Direct marketing spend was steady throughout 2020 despite the impact of the pandemic on people’s driving habits. According to the DoT’s Federal Highway Commission, traffic volume was significantly down in 2020 compared to 2019 (-11% or 28.9 billion vehicle miles), largely due to anxieties over the COVID-19 pandemic. But as new case counts drop substantially and safety mandates are lifted, some confidence is being gained about travel, opening up opportunities for auto clubs with the rebirth of the road trip; consumers are still not comfortable flying, but are more open to car travel.
Despite the pandemic, 2020 saw auto club mailers digging into direct mail. In this report, we explore whether there is an opportunity for greater omnichannel focus.
Auto Club Mail Steady
In both Canada and the U.S., direct mail marketing in the roadside assistance space was steady throughout 2020 after a massive 2019 increase. While clubs like CAA and AAA both comprised the lion’s share of activity in their respective countries, Allstate direct mail activity increased significantly in 2020, rising 27% Y/Y.
Top roadside assistance emails featured promotional offers or promoted new digital tools. Most roadside assistance emails fell below the insurance industry average read rate of 30%. The top campaign observed was from AutoZone, with AAA sending the next top-volume emails.
AAA Mail Remained Steady
The top-volume email campaign in 2020 was a AAA offer for free roadside assistance to first responders and health care workers, outlining the brand’s commitment to pandemic efforts. With much of this messaging absent from direct mail, email was the primary channel for COVID messaging.
There was a mid-summer peak in digital spend that indicates auto clubs largely did not participate in the July 2020 Facebook spend boycott that over 1,000 companies around the world participated in. However, the steady digital marketing spend in display and video indicates that auto clubs like AAA had not taken advantage of the massive 2020 digital migration of many demographics as they were forced to stay home during lockdown. Top AAA paid Facebook campaigns instead simply promoted free AAA membership renewals.
In terms of direct mail, AAA mail remained steady Y/Y with only a 4% change in volume. It also comprised 97% of all auto club mail sent, and 100% of auto club mail sent in Md., Mass., Tenn., La., Kan., Miss., Ark., Iowa, Ore., Neb., N.H., S.D., Nev., and Mont.
AAA’s top campaigns continue to contain a prodigious page count. The top campaign in 2020 had a total of 14 pages. Although the campaign was largely sent to older consumers (59% of offers were sent to consumers aged 50+), in an era where eco-friendly consumer consciousness is growing, the amount of paper in these offers may turn younger customers away.
AAA win-back efforts offered $10 in savings, but may have been better served with different messaging.
AAA could consider rephrasing the monetary language to a percentage (i.e. save x%), or a focus on new or expanded features recently added, like app updates or expanded coverage options.
Despite the pandemic, top AAA display ads in 2020 depicted mask-less consumers and vacations. The ads were observed between September 2020 and February 2021, primarily on yahoo.com and zillow.com. Ads like this that depict road trips could be particularly effective during the recovery period.
One of AAA’s running themes across top 2020 display ads positioned the brand as a “hero” that enjoys rescuing its customers. These marketing campaigns could potentially be more effective around big ticket media releases like the Justice League Snyder Cut or any Marvel properties.
Alternatively, many Americans in the South feeling the brunt of a massive snowstorm may appreciate some “rescue” messaging – roadside assistance acquisition campaigns may go a long way for the next month or two in affected states.
Allstate volume fell significantly in 2019, down 44% Y/Y. In 2020, 4% of all auto club mail was from Allstate, doubling from the 2% observed in 2019. In its top 10 most-mailed states — N.Y., Ariz., Texas, Ga., Ohio, Mo., Pa., Ala., N.J., and Vt. — Allstate comprised 6% of the total mail volume.
Allstate offered AARP coverage branded as “Allstate Roadside.” The top-mailed 2020 campaign offered 24-hour roadside assistance for $119 per year, or “less than $10 per month.”
Despite being an AARP product, Allstate branded it as an in-house product. The campaign also offered 20% off for AARP members.
Top digital ads for Allstate Roadside focused on a sign-up discount.
Other digital Allstate ads cited AARP member exclusive savings.
Both of these Allstate Roadside ads were only observed on aarp.org.
Canadian Direct Marketing Activity
Starting in Q3’19, auto club acquisition volume began a steady upward climb. Volume rose through Q1 2020, seemingly not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. 2020 volume was 74% higher than 2019. In the past, auto club mail spiked in spring and fall – in 2020, spring offers were likely shifted to early summer due to COVID-19, but fall activity remained high.
In terms of digital, Canadian auto club marketers eschewed digital marketing in 2020. Similar to the U.S., opportunities exist for Canadian auto clubs to reach newly digital audiences as they migrated online during the pandemic existed during 2020. Now is an excellent time for auto clubs to take advantage of lower cost digital marketing channels and diversify strategy.
CAA dominated direct marketing in Canada with CAA and affiliate clubs holding over 99% of mail share across provinces.
CAA’s campaign formula from previous years has remained static through 2020.
CAA’s top 2019-2020 campaign was visually identical to the top campaign observed in 2018, but targeted French Canadians. This campaign offered free 24-hour roadside assistance and a membership for an annual fee of $89.
Top digital CAA ads featured a catchy slogan and an invitation to learn more.
Not only were direct mail trends seemingly unaffected by the pandemic, but pandemic messaging was also noticeably absent from campaigns across channels, with auto clubs missing an opportunity to tout safety guidelines and customer support. Additionally, with consumers largely rejecting plane travel due to the pandemic, auto clubs could consider taking advantage of the rebirth of the road trip in their campaign messaging.
While AAA and CAA retain their iron grip on direct mail marketing in the U.S. and Canada, respectively, auto club providers should be asking if this strategy is still the most impactful in 2020. The pandemic has forced older demographics to migrate digitally for all aspects of life, from social interaction to financial and insurance account management. Clubs need to ask themselves if direct mail is still the best channel to reach this target demo, as well as capture emerging targets.