Why Toyota Loves Distracted TV Audiences

When a Toyota commercial airs, Vinay Shahani, the company’s North America VP of integrated marketing operations, knows that most people who see it aren’t in market for a car.

So the company looks at search activity to assess the value of its TV ad spend. Using data and analytics company EDO, Toyota can measure web searches for its brand or its car lines in the minutes following a commercial, and compare it to a baseline.

That comparison, Shahani said, helps the brand identify “movement from brand awareness to consideration” in real time.

Toyota is taking advantage of a new “Pavlovian response” in American TV advertising, according to EDO president and CEO Kevin Krim, in which a good commercial will get people to take out their phones and search for a product or company.

EDO scrapes search engine APIs and commercial airings on TV to gauge spikes in branded searches in the minutes following an ad.

While Toyota hasn’t modeled or attributed direct sales based on EDO’s search engagement metric, Shahani said it gives the marketing team confidence whether ads are connecting with audiences and planting a seed so that Toyota is in consideration if and when that consumer is in market for a car.

“Since it sits outside the traditional survey-based way of looking at these things, it gives a little more confidence quantifying value of our TV ads based on brand consideration and intention than what we’ve seen in the past,” he said.

DTC companies have embraced the tactic, by measuring spikes in traffic to their site or app after a commercial airs. Toyota doesn’t get much traffic to its site, however, and EDO avoids user-level data because dropping site tags and collecting personal information would make it a privacy and competitive risk for its data syndication, Krim said.

And Toyota already has “data overload” from TV advertising surveys, panels and performance, Shahani said. So the company needs to focus on data that can actually be used to plan campaigns or optimize in real time.

Toyota recently released a new Corolla, a popular model that appeals to a wide demographic, opposed to, say, a pick-up truck or minivan that appeals to a specific type of consumer.

Shahani said the EDO search metric enables Toyota to test six or seven different spots targeting different audiences and geographies to see which perform best. That means it can ramp up spend where the ads work and deprecate the commercials that don’t.

“Most syndicated TV data, you get the reports and there’s nothing actionable,” Shahani said. “The priority is finding data that we can learn from in real time, and put that data to use.”

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