US Automotive Digital Ad Spending 2020

Pandemic Causes Significant Pullback, Making Automotive Hardest-Hit Industry After Travel

About This Report
The pandemic has caused the US automotive industry to reduce its digital ad spending by 18.2% in 2020. As car sales plummeted, dealerships closed, and manufacturing slowed, marketers backed off from performance initiatives and focused on branding efforts.

Executive Summary

Digital ad spending in the US automotive industry will decrease by 18.2% this year to $10.94 billion. This will be the largest reduction in digital ad spend by an industry after travel, where spend will contract by 41.0%. Historically, automotive spending has been fairly even across search, video, and nonvideo display ads. But in 2020, search will take a back seat as auto advertisers focus less on performance marketing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Why will automotive digital ad spending contract in 2020?

During the onset of the pandemic, car shoppers delayed their purchases, while manufacturing plants and dealerships closed or operated at limited capacity.

When will that spending recover?

This depends largely on when the pandemic subsides and how quickly the economy recovers. The recent rise in used car sales indicates a pent-up demand for car purchases. We expect auto digital ad spend will grow 21.4% in 2021 to $13.29 billion, slightly below its pre-pandemic peak.

How will the contraction affect ad spending by format?

Auto advertisers will reduce spending on search by 32.9%, display by 10.0%, and video (a subset of display) by 5.0%. This reflects how advertisers are focusing on brand marketing over direct-response during the pandemic.

What share of total US digital ad spending will auto have?

We anticipate that auto will make up 8.1% of total US digital ad spend in 2020, down from 10.1% in 2019. Its share has trended downward since we began tracking the vertical: from 12.1% in 2016, to 11.3% in 2017, to 10.6% in 2018.

WHAT’S IN THIS REPORT? This report details our annual forecast of US automotive digital ad spending. It includes a comprehensive overview of total digital ad spending, as well as estimates by channel, device, and format and the pandemic’s impact on these figures.

KEY STAT: Digital ad spending in the US automotive industry will fall 18.2% this year to $10.94 billion.

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Table of Contents

  1. Executive Summary
  2. Automotive Digital Ad Spending Outlook
  3. Digital Ad Spending by Device
  1. Digital Ad Spending by Format
  2. Key Takeaways
  3. eMarketer Interviews
  1. Read Next
  2. Sources
  3. Media Gallery

Interviewed for This Report

Dave Antonelli
Dish Media
Director, Sling TV
Interviewed June 12, 2020
Arsen Avakian
Cooler Screens
Co-Founder and CEO
Interviewed June 17, 2020
Danielle Cravatt
Senior Vice President, Client Partnerships
Interviewed June 8, 2020
Klarn DePalma
MNI Targeted Media
Executive Vice President
Interviewed June 3, 2020
Stephani Estes
Senior Vice President and Executive Director, Media
Interviewed June 8, 2020
Doug Grumet
AMP Agency
Senior Vice President, Media
Interviewed June 9, 2020
Kunal Gupta
Founder and CEO
Interviewed June 4, 2020
Cheryl Huckabay
The Richards Group
Managing Principal, Media
Interviewed June 15, 2020
Jennifer Kohl
Senior Vice President and Executive Director, Integrated Media
Interviewed June 10, 2020
Todd Krizelman
Founder and CEO
Interviewed June 4, 2020
James Malins
General Manager, Cross-Channel Strategic Solutions
Interviewed June 25, 2020
Japhia Mangan
Senior Account Director
Interviewed June 12, 2020
Mike Menkes
Analytic Partners
Senior Vice President
Interviewed June 9, 2020
Jon Morgenstern
Senior Vice President and Head of Investment
Interviewed June 18, 2020
Frost Prioleau
Interviewed June 3, 2020
Jon Schulz
Viant Technology
Interviewed June 10, 2020
Scott Symonds
AKQA Media
Managing Partner, Media
Interviewed June 16, 2020
Jeremy Tate
DWA, a Merkle Company
Senior Vice President, General Manager
Interviewed June 4, 2020
Vanessa Vignon
Ubisoft Entertainment
President, Audience, Acquisition, and Management
Interviewed June 23, 2020
April Weeks
Executive Vice President, Media Services and Operations
Interviewed June 15, 2020
Brian Wieser
Global President, Business Intelligence
Interviewed June 26, 2020

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Blake Droesch


Ross Benes
Oscar Orozco
Senior Forecasting Analyst

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