Pat Hayes epitomizes why dealers have been reluctant to advertise on Facebook.
After spending about $1,500 a month for Facebook ads for six consecutive months in 2013, Hayes, who is a sales manager at Patriot Ford near Oklahoma City, couldn't point to a single vehicle sale the advertising had definitively produced.
"I'm not sure we sold any. Maybe two," Hayes said. "We canceled because we were getting zero results."
Meanwhile, down in Rosenberg, Texas, outside Houston, Paul Lappage is gung-ho on Facebook ads. The e-commerce manager of Legacy Ford says the store converted several new-vehicle sales from its $1,000 monthly spend on Facebook ads for promotions surrounding the World Cup tournament, football games and local events.
"The advertising works if you have something to engage people," Lappage said.
The differing outcomes help explain why the vast majority of dealers are sitting on the sidelines. Fewer than 10 percent of the nation's 17,875 franchise dealers use Facebook advertising to any degree, said Dave Winslow, vice president of digital strategy for software vendor Dealertrack -- even though it's a fairly inexpensive way to get in front of shoppers.
Part of the hitch is that some have tried it and not seen results, Winslow said. Others have kept Facebook advertising on the back burner as they spend more on paid-search advertising on Google or ad retargeting, which delivers ads to customers across the Web based on their browsing history, Winslow said.
Then, there is still some residual caution left by General Motors' decision two years ago -- since reversed -- to very publicly drop all its Facebook advertising, he said.
That's ironic because the automakers generally use Facebook heavily to build engagement with their brands.
"In general, dealers are under-indexed on digital advertising," Winslow said.
Alex Jefferson, a Facebook proponent who is e-commerce director of the three-store Proctor Dealerships based in Tallahassee, Fla., said Facebook ads cost the group between 30 cents and $1.50 for every visitor they attract to their dealership websites. That compares with $2 to $4.50 spent for Google paid-search ads.
A Facebook spokesman declined to discuss how much advertising the automakers or their dealers buy. But the company said it's releasing new advertising features to help dealers target shoppers locally based on their likes and the age of their vehicles, for instance.
"We are just now beginning to see our development community release products to handle the scale of dealer solutions," said Michelle Morris, vertical manager for autos at Facebook. "We have presented to thousands of dealers already this year and are working on dealer-specific collateral and how-to guides."
Across industries, ad revenue is surging at Facebook. In the second quarter, it reached $2.68 billion, up 67 percent from a year earlier. Facebook's mobile ad revenue was particularly strong, representing 62 percent of its ad revenue in the quarter.