Top Car Advertisers on TV and in Paid Search

Kantar recently analyzed auto advertising activity on television and Google in the first two months of 2019.
From January 1 through March 1, advertisers spent a total of $747 million on auto sales commercials on national, cable and spot TV. Breaking it down by media, auto advertisers devoted the majority of their ad expenditure, $502 million to spot TV, i.e., commercials airing on local broadcast stations, followed by $141 million for network TV and $101 million for cable TV.


Auto dealer associations, the trade organizations that represent large groups of car dealerships, were the top advertisers, ranking in four out of the five top positions based on TV ad spend. The leader, Toyota Dealer Association, far outpaced all other auto advertisers during the period, spending an estimated $107 million on TV ads. The next top advertiser was brand manufacturer Nissan, which devoted $63 million to commercials in the first two months of 2019, followed by three dealer associations, Ford Dealer Association ($49 million), Chevrolet Dealer Association ($46 million) and Honda Dealer Association ($43 million).

Coming as no surprise to anyone who’s ever watched a sporting event on TV, seven of the top 10 television shows ranked by auto ad spend were sporting events, including the Super Bowl and Super Bowl Halftime Show, which together accounted for more than $38 million in revenue from auto commercials. Two live award shows, the Grammys ($8.8 million) and Oscars ($7.7 million), ranked 5th and 6th, respectively, while the only scripted show in the ranking, The Big Bang Theory, came in at #10 with $5.9 million in auto ad revenue.

CarGurus Tops in Paid Search Advertising

To evaluate leadership in paid search advertising, Kantar analyzed U.S. Google desktop and mobile text ad clicks on ads displaying for 19 non-branded keywords related to general car sales, including ‘cars for sale’, ‘trucks for sale’ and ‘cheap cars’, and 24 non-branded keywords pertaining specifically to used car sales such as ‘used cars’, ‘used cars for sale’ and ‘buy used cars’, from January 1 through March 1, 2019.

In total, we found just seven advertisers appearing in a ranking of the Top 5 most clicked advertisers for both keyword groups.

CarGurus, a comparison shopping site where consumers can research new and used cars and connect with dealers, was the clear leader in general and used car sale keywords across both desktop and mobile search in the first two months of the year. Ranking #1 for general car sale keywords, CarGurus captured 26% of all desktop clicks on the 19 keywords studied, and 27.6% of all mobile clicks. Ranking #1 for used car keywords as well, CarGurus garnered 23.7% of desktop clicks and 23.1% of mobile clicks.

Online marketplace sites and, along with comparison shopping site TrueCars, showed varying but strong performance on the general and used car keywords, often producing double digit click share depending on keyword group and device.

These sites also advertised on television in the first two months of the year. CarGurus was the top spender at $6.6 million, followed by Autotrader ($5.5 million) and TrueCars ($1.9 million). did not invest much in TV ads during the period; Kantar found just $25,000 in expenditure on commercials from the company.

Three automotive brands appeared in the Top 5 most clicked advertisers as well, though not as prominently as the aforementioned comparison and online marketplace sites., the website of the Toyota Dealer Associations of America, ranked 5th in desktop clicks on general car sale keywords with a 3.9% click share, while ranked 5th in mobile clicks on the same keyword group, with a 4.6% click share., Volkswagen’s site for selling certified pre-owned automobiles, ranked 5th in desktop clicks for used car keywords with 10.5% click share, while ranking 3rd in mobile clicks, with a 12.8% click share. Notably, the site is “powered by” DealerX, a provider of various solutions for targeting online car shoppers, that promises to “eliminate the dependency on AutoTrader,, CarGurus and wasteful vendors.”

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