General Motors' CMO Joel Ewanick made waves this week with the news that he's refusing to buy ads on Facebook until he can be convinced there's any ROI for doing so. The automaker is still committed to engaging on Facebook, as a statement on GM's Facebook page this morning notes:
"Just wanted to let our millions of Facebook fans know, we're still here, and we 'like' you back! We may not be advertising on Facebook at the moment but we'll still be talking with you all daily. If anything, we will be providing more content across our many GM Facebook pages - including Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac - to keep the dialogue going."
He's got some sympathies from brand executives of other automakers who are scratching their heads about the value of actually paying for space on the ubiquitous social site. But most car brands (including Kia and Subaru, as the Wall Street Journal noted) are sticking with Facebook ads as well as in beefing up the content and engagement available that doesn't cost them anything (other than staffers' time or agency fees) on their brands' Facebook pages.
Ford strikes the highest-profile dissension with its cross-town rival in assessing the value of paid ads on Facebook. "We are doing more advertising on Facebook," Matt VanDyke, Ford's director of marketing communications, told brandchannel, "and it is a growing and critical part of our media mix."
As Ford tweeted in response to the GM ad pullout news:
"You won't make the right choices if you view Facebook as an advertising network," VanDyke commented. "You can't just pick up advertising that would run somewhere else and put it on Facebook as an ad banner."
Ford's approach, he explained, is to ensure that paid advertising is integrated with social marketing on Facebook and, typically, timed to promote a vehicle launch — and as indicated above, the plan is to engage its dealer network too. That's the tactic Ford used to support the launch of the 2012 Explorer utility vehicle early last year, and it's now employing to boost interest in the 2013 Escape utility vehicle.
The brand also is experimenting with Facebook's "sponsored stories" platform for marketers with, for example, a "customizer" app for the Mustang, which included sponsored placement of a video on the Facebook sign-out page. "We got one million views in one day," VanDyke said.
Similarly, Nissan integrates "free" Facebook content with promotional and media planning around vehicle launches, such as its debut of a Pathfinder SUV concept vehicle at the Detroit auto show in January and its unveiling of the 2013 Altima sedan at the New York International Auto Show in March.
GM's move "seems like a little bit of a knee-jerk thing," Erich Marx, Nissan's director of social media, told brandchannel. "To say it's no longer a viable reach medium for you seems overstated." Still, he conceded, Nissan "does very little paid advertising in the social space" overall.
And, similarly, Jack Hollis, vice president of the Scion brand, told brandchannel that he understands why GM is assessing paid advertising on Facebook. The Toyota-owned "youth" brand takes pains to develop and spread relevant free content based on Facebook.
"Most brands who advertise there advertise just one thing: 'Like us,'" Hollis said. "Our ads aren't about liking us. We're putting out content. We don't see a need to be [on Facebook] in a major advertising way because it kind of gets lost among all the brands that want to be 'liked.' If you 'like' us, have a relationship with us" via content.
One thing's for sure: GM has sparked more attention to its Facebook presence with all this than any paid ad on the network might have done.