5 video advertising strategies businesses can learn from car commercials

How the Auto Industry Is Leveraging Mobile-First Ad Placement for TV and Digital (And You Can, Too)

7 Minute Read

Ads need to capture attention. This has been true since the beginning of advertising, and it is even more critical today.

It is estimated that the average person is exposed to upwards of 10,000 ads every single day. That’s a lot of noise to cut through, and many companies don’t hack it.

Digital video is one of the best vehicles for advertising today. It is appropriate, then, that many of the most engaging ads come from automakers.

Think with Google recently released a report on the factors that make auto ads so effective. Although the analysis focuses specifically on how car companies attract people in the market for a new vehicle, businesses in any industry can benefit from insights on what it takes to stand out to customers in the video advertising landscape.

why mobile-first is a must for video ads

1. Mobile-First Is a Must for Digital Video

Google included this item last, but we’re putting it at the top because it’s that important: All video ads need to be optimized for mobile devices. On YouTube, mobile devices account for more than 70% of watch time.

Many of the people who see digital video ads are watching them on screens with a 6 inch display size. There are several keys for standing out on a small, high-resolution screen. These include:

  • Use high-contrast imagery. High-contrast images encompass a robust range of light and dark colors. Rich, vibrant imagery is a great way to get viewers’ attention on small and large screens alike.
  • Narrow the frame. Proper framing is essential on video and film. Mobile users have a limited field of view, so make sure the “money” elements are the most prominent things in the frame.
  • Optimize for vertical viewing. A lot of businesses and advertisers just repurpose horizontal TV creative for their digital channels and expect to get results. Vertical video fills the space much better on mobile devices. So, if you are getting started with digital video advertising, you need to shoot your videos vertical to align with the viewing habits of your audience.
  • Use large, snappy supers. Supers are the text superimposed on video footage. People want to watch, not read. So, if you have text that needs to be part of the ad, make sure you use a large typeface and deliver a powerful message in the fewest words possible.

It is also important to pay attention to run time. Most video ads are 15 seconds to 30 seconds in length. Users generally have the option to skip the ad after about 5 seconds.

With these limitations in mind, the best strategy is to pack as much visually powerful content into a 5 second runtime. VolkswagenCanada did just that with an ad showcasing its family of SUVs:

In addition to capturing attention, the structure of your video ads should complement the steps you want viewers to take. Websites should be designed mobile-first as well. If a user on mobile or desktop clicks on your ad, the destination page should be functional and engaging across device types.

cross-platform advertising with video content

2. Think Cross-Platform

Although mobile-first should be your primary focus, it is also important not to overlook the myriad ways people consume video content. The majority of viewers have embraced streaming video, making ad campaigns on connected TVs a major opportunity for connecting with customers.

You shouldn’t entirely count out traditional TV, either. Broadcast television is the OG of dynamic, visual-based advertising, and some businesses and industries can still see results from running TV commercials.

What you cannot afford to do is put all of your eggs in one basket. There are simply too many different avenues where people can watch video ads to focus on one medium at the expense of the others.

If you watch a lot of online videos, you’ve probably seen multiple spots from car companies of varying lengths and messaging. There is a strong possibility that a 30-second commercial aired on TV can be repurposed for shorter ads on digital.

For example, you can find multiple iterations of commercials for the new Ford F-150 across a variety of platforms:

This “modular” approach to creating videos is practical and cost-effective. Small and midsize businesses generally have to partner with a marketing agency or video production team to create digital video content. From storyboarding to shooting to postproduction, it is of the utmost importance to ensure that your videos can be served to audiences on multiple devices and platforms.

how to use audio in effective video advertising

3. Amplify the Audio

Few industries lend themselves to engaging combinations of audio and video quite as well as the automotive industry. Purring engines, vehicles in motion, dramatic music – these are cornerstones of car commercials, and they are highly effective.

This spot by MINI USA illustrates how pairing immersive audio with compelling visuals from the jump can capture a viewer’s attention immediately:

Of course, not all industries have the kinetic possibilities of motor vehicles when it comes to digital advertising. That’s OK; you just need to adjust the soundscape of your video ads to represent your business and industry.

For example, landscapers, construction contractors, solar panel installers, and other service professionals who work outside may benefit from videos that pair ambient nature audio (e.g., birds chirping, breezes, etc.) with the sounds of work being done on a property (like building, mowing, installing solar panels, etc.).

This leverages the concept used so successfully by car companies while creating a different experience that invites viewers to understand what it’s like to be a customer of your business.

outdated strategies to avoid in video advertising

4. Abandon Outdated Strategies

We’ve all seen ads with overused formats that are laughably out of touch with modern sensibilities and viewing habits. Perhaps the industry most guilty of this is legal, with far too many attorneys still cramming way too much information into the lower third of their videos.

These ads are lame. Viewers have seen this type of commercial countless times before, and repetition will not bolster results. And yet law firms still keep investing in them. Often, they compound the mistake further by rolling these commercials out unchanged across social media and other digital channels.

Businesses and advertisers that live in the past are doomed to diminishing returns. The medium remains the message, and it is crucial to create videos that align with audience expectations.

Hackneyed ad formats like the ones above aren’t going to cut it. Instead, law firms and other businesses need to take another page from the auto industry and emphasize people and features over the blatant tactics of yesteryear.

For example, here is an ad for a law firm that puts the human touch front and center:

You’ll notice that there is no mention of car wrecks, personal injury, and the like. Instead, we get messages about family, hard work, honesty, and helping people. These are not just selling points but rudimentary aspects of human nature. Consumers who see tens of thousands of ads a day and who are burned out on being advertised to are far more likely to respond to the latter type of ad than the former.

rev up your video ad campaigns

5. Go from 0 to 60 from the Start

In this age of autoplay, advertisers have a chance to hook viewers in the video pre-roll (i.e., before the video starts). Car companies have no trouble doing this, as we can see from this ad for Nissan’s lineup of cars:


Even if your products and services don’t involve revving engines, spinning wheels, and high speeds, you can still cut to the action right away in video ads of your own. Early in production, you should identify the visuals, sounds, and text that are most likely to resonate with your customers. The video ads you create should be shot and edited with these elements top of mind.

It is important not to try to ease viewers into the video or wait to communicate the key message. You have a limited time to catch the customer’s attention. Say what you need to say loud and fast, and make sure there’s a takeaway even if viewers decide to skip your ad.

how video marketing experts can help your business

Talk to the Video Experts at Twelve Three Media Today

Automakers invest millions in marketing and advertising. Every dollar of that ad spend shows up on screen, which is why businesses in other industries can learn so much from how vehicles are advertised.

The owners of small and midsize businesses do not have the budget for big, splashy commercials. However, the lesson from car video ads is not “spend more money” but “have a vision and create videos that convey it.”

Branding is at the heart of any successful video advertising strategy. When you know your business and have a consistent, concise message, you can create videos that speak to your customers effectively across platforms.

The video marketing experts at Twelve Three Media have the knowledge, experience, and the craft to help you build a video library that makes the most of mobile viewing and the multiple platforms available for digital advertising. We also obsessively track video results so you can see the ROI on these high-value assets.

Gain the unfair marketing advantage. Contact Twelve Three Media to learn how our experts can help you create eye-catching, engaging digital video content for multiple ad formats!

Learn How to Build Your Business!
Check out our premium publications tailored to your industry.