Contests draw attention to low-profile dealerships
Auditions for a new TV spokesperson brought Coastal Chevrolet in Savannah Ga. 78 would-be stars and nearly 1000 new Facebook friends.
Printed in Automotive News May 9, 2011
In April, Chris Myers Nissan landed a new TV pitchman and about 1,500 new Facebook friends in one stroke.
The Daphne, Ala., store, across a bay from Mobile, hosted an "American Idol"-style contest to find the next face of the dealership. About 50 contestants auditioned. Some sang. Some danced. Some played it straight.
A TV commercial then spliced together highlights and urged viewers to visit the store's Web site to watch the videos and vote.
The result: more than 20,000 votes plus 77,000 unique visits to the store's Facebook page in April, up from fewer than 1,000 monthly hits before the contest. Facebook friends soared from 60 to more than 1,600.
Rick LeMaitre, the dealership's manager, wanted something different for what he calls a "location-challenged" store. In 2009, the dealership moved to Interstate 10, about 5 miles from the Chris Myers Auto Mall that houses the group's two other stores.
"We needed to really set the store apart and make it different," LeMaitre said.
The contest approach tapped a seemingly insatiable demand for two pop-culture trends: contest-style reality shows and social media. It raised the store's profile in a way traditional media can't, said Jay Murphree, president of Action, the Atlanta advertising firm that ran the contest.
"The first challenge was to get the community paying attention," Murphree said of the Chris Myers contest. "Then an emphasis was put on the store's location. It put them on the map."
Murphree had seen dealerships host in-store auditions for on-air talent, generating buzz for a day. But he wanted to tie in social media and the store's Web site to create a campaign with some legs.
He said the approach works best for low-profile dealerships, such as an isolated location or a recent move. That describes Coastal Chevrolet in Savannah, Ga., the only one of 10 stores in the Vaden Automotive Group without the Vaden name and in a stand-alone location.
In late 2009, the store lost its general manager, who also was its TV personality.
"When we lost our manager, we lost our identity," said Jane Vaden Thacher, CEO of Vaden Automotive.
Coastal, another of Murphree's clients, conducted its all-day auditions on April 7 -- attracting 78 would-be stars. Vaden Thacher said: "We had everything from cross-dressers to singers to dancers -- you name it."
The immediate results: 12,000-plus votes and nearly 1,000 new Facebook friends. It had only 136 before.
So now what?
Kathi Kruse, a Los Angeles consultant who works with dealerships on social media strategy, advised feeding the sites local content -- some related to cars, some not -- but with very little outright advertising.
"Share blogs. Maybe even do another contest or survey, but it shouldn't be blatantly selling," Kruse said. "The goal should be to remain relevant and local."
Like most dealers, LeMaitre can't say that the Facebook influx is boosting sales. Web, phone and showroom traffic are all up but he cannot quantify the gains yet. He won't disclose the campaign's cost but said he raised the advertising budget 15 percent for 90 days.
He's certain, however, that it raised the store's profile -- and it landed Michael Brannon, the college student who was chosen from five finalists, as the new TV personality. c
You can reach Mike Colias at email@example.com.