Ball Auto Group links Facebook with mall ads, drives purchases

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A low ROI on in-mall advertisements drove automotive dealership chain Ball Automotive Group to abandon the out-of-home channel for five years. However, six months ago, the Southern California-based company began to focus on growing its Facebook following, says CIO Jenifer Ball, and decided to mark its return to in-mall advertising with an eight-week campaign that launched in March and integrated the social network into its call to action.

Ball says that car dealers' out-of-home advertising usually prods consumers to visit a dealership and take a test drive, many times in return for a monetary reward. Yet the interaction was often limited to a one-time engagement, whereas Ball Automotive Group wanted to establish a prolonged relationship with consumers.

“A lot of times when we had done mall advertising in the past, [we would] offer $25 for a test drive, and get a lot of people that come in just for the money. They're not really interested in buying a car. It wastes the sales person's time and our advertising,” says Ball.

The company partnered with out-of-home advertising company Eye to link a test drive call-to-action to its Facebook initiative. 

“We'd seen by posting a special on our Facebook page, we would get some inquiries,” says Ball. “So we thought we haven't had much luck with just straight test drives in the mall advertising, why don't we try to drive people to Facebook and see what happens?”

The campaign's in-mall ads, displayed at San Diego's Westfield Plaza Bonita mall, prodded consumers to “like” Ball Automotive Group's Facebook page and post “mall” on its wall for a chance to win an Apple iPad or Microsoft Xbox 360 with Kinect. The company then messaged participants via Facebook and asked the consumers to visit one of its five local dealerships for a test drive in exchange for a $25 gift card to be redeemed at the mall.

Ball says 175 consumers entered the Facebook giveaway, with 50 following through on the test drive offer. The company has also attributed two car purchases — one Kia and one Honda — to the campaign, says Ball. But just as valuable is the long-term engagement earned, she says.

Jeff Gunderman, SVP and general manager at Eye's mall-centric Eye Shop USA division, says that the ad firm previously ran similar in-mall campaigns with three other car dealers around the country, but only Ball Automotive Group's featured the Facebook tie-in.

“If we can tie [in-mall advertising] to something that allows the advertiser to collect information and earn the right to create a relationship with those individuals and thereby track results, it's a much more compelling campaign for the advertiser,” says Gunderman.

Asked if the Facebook integration is now table stakes for the Ball Automotive Group's future calls to action, Ball says “absolutely.”

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