China Insights

China, US car buyers trust contrasting sources

Andy Turton

Global Development Director, Automotive

Auto 2013 19.02.2014 / 13:50

0219-US TAPPS media highlights final-cut

US car buyers are more likely to be persuaded by traditional marketing, but Chinese favour consumer-driven content.

Car buyers in the United States are more likely to be persuaded by traditional marketing, rather than blogs, forums and social media, which are often seen by US buyers as less reliable and "infiltrated" by brands.

This is in stark contrast to China, the world's largest auto market, where almost one third (31%) of buyers see consumer-driven content - such as automotive blogs or reviews on social media - as their most trusted source of information, compared to just 7% in the US.

The Automotive Path to Purchase Study (TAPPS) by global research consultancy TNS, shows that brand-controlled sources, particularly TV and press ads, are most influential in the US buying process. Almost six in 10 (59%) of US car buyers cite these as their most trusted source, compared to 43% in China.

Although social media still has a role to play in narrowing down choices, car manufacturers looking to build their name in the US should focus their efforts first and foremost on traditional media. The study also shows TV advertising has the biggest effect in persuading buyers to consult other sources of information, whether that is a brand's website, a car dealership or friends and family.

Digital-savvy car buyers in the US are increasingly suspicious of brand involvement when it comes to supposedly "independent" sources like blogs and forums. In China, where the car market is comparatively young and people are keen to explore new digital channels, it's a different story.

That's not to say that social and digital channels should be neglected entirely in the US. In fact the biggest success stories are where auto brands successfully integrate digital engagement with more of the old-style "Mad Men" advertising strategies.

The latest Super Bowl TV advertisement from Volkswagen has been praised for successfully translating to social media. The ad, which shows German engineers suddenly sprouting wings as cars they designed pass the 100,000-mile mark, was accompanied by a staggered social media campaign across Facebook and Twitter.

While most US buyers show an affinity to American brands - including Chevrolet and Ford - the study shows it is actually foreign brands that are most effective in linking up all their different channels to convert interest to purchase. Honda is most effective at pulling buyers through from initial consideration to final purchase, with Toyota following close behind.

In both the Chinese and US markets the role of the dealer is also critical in persuading buyers to part with their cash. Almost four in ten (38%) of US buyers and one quarter (26%) of Chinese buyers cite dealers as their most reliable information source.

The idea of the dealer being the car buyer's "best friend" is abundantly clear in both markets. As the US auto market shows continued signs of recovery - with over 15.6 million vehicles sold last year- it is only brands that can keep customers engaged throughout the whole buying process that will see these rewards.


Source: Kantar TNS

Editor's notes

TAPPS is the first interactive, online study to measure the new car-buying process in real time, offering a more fine-grained picture than traditional "look-back" studies in which consumers may overlook details of past behavior. TAPPS is based on interactive and continuous conversations with more than 1,000 consumers who intend to purchase a new vehicle within the next four to six months, tracking their activity throughout their pre-purchase period. The research was conducted in the US from July-October 2013. In addition to the US, this study has also been conducted in China. Please visit for more information, or for inquiries, contact us.

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