto said distils the brand’s three core pillars into a succinct proposition.

“The market is changing and we recognise that our audience is getting younger and younger. We tirelessly carried out different focus group research and something that we identified is that in the past the car buying and selling has been viewed as quite a daunting and cold transactional process,” she said.

“That can be a turn off for many people who aren’t naturally into cars, so to have an appealing and engaging way to serve more consumers with greater choice and emotionally connected values is the fundamental to the new marketing strategy.”

Auto Trader turned 40 this year, and while it successfully transitioned from print to 100% digital in 2013, the "bold" brand reset comes in the face of growing competition from the likes of We Buy Any Car and other digital rivals who offer similar services.

The new strategy will be rolled out in phases, the first of which is centred around offering free listings for cars valued at £1,000 or less, with a number of OOH and radio ads promoting the offer. The radio spots focus on emotional attachments people have to their cars – like memories of driving their baby home from the hospital or driving for the first time after passing their driving test.

The campaign was devised by independent agency Mynt, which snatched the business from Isobar in 2015. In a marked departure from previous pushes aimed at wider audiences, there’s no hero TV ad at the centre of the campaign.

Sorvisto noted that above the line “is not the right fit,” to target the private sellers that the first part of the 'More Made Easy' push is aimed at.

Across Facebook and other online channels, a hyper-targeted campaign will run based on Auto Trader's own data and third-party data around customers who have cars valued at the rate offered in the promotion.

Rebecca Stewart

Rebecca Stewart is a reporter at The Drum. Based in London, she writes news, analysis and features around brand marketing and digital innovation. She has interviewed key figures from the likes of Airbnb, Amnesty International, Unilever, Facebook and Spotify, as well as covering international events like Ad Week Europe, Dmexco and Ciclope.

All by Rebecca