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A Black woman with long, straight black hair, wearing a white dress shirt and gray skirt, designs an automotive video ad.

The earliest known car ad told Scientific American readers that its product was a better investment than a horse. Today’s auto brands face a crowded and competitive landscape, demanding more inventiveness. Producing an ad that really connects with the viewer can be a challenge. Creative is one tool you can leverage to make significant differences in ROI, and experimenting makes it easy to adapt and update campaigns at scale.

To find out what makes auto ads effective, our team analyzed thousands of auto ads on YouTube to better understand what drove performance. Based on our findings, we determined that these five creative strategies set the most successful ads apart.

1. Start high, start fast

When it comes to the first few seconds of an auto ad, put the pedal to the metal. Opt for dropping viewers right into the action to hook their attention, over the more traditional wide running car footage they’re used to seeing. From there, introduce dynamism with quickly paced, contrasting visuals paired with audio and supers.

This 30-second ad features the Cupra Born 100% electric vehicle

The Cupra Born spot kicks off with a flash of a speeding car and keeps the momentum going by interspersing clips of the car with fleeting shots of engaging visuals to evoke the energy and excitement of being behind the wheel. The fast pace and rapid-fire stimuli grip the viewer’s attention and keep them engaged throughout the ad.

2. Put people in the center of your ad

Facts and specs are important, but they’re not the only things that work to sell a car. Anchoring your story in human experience allows your audience to imagine the tangible experience of the car, and how it might fit into their lives, building a personal, and more powerful, connection to your brand.

Mitsubishi Brazil’s 20-second L200 ad is introduced by journalist Cris Bartis

Mitsubishi Brazil’s New Generation spot features women from all backgrounds literally and figuratively taking the wheel, including the wheel of a powerful new four-wheel drive. Multiple characters and a powerful storyline give viewers a reason to connect and emotionally invest.

3. Audio drives attention

Engines revving, brakes squealing, tires hitting the ground: These familiar sounds create an immersive experience for viewers, an experience that becomes critical on YouTube, where 95% of ads are played with the sound on.1 Sound effects, voice-over, and other audio elements have been shown to engage people’s attention and help them imagine what it’s like to drive a particular car — an important consideration for purchase.

Mini USA’s 30-second ad features its Hardtop 2-Door Hatchback

Mini USA’s Hardtop 2-Door Hatchback spot amplifies the sound of the engine throughout the ad alongside everyday dialogue and a fun music track, bringing the full driving experience to life in an immersive and relatable way.

4. Every spot is a feature spot

Every spot is a chance to show off the specs and features that make your car stand out from the rest, and simplicity is key. Ads shorter than 15 seconds are better served by focusing on one or two things, whereas longer ads have more wiggle room. The key is to keep it clear and not force too many messages at once. Have a lot to say? Consider experimenting by breaking up your multifeature spot with several shorter single-feature ads.

DJ D-Nice touts the Ford F-150 in a 15-second ad

Ford US’s F-150 campaign highlights two key features centered around one idea: making work accessible and easy, both inside and out, when you’re on the road. The message is clear and simple, giving these standout features their chance to shine.

5. Build for mobile

More than 70% of YouTube watch time happens on mobile devices globally,2 so making your ad viewable on a 5-inch screen is a minimum requirement. Think bright, high-contrast colors, tight framing, and large-type supers to make your ad stand out on that small screen. “But will that translate to TV?” Yes, we’ve seen that mobile-first ads work just as well on connected TVs.3

Three car models are highlighted in this 6-second ad from Volkswagen Canada

Volkswagen Canada uses bright colors and tight shots of their cars paired with large-type supers that add playful taglines to their fleet of SUVWs, ensuring that the ad is not only eye-catching, but memorable.

Use these five data-backed creative strategies as a starting point for your next auto ad. Each tactic leaves plenty of room for your brand’s unique sensibility. And once you have a strong foundation, try experimenting with different iterations of your creative to see what works best for your specific audience.