Auto Recall-Driven Digital Marketing Campaigns Can Improve Consumer Safety

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa .– According to a research team led by the Penn State Smeal College of Business, digital marketing campaigns launched by regulators to urge consumers to comply with car recall requests can improve compliance, save money. money and maybe even lives.

In its study titled “Regulating Product Recall Compliance in the Digital Age: Evidence from the ‘Safe Cars Save Lives’ Campaign”, the team examined the “Safe Cars Save Lives” digital marketing campaign (DMC) launched in 2016 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) The DMC has sought to increase consumer awareness of auto recalls by providing information to vehicle owners through paid search and online advertisements. the initiative increased the number of non-airbag recalled vehicles by 20,712 compared to what was expected without the campaign. Its effect was even greater for airbag inflator recalls, a key finding given the scale of the Takata airbag inflator debacle that has made headlines in recent years, researchers say.

The increase in the number of repaired vehicles has more than an economic effect, said Sotires Pagiavlas, an assistant professor of marketing at Smeal College of Business, who was the lead author of the article.

“Previous research has shown that for every percentage point increase in the repair rate of recalled vehicles, the number of vehicle accidents over the next three years decreases by 0.46%,” Pagiavlas said. “With our results examining how NHTSA’s digital marketing campaign improved consumer recall compliance, we can therefore expect that the significant increase in vehicle repairs as a result of the initiative is also likely to be related. unless there are associated accidents and deaths. “

The impact of “Safe Cars Save Lives” is magnified when you consider that there are around 900 vehicle recalls per year, according to the researchers. In 2020 alone, there were 786 auto recalls, affecting nearly 32 million vehicles.

NHTSA launched its campaign in January 2016 to improve low consumer recall rates following growing challenges. The “Safe Cars Save Lives” campaign was a nationwide digital marketing initiative that aimed to push consumers to use the NHTSA Recall Search webpage, encourage them to check open recalls, and then fix quickly their defective vehicles.

“Safe Cars Save Lives” was designed like other digital advertising campaigns, which use a mixture of methods, Pagiavlas said. In this campaign, officials bought keywords related to the auto recall so that people who used search engines to search for information online could be presented with a sponsored link at the top of their search results, leading them to the NHTSA website.

“When people have searched, for example, ‘Is my vehicle recalled? “They were likely to see an NHTSA ad at the top of their search results,” Pagiavlas said. “They could then click on that ad and go straight to the NHTSA Recall Search web page. With their car’s VIN number in hand, they could search to see if their vehicle had been recalled and what they needed to do to have it repaired.

Pagiavlas added that NHTSA officials have also purchased online advertisements from social media sites, such as Facebook, to also educate consumers about the recalls.

More than the minimum

According to the researchers, who report their findings in an article recently accepted by the Journal of Marketing, automakers are required to notify consumers of recalls of their vehicles, but companies’ efforts often only respond to what the law says. requires and fall short of initiatives. like “safe cars save lives”. Manufacturers may fear the impact of a recall on their stock price or the perception of their brands in the media.

However, researchers have found that while automakers may try to avoid drawing attention to recalls, media coverage of recalls in the popular press can work with digital marketing campaigns to increase consumer compliance. to reminders.

“We have found that media coverage helps improve safety outcomes by increasing the effectiveness of DMC,” Pagiavlas said. “In other words, the digital marketing campaign had more of an impact for the recall campaigns that received greater media coverage, suggesting that these two media formats may work synergistically to improve compliance. consumer recall. “

This study therefore shows other options for security officials who wish to educate consumers. The researchers also found that “Safe Cars Save Lives” was more effective for older vehicles, a class of products with historically low recall rates. Increasing recall compliance among owners of older vehicles has been a long-standing challenge for NHTSA, one that the DMC has been able to overcome.

“The evidence from the study could give agencies, such as NHTSA, leverage to ask Congress for more money in their annual budgets for digital initiatives that can have a huge impact in a cost-effective manner,” Pagliavlas said. “For agencies responsible for regulating industries with frequently recalled products, the impact of digital marketing campaigns could be substantial in preventing accidents and loss of life.”

Pagiavlas suggests that current research could be used as a springboard for work on the impact of digital marketing campaigns in other contexts.

“Think of children’s toys, dressers or swimming pools, for example, that have a problem that needs to be addressed,” Pagiavlas said. “Each of these industries are industries in which consumer compliance has often been quite low, directly resulting in consumer injury and death. Our study is the first, to our knowledge, that shows that a digital marketing campaign initiated by a regulator can take matters into their own hands and receive a positive response from consumers.

To conduct the study, the researchers gathered data from several sources, including NHTSA, LexisNexis, and ad $ pender.

Pagiavlas’s co-authors were Kartik Kalaignanam, Moore Fellow and Professor of Marketing; Manpreet Gill, Assistant Professor of Marketing and Paul D. Bliese, Jeff B. Bates Professor of Management, all at the Darla Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina.

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