The race for car ad CTR: Q4 to Q1 is the best time to market

The automotive sector is seeing a resurgence as click through rates recover from a pre-pandemic low, says new research

Click through rates (CTR) on automotive adverts have recovered since the start of the pandemic, says new research from Outbrain and TheContillery. 

Outbrain’s study, which analysed purchasing behaviour of car shoppers and their interactions with online car ads indicates that between Q4 and Q1 is  the optimal time for marketers to run successful car campaigns. 

The study of more than 5,000 automotive ads on Outbrain’s platform shows that CTR hit its highest rate in January 2021, at 0.34% compared to a low of 0.17% in October 2019. The research found that year on year, CTR on car ads was up by 62%, which Outbrain concludes signals a resurgence in consumer engagement and the car sector.

James Milne, Northern Europe Managing Director, Outbrain, said:Accelerated by the pandemic, e-commerce has grown in popularity - a reflection of shifting consumer habits. The process for researching and buying vehicles has changed, increasingly moving to online rather than physical stores. To remain competitive, auto brands need to embrace an approach to digital marketing and our latest research shows how they can optimise their strategy to bring in leads and drive interest throughout the marketing funnel.”

The days and ways to drive car ad consumption

Outbrain also found that content on news pages was the most common avenue for conversions, at 31.2%, followed by ads on entertainment pages (16.4%), sports pages (14.1%) and business and finance pages (12.8%).

Saturday is the most effective day for advertising car content, suggests the research, while the type of device for accessing the content affects consumption. Outbrain found that peak consumption times on mobile were between 3pm and 4pm, while for desktop this was 11am. 

Most popular car images

Selected imagery for car ad content was also examined as part of the study, with Vice President Advertising at Outbrain Ayal Steiner commenting that “images are the currency of effective communication and have a strong impact on campaign performance”.

Research partner TheContillery found that  ‘lifestyle’ imagery of cars with people in everyday scenes was the most common type worldwide, at 15%, but in a nod to electric vehicles, 7% of imagery featured electric or hybrid cars at charging stations.


There were however subtle differences in the common types of  imagery used across the globe. In Japan a ‘catalogue’ image (a car set on a neutral background) is the most common for advertisers, accounting for 18% of all adverts. ‘On the road’ imagery was the most popular in Israel (18% of adverts).

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