‘First’ Auto Dealer Mashup Launches

Local auto dealers aren’t being found by Google. And their TV and print ads are largely invisible to a generation that TIVOs their television viewing, and doesn’t read newspapers.

That will change, if Jim Bonfield succeeds with what he calls “the first auto dealer mashup.” Bonfield, a veteran business development executive with The Sacramento Bee and Travidia, has formed Eyeball Farm Interactive, a company that puts together advertiser mashups for local verticals (and is a client of Krasilovsky Consulting).

To date, Eyeball has launched the auto mashup, Local Offers, in partnership with Intelligent Direct Marketing, a leading, Sacramento-based direct marketing agency for the automotive industry. More than 70 dealers around the U.S. will be running by the end of June. Next up will be launches of retail furniture outlets, currently in beta, and restaurants.

Bonfield notes that auto dealers already have Web sites, but they’re likely to continue spending the bulk of their media budget on traditional local media, including TV, radio and newspapers. The problem is that the ads, and the information in the ads, aren’t being seen by a generation that TIVOs their TV viewing, listens to XM radio in the car, and skips newspapers altogether.

The Web sites don’t fill in the blanks, either. “They’re like data vaults,” says Bonfield. “Their most compelling offers….their financing deals….it’s all locked up. Search engine spiders can’t pick them up because of the dealers’ use of Flash and Java Script.”

Dealers are also rendered invisible to the search engines because most people don’t search by dealer names. “SEO and SEM firms tell the dealers they are ‘on Google.’ But searchers for ‘Toyota Dealers, Sacramento.’ ‘Toyota Parts, Sacramento,’ ‘Used Cars, Sacramento’ would not find ‘PlanetToyota.com’ on the first-page of results for any of the top-3 engines,” he says. “There might be thousands of searchers missing this.”

The dealers can make their sites more search-engine friendly on their own. But that’s going to be a ‘Phase 2.’ The dealer sites are already up and they look good, says Bonfield. “They need to get this right.”

All in One Place

To Bonfield, the obvious solution is his Local Offers mashup, where all the dealer’s information can be found in one place – and more searchable. Moreover, all the leads go to the specific dealer, rather than distributed to 15-20 dealers at once, which Bonfield contends is the case with cars.com and autotrader.com.

Using Local Offers, dealers are able to put all their last minute deals, full-sized ads, contact info, and video and audio commercials in one place. Dealers can also put up their used car inventory, although Bonfield says that just 30 percent have taken advantage of that to date, and it will trend down. “Our XML feeds scrape 50-60 cars, but dealers may have 300 cars on their lots,” he says. And the image-heavy feeds slow down the page delivery. “We’ve found it’s better for us to just link to their sites.”

Bonfield concedes the first generation of the mashup is klugey (my word). In fact, it is downright ugly. But citing marketing guru Seth Godin, he thinks that getting all the dealer info together is ultimately going to be more important.

“The cost of TV, radio and other traditional ads is the same whether you can afford a weeks worth of air time or a month. We extend the value of these ads by putting them in front of local shoppers at the right moment. We make them valuable and relevant in a way broadcast doesn’t do.”