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How Important are Automotive Awards?

In the first week of June 2007, VehicleVoice conducted a survey on the impact of awards among over 1,200 VehicleVoice panel members. VehicleVoice is dedicated to tracking this story over time. We feel that our panel members and auto consumers in general deserve the right to the best possible information when they make important decisions regarding the purchase of a new vehicle.
Awards have become a very important component of manufacturer communications to prospective buyers. The idea is that an award or accolade will help get a specific car in the buyers’ consideration set. If a vehicle wins an award will a prospect be more likely to pay attention to the vehicle and then consider it? Well, we ventured out among our panel to learn the answer.
One thing that has never been publicly divulged until now is whether or not buyers actually pay attention to messages using awards as a component of the communication. Based on the results of the VehicleVoice survey, we conclude that awards DO MATTER. While a person might not admit they were influenced by an award, they will admit that they pay attention to them. Which ones do they pay attention to?

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Awards Have More Impact Than Simple Advertising
Awards are rated stronger than advertising in capturing the attention of the prospective buyer. Among three award categories – awards based on safety ratings, awards based on owner ratings and awards given by enthusiast magazines – all are rated more impactful than advertising on television, in a magazine, direct mail, in a newspaper, on the radio.
Awards Based Safety Ratings Very Powerful
Awards by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Adminstration, i.e. the GOVERNMENT – are extremely powerful. Almost 90% of the respondents indicate that they pay attention to NHTSA Five Star Safety Ratings. A much smaller, but still significant, 67% say they pay attention to ratings by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ratings.
So, safety sells among knowledgeable car owners.
Awards Based on Owner Ratings Have Substantial Impact
Almost as important as safety ratings are owner ratings collected by objective third parties like Consumer Reports, J.D. Power & Associates, AutoPacific, IntelliChoice and Strategic Vision. Consumer Reports is a well-known non-profit consumer magazine that does not allow advertising in the magazine or to use its name in advertising. Power, AutoPacific and Strategic Vision are consumer research companies that collect objective ratings from owners. Each has a different perspective on what consumer information is most powerful. IntelliChoice uses analysis of cost of ownership data to develop scores that show which vehicles are the best values. AutoPacific and IntelliChoice team up once a year to develop an award that combines aspects of both their approaches. Automakers pay fees of varying amounts to use attributions from Power, AutoPacific, Strategic Vision and IntelliChoice in their advertising.
Among the owner-based awards, Consumer Reports’ Top Picks awards are the strongest with almost 80% of the respondents saying they pay attention to the results. J.D.Power has been in the consumer’s eyes longer than the other research companies with about 50% paying attention to some Power award. AutoPacific awards are somewhat behind Power but ahead of Strategic Vision. A manager of a large manufacturer website admitted that whenever she could use an owner-based award on her site, visits spiked substantially.
Magazine Awards Less Important Than Safety or Owner Awards, Ties With TV Advertising
We have all grown up with the Motor Trend Car of the Year Award. Just about every enthusiast magazine has an award of some type. They usually are based on tests by journalists from the magazine. Some are more comprehensive than others. A few just get the editors and journalists together to select the cars and trucks they like best that year. While most have a strong basis in objective engineering-oriented tests, there often is a very subjective tie-breaker not found in the awards based on owner ratings.
Among the magazine awards, Car & Driver’s Ten Best Award is paid attention to by 74% of the respondents followed by Motor Trend by 59%.
Advertising Falls Away Quickly – Awards Help Its Impact
In a result that some communications outlets will not like, VehicleVoice respondents are less likely to pay attention to advertising on television, in a magazine, direct mail, in a newspaper or on the radio. This implies that advertising that also includes an award attribution may be more strongly received than advertising lacking the objective results of a safety-based or owner-based award.

What Else Did We Learn About Awards?
Full Disclosure: VehicleVoice respondents value a source that gives full disclosure. They prefer a listing that shows the top-rated vehicles and a full list all they way to the bottom performer. Not surprising, but most only publish the top rated vehicles – or those performing above the industry average. Perhaps all of these awards would be more powerful if the full listing was available from top to bottom. Probably listing them on a website would be satisfactory. In fact there were several recommendations that a website be developed to summarize all the awards.
Independent and Transparent: VehicleVoice respondents want the awards to be as independent of the car companies as possible. “Awards should be as objective as possible and include different classes not just one vehicle.” “The articles reporting the awards should clearly state how the ‘winners’ were picked.” Another panelist writes, “Tell me about the awards, the data being used, how the data are used, the reliability of the data and the selection process.” “Keep the awards honest and meaningful. Figures don’t lie, liars figure. It’s how the questions are asked.”
Advertise/Communicate Awards More: Some respondents wanted the awards to feature more prominently in television, magazine and radio advertising. They don’t seem to mind seeing an array of awards that a vehicle has won but they want to know how valid they are. One said, “Attach a copy of the awards to the cars granted them in the showroom” for a real time comparison. Another writes, “Convey the awards to the broadcast media. Get them to do stories on them.” “There is not enough media output about the awards. I would be interested in reading more about them.”
Owner Awards Stronger Than Journalist Awards: Panel members say that owner awards are much more valuable to them than journalist awards. “Are they owner awards or based on journalists? Owner awards are much more valuable. I don’t put as much stock in awards by a group of writers when their livelihood depends on advertising from the car companies.”
Awards Capture Interest: One respondent writes, “While awards may get me into the dealership, they alone won’t sell me on the car. They help sort through a lot of cars, but I decide based on driving a car.”

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NOTE: VehicleVoice is AutoPacific’s consumer website. AutoPacific conducts comprehensive research with owners of current model year vehicles on a national basis through its annual Future Vehicle Survey. Data collected in the Future Vehicle Survey are used in the AutoPacific Vehicle Satisfaction Award and Ideal Vehicle Award and the AutoPacific/IntelliChoice Motorist Choice Award.

1 Comment

  • Barry E Lerner| June 27, 2007 at 11:58 am

    All your survey shows is people “paying attention”. You have not shown any correlation between attention and purchase. In addition, it is negative reports that garner real attention, e.g. recalls, unusual failures or defects.
    But merely “paying attention” is essentially irrelevant; I pay attention even though I’m not presently in the market for a car. And even though I realize that most awards are biased.

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