Automotive Marketing Trends 2021

automotive marketing trends 2021

2020 was like no other. It was challenging for nearly all, devastating for some. In less than a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work, learn, play and interact, and we have all been forced to lead a more virtual existence – both personally and professionally. Whilst lots of these changes have been made necessary by lockdown, they have also been facilitated by a tipping point in the capabilities of technology and a new generation of consumers much happier to interact with brands online.

Even before COVID our own automotive industry faced a horizon of major disruptions such as electric and autonomous vehicles, automated factories, and mobility on demand. The pandemic has accelerated lots of these developments and the sector is now having to urgently refocus onto digital its channels – for everything from sales and marketing to communication and even shows and events.

For those automotive brands looking to optimise their digital marketing activities this year, our automotive marketing experts have compiled a list of the top automotive marketing trends to be aware of in 2021. If you can take advantage of just one or two of these trends then you’ll be on track to driving more business from your automotive marketing strategy in 2021 and beyond.

In case you missed our previous annual trends articles, please take a look at 2020 and 2019 – many of the strategies are still relevant in 2021.

A World Without Cookies

48% of marketers “worry that their brands won’t be able to provide impactful performance without cookies” according to research from data, insights and consulting company Kantar.

A cookie-less future is on the horizon and it continues to get closer with 2021 set to be their last full year.

Currently, third-party cookies play a huge role in digital marketing strategies – allowing advertisers to deliver more personalised experiences based on the information the cookies hold. With Chrome ceasing to support third-party cookies in the next year or so, and browsers like Safari already ceasing to support them, the time for change is now.

Third-party data will soon be a thing of the past, ruining standard retargeting campaigns and cookie-based advertising. We urge all automotive businesses to instead turn their focus to first-party, server-side data, or alternatively explore other opportunities that don’t require cookies, such as contextual ad targeting.

cookieless future - retargeting toyota

Reaching the Home TV

During lockdown people have stayed at home more than ever before and remote working is probably here to stay for lots of businesses. Because of this your potential customers are consuming lots of online content, with audiences increasingly turning to online video for education, entertainment and to stay connected. By 2022, research predicts that over 80% of online traffic will be driven by video. Additionally, more and more people are watching videos on YouTube on their TV. You can take advantage of this in two ways;

  • Create more video content on your brand’s YouTube channel and promote, promote, promote!
  • Get started with YouTube Advertising.

youtube on tv

reaching the home tv

Continued Advancements in Machine Learning

Machine learning and AI technology will continue to develop in 2021 and the years ahead. Machine learning is used in multiple ways within marketing, to help deliver personalised recommendations and experiences, to enhance paid campaigns to improve conversion testing, in chatbots and more. Google Ads in particular continue to focus heavily on machine learning with automated Smart Campaigns. As marketers, we must adapt and use machine learning to help us market smarter.

google ads machine learning

Live Streaming

Live-streamed content is still extremely under-utilised within automotive marketing strategies. It doesn’t help that there are so many platforms to choose from – Instagram Live, Facebook Live, LinkedIn Live, Twitch and more. Of course, it makes sense to get started on the channel where your audience is most active. A live stream could be a simple Q and A about a new product or service, a live interview with an industry expert or an educational webinar type stream. Live streams are typically far easier and less expensive than professionally shot videos, achieve more reach, and will enable you to engage and empathise with your audience in real-time.

twitch live streaming

Content on the Go

Coming into 2021, we’re all spending even more time consuming digital content than we ever have, particularly while we’re on the go – working, travelling or even whilst doing the housework! This has sparked further increases in the popularity of podcasts and podcast advertising, short-form video content (such as TikTok, Instagram Reels, Snapchat Spotlight and YouTube Shorts), clickable content like LinkedIn Carousels and visual content including a marked increase in brands using infographics.

All of these channels can be taken advantage of by repurposing existing content. Blog pieces can be used to create podcasts, existing video can be cut into bite-sized snippets suitable for sharing on social media and visual imagery can often be adapted to create impactful infographics.

content on the go - podcasts

User Experience

User experience has always been vital in marketing but it often gets less importance placed on it than traffic. However, working with the traffic you already have and getting that to convert better can often achieve results quicker. Your marketing agency should have the expertise and experience to help you improve and optimise user experience, helped along with a host of excellent tools such as Microsoft Clarity, Google Lighthouse, Hotjar, Analytics and Search Console, to name but a few. The importance of getting user experience right will only accelerate when Google’s Page Experience algorithm update rolls out this May.

In Google’s own words, here is what it means:

“The page experience signal measures aspects of how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page. Optimizing for these factors makes the web more delightful for users across all web browsers and surfaces, and helps sites evolve towards user expectations on mobile. We believe this will contribute to business success on the web as users grow more engaged and can transact with less friction.”

user experience

Virtual Events

Yet another automotive marketing trend accelerated by the pandemic is the rise of the virtual event. 2020 saw us involved in the launch of SEMA’s first ever digital show (SEMA360) with further digital events being announced this year including AM Live Virtual and Autosport International (ASI) Connect. In addition to the shows and events we also saw several key new car models and AM products launched digitally (the online Launch of Maserati’s incredible MC20 in particular was a huge success).

Whilst lockdown’s will necessitate even more virtual shows and events within our sector this year, we expect the format (or hybrid versions) to become firmly established over the long term – especially as technology develops to enable an ever improving digital experience.

Marketers will need to consider event delivery strategy, Identify technology needs, effectively promote their virtual event and engage event attendees before, during and after the event.

virtual events

Augmented Reality

Whilst Augmented Reality (AR) has been with us for a number of years, the technology is developing at a startling pace and has the potential to allow brands to greatly enhance the customer experience. Some car dealerships are already offering great AR experiences and as the technology becomes more accessible, automotive brands of all sizes are beginning to adopt it. With some 3 billion devices worldwide currently AR-enabled, 2021 is expected to see AR gain further traction, with research suggesting that AR technology will be used by some 1.9 billion people per month by 2022.

augmented reality

Social eCommerce

Developments within Social eCommerce came a long way last year and we don’t see it slowing down for 2021. Instagram and Facebook have both introduced native shopping experiences for eCommerce businesses and WhatsApp have recently launched Carts. Giving users the option to purchase products from directly within the apps they love without having to leave them makes for a seamless experience that will only see more B2C brands capitalise on.

instagram shopping

Instagram SEO

Late last year, Instagram introduced the option to discover content on the platform by using keywords instead of hashtags. While this is still very new and there’s not enough research at the moment to suggest anything concrete, Instagram SEO could certainly be a possibility for this year. This may change the way we write post captions, integrating specific, well searched for keywords.

instagram seo


While influencer marketing is still going strong, particularly cross-platform, with nano and micro-influencers generating the best results, customer user-generated content still exceeds it for us. User-generated content promotes existing customer advocacy and delivers social proof to potential customers, in turn generating engagement, building trust and ultimately increasing conversions. Using UGC will also save you a lot of time on creating content! To get the best out of UGC campaigns, tell your audience what it is you want and use carefully selected, specific branded hashtags.

user generated content example - rimblades

If you’d like to push your automotive brand even further in 2021, our marketing specialists are here to help. WDA’s unrivalled automotive market knowledge and understanding really makes a difference – knowing what makes your audience tick is critical in being able to grab their attention and then engage them. Automotive brands including Yamaha, Bentley, Valeo and Fuchs have entrusted WDA to devise and deliver impactful campaigns which smash the brief and drive business!

Test Drive: 3-month Test Drive Automotive Marketing Trial is still available due to its popularity and the impact that Covid continues to have on our industry. Find out more here.

Free Resource: The Automotive Marketing MOT – Receive your existing marketing performance score and receive bespoke recommendations on how to improve it. Complete it here.

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