How Top Automotive Manufacturers Are Navigating Marketing During COVID-19

By Amy Corr

Like most industries, automotive dealerships have been hit hard by the pandemic and the subsequent shut-downs nationwide. Many employees are furloughed, or working remotely. Pared-down service and parts departments remain essential but business is down. States have begun, or will start to slowly reopen to a new normal; a bright step into uncharted territory.

Aside from brick and mortar sales, the pandemic has affected how companies are speaking to their customers, many of which had to make a swift change in their advertising efforts. Corporate brands pulled scheduled advertising and replaced it with reactions, responses, and aid for those struggling financially.

What have some of the more popular ad campaigns from car manufacturers telling us? Messaging is similar and recurring; We’re in this together and we’re here to help. Creative focus is less about vehicles — although you will see some — and more about first responders, doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, and truck drivers.

Ford’s initial response to COVID-19 was a text-only spot that underscored how the brand was built during world wars, natural disasters and now, COVID-19. An additional ad illustrated how Ford has helped customers in the past and how they are committing to help now.

On Wednesday, Ford bowed three more ads, narrated by Bryan Cranston, that pay tribute to first responders, American manufacturing, the country’s unshakable determination to survive tough times, and the brand’s ability to pivot from producing cars to ventilators, face shields and respirators. The brand also touts that it employs more hourly workers than any other automaker in the country.

Nissan highlighted its 80 years in business helping consumers through thick and thin in “Help When You Need It.” During COVID-19, the brand will offer financial plans to both new and current car owners.

Lexus described itself as being in “The People Business,” helping consumers in both good times and bad. A dedicated section of its website lists how and whom they are helping.

Essential workers remain on the road regularly, and some manufacturers are offering OnStar Crisis Assist services on a complimentary basis.

Buick & GMC launched “We’re Here To Help” at the start of the pandemic, emphasizing how quickly life changed overnight. The company is offering OnStar Crisis Assist services, deferred payment options and online shopping.

Cadillac has consumers’ backs in a times of crisis, offering online shopping and home delivery, flexible payment plans, OnStar Crisis Assist services and booking service appointments online.

In “Doing Our Part,” Chevy is offering OnStar Crisis Assist services, complimentary WiFi data to current owners and service department appointments that can be scheduled online.

Car sales exist, even with a lack of in-person contact with salespeople.

During the pandemic, Lincoln aired “Remote Sales Experience,” allowing consumers to buy a car without leaving the safety of their sanctuary (home).

This week, Lincoln launched a follow-up ad referencing virtual, real-time vehicle tours as consumers get back on the road. Qualified consumers may also receive up to three payments on a purchase or lease of a new Lincoln.

Large brands highlighted local dealerships and their importance in staying open.

Acura placed an emphasis on local dealerships and how they will remain open to service vehicles, along with offering payment extensions, deferments and late fee waivers.

Honda launched two COVID-19 ads. The first assured consumers that Honda’s parts and service department was open for business. Another ad focused on supporting neighbors, volunteers, frontline workers, and being kind to one another.

A subsequent Buick & GMC ad used similar imagery and copy from the first spot (mentioned earlier) but added information about open service departments and booking appointments online.

Car brands, like the rest of us, appreciate the sacrifices frontline workers make daily and are doing their part to help.

Kia built off its Super Bowl ad that placed a spotlight on youth homelessness. The brand donated an additional $1 million through its “Accelerate The Good Program” to protect homeless youth.

In another spot, “Never Back Down,” Kia described its extended payment plans during Covid-19 for new and current owners.

Dodge launched two ads that juxtaposed a speeding Dodge with first responders and frontline workers en route to help others noting that “together we are the brotherhood of muscles.”

In Subaru’s response ad to COVID-19, the company, along with its retailers, are donating 50 million meals to Feeding America to help those in need.

Safe Families” spotlighted Hyundai’s Hope On Wheels initiative that donated $4 million to drive-thru testing centers throughout the country.

In another spot, financial plans are available for any new or current Hyundai owners to ensure no one loses their car during COVID-19.

At the start of the pandemic, Mazda offered “Rules for the Road” that included keeping a social distance, watching what you touch, and washing hands often.

Ram Trucks placed a different spin on working from home. It shows essential workers in varying positions interspersed with people working from home, noting that we all work for each other and for the same thing: home.

Jeep offers payment assistance, online shopping and visualizes better days ahead in “Drive Forward.”

We second that emotion.