Mobile Marketing—Will it Work for Car Dealers?

Let’s explore some of the different kinds of mobile advertising that are currently available for car dealers and how they work.


Short Message Service (SMS)


Marketing on a mobile phone has become increasingly popular ever since the rise of Short Message Service (SMS) in the early 2000s when businesses started to collect mobile phone numbers and sent wanted or unsolicited text messages. SMS services typically run off a short code, but sending text messages to an email address is another method. The short codes are usually five or six digit numbers that have been assigned by all the mobile service providers for the use of advertising campaigns and other consumer services. The consumer opts in to receive messages by texting to the appropriate code. One drawback to SMS is that the consumer has the ability to opt out of the service at any time by sending the word “STOP” via SMS.


Multimedia Message Service (MMS)


Multimedia Message Service (MMS) mobile marketing can contain a timed slideshow of images, text, audio, and video. This mobile content is delivered via MMS. Nearly all new phones produced with a color screen are capable of sending and receiving standard MMS messages. Companies are able to send and receive rich content advertising through MMS mobile networks to mobile subscribers. Some mobile networks are also capable of sending sponsor messages that are sent person-to-person, thus focusing the messages directly to the interests of that consumer.


Location based services (LBS)


Location based services (LBS) are offered by some cell phone networks as a way to send custom advertising and other information to cell phone subscribers based on their current location. The cell phone service provider gets the location from a GPS chip built into the phone or using radiolocation based on the signal strength of the closest cell phone towers for phones without GPS.


A Quick Response Code (QR code)


A Quick Response Code (QR code) is a specific matrix barcode (a two-dimensional image), readable by camera phones or QR barcode readers for commercial and industrial use. The QR code consists of a black square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be text, URL, phone number, SMS message, calendar event, or other kinds of data.


Recently, QR codes have become more prevalent in advertising and have been integrated into both traditional and interactive campaigns. Media where QR codes have been deployed include: billboards, in-store displays, trade shows, business cards, print ads, contests, direct mail campaigns, websites, email marketing, and coupons. QR codes allow a high degree of accuracy used to measure and quantify the return on investment (ROI) for each campaign.


The fastest industry to utilize QR Codes for advertising is the Real Estate industry. Simply placing an oversized QR code on the “For Sale” sign at the curb allows the drive-by looker to take a picture of the QR Code with their cell phone, without leaving their car, and may turn them into a buyer.


Car dealers are notorious for spending a lot of money on advertising. On the average it cost the dealership around $1,000.00 per new unit sold for advertising cost. Only a small portion of their budget is geared towards mobile advertising on license plate frames with the dealers name, brand(s), rear body decals, and/or website URLs lettered on the back window of their loaner cars. All of this is their attempt to let the public know where to shop and buy. By placing a QR code on the vehicles side windows, dealers can communicate with anyone who passes the vehicle, giving the dealerships address, geo location (map and driving direction from where the customer is at that moment), sale announcement, or their phone number which can then be automatically dialed.


Advertising on web pages specifically meant for access by mobile devices is also an option. Google, Yahoo, and other major mobile content providers have been selling advertising placement for some time now. I’m unsure if an android application makes sense for most dealers, although, if your dealer group has a lot of roof-tops and brands, it may be advantageous to have all the stores combine new and used inventory in one application. Setting real-time service appointments with an android app would allow customers to choose the closest dealership to them, get driving direction and receive verification that the appointment is set.


Another mobile advertising avenue to explore is a fully functional mobile website. Many of the automotive web provider companies already offer this service. When a customer on a cell phone visits the main website they are automatically forwarded to a mobile version. I find it very helpful when the mobile website has provided a hyperlink to view the “full website”. There is nothing more frustrating than not being able to view the full website with all the links on my android phone.


The mobile marketing sector is one of the fastest growing advertising segments in the United States. Businesses want more customers and customers want deals. Companies like Google published their new rule: Mobile First; and Apple Inc, now claims to be "A Mobile Device Company".


Within the last six months, the use of QR codes in the U.S. has increased over 1200 percent. In my opinion, the QR code is here to stay and should grow as fast as it has in Japan and some European countries. In the car business, the first adapters of processes, methodologies and technology usually dominate their competition, but first adapters only comprise about 10 percent of the industry. The rest wait and see if the new ideas work, but by then, they are playing catch-up.


There are approximately 312 million Americans, 266 million with internet access via computer. Over 285 million people, over 91 percent, have mobile phones in the U.S. and nearly 40 percent of those phones can access the internet. The 2010 U.S. Census reports 67 percent of the U.S. population is between 15–64 years old. On the average, Americans change or upgrade their cell phones for new ones every two years. It's predicted that within the next 12 to 18 months the percentage of smart-phones will reach over 60 percent and the internet as we know it will change. Businesses will soon be forced to pay attention to mobile marketing.


Right now you have the opportunity to secure your organizations position in your market with mobile advertising, ahead of the trend. The overall cost for mobile marketing is so nominal that it really doesn’t need to be addressed. However, fitting this marketing vertical into your current advertising is tricky and getting help can actually save your business money.


Neil Gale holds a Ph.D. from the London Institute for Applied Research in Business Management. Neil founded his third consulting firm,, which specializes in the set-up and development of car dealership's Business Development Centers and internet Departments. With over 40 dealer groups under his belt, Neil boasts an average increase of over 25 percent in car sales. For more information, visit or call 800-736-1036.





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