Mark Benson believes marketing should be edgy to be effective. And in his search for an edge, he has found religion.
A couple of years ago, the managing partner of Honolulu Ford not only decided to keep his store closed on Sundays, but also advertised that fact. Benson said he did it to accommodate churchgoers, give his employees a day off and build goodwill.
This year, he went a step further, launching a cable-TV channel that offers on-demand religious programming created by local churches. The channel is called John 316, a reference to the Bible verse that many believers consider the gospel "in a nutshell."
Each program on John 316 carries a message in the beginning and at the end showing Benson and the church's pastor thanking Honolulu Ford for the opportunity to show the program, he said. That fixture often runs in the middle of the program too, he said.
"Dealers sponsor the local high school, Little League teams and all kinds of things," said Benson. "But when it comes to church or American values, we're all afraid."
If there's one thing that puts that fear to rest for Benson, it's the numbers.
Once a laggard in the Honolulu market, the dealership began to see its sales rise in early 2014 after Benson opted to close on Sundays, and escalate further after the launch of John 316. It's now the No. 1 Ford dealership in Hawaii, a Ford Motor Co. spokeswoman confirmed, selling about 1,500 new and used vehicles a year.
"We've been blessed in sales and profitability because we have been bold," says Benson.