The Next Place for Digital Advertising
Social media outlets such as YouTube and TikTok are providing click results that are simultaneously surprising and welcome.
By Nicole Nelson
Last spring, Sam Sousa made the decision to explore a marketing medium that was previously untapped at All American Express Car Wash. A longtime believer in the tried-and-true social media outlets of Facebook and Instagram, the Chino, Calif.-based car wash owner and operator opted to dip his toe into the depths of the multifaceted YouTube channel.
The results have simply blown All American Express’s previous digital marketing strategies out of the water.
“We are still testing the waters, but we have had one video playing for the last month that has already generated 69,000 impressions and 35,600 views,” Sousa said. “The view rate on this ad is at 51%, with an estimated ad cost of 3 cents per click.”
Not only is the YouTube opportunity yielding results for pennies per click — compared to upwards of 50 cents per click in competing platforms — but Sousa reports the platform is yielding results in a very prescribed demographic. Through the use of YouTube’s sophisticated geofencing options, the All American Car Wash ads are being distributed to a highly targeted audience in the All American Express home base of Chino, as well as the neighboring catchment area of Chino Hills, Eastvale, Norco and Ontario.
Sousa said he was already running pop-up ads on Google when he recognized the opportunity to run complimentary video ads on its video equivalent. Today, for Sousa, the two search-based ecosystems combine to complement one another very nicely in a digital marketing marriage of sorts.
In addition to the free car wash campaign that has been especially effective on YouTube, Sousa said that he has also found success with an informational video that benefited from YouTube’s auto performance category and its vast array of keyword parameters to include “car wash,” “clean car” and “car detail.”
“That one ran for about 12 months and got 100,000 views,” Sousa said. Results that were so good that All American Express Car Wash shifted all of its marketing content to video.
In addition to the views, Sousa has found intrigue in learning that the YouTube channel marketing content is largely being consumed in his target audience’s living rooms.
“I am starting to get into the analytics and see where the views are coming from, and they are coming from televisions,” Sousa said. “We didn’t expect to get that, but right now we are at about 80% TV followed by about 9% in mobile phones.”
Realizing the difficulty involved in entering personal data onto a TV screen with a remote, Sousa said he worked with All American Express Car Wash’s content specialist, Anaheim-based Golden Orange Marketing, to add a QR code to the video.
“Now customers are able to scan the QR code from their cell phone,” Sousa said. That enables the QR code prompt on all devices to then prompt a text message to the scanner’s mobile phone number where more data can be uploaded in order to generate a free car wash coupon.
In addition to YouTube, Facebook and Instagram, Sousa said he also places ads on an All American Express Car Wash TikTok account that has 23,000 followers.
“We are playing with it and having fun with it, but personally, I don’t think any of those are customers because half of the comments have to translate,” Sousa said.
As Suds Creative’s director of product and services strategy, Kayla Ivey agrees with Sousa’s TikTok assessment. Suds Creative continually has clients inquiring if emerging platforms, such as TikTok and Snapchat, are ripe for generating leads. Ivey’s answer? Not exactly.
“The key for us when deciding which digital channel to use is making sure we are leveraging the channels that most of our target market is on,” Ivey said. “Although emerging platforms like TikTok are interesting to explore, the reality is most of the market we are targeting for car wash customers is still on Facebook and Instagram.”
For more successful and straightforward results, Ivey points her clientele toward Facebook and Instagram, both of which are continually proving to be the most effective marketing channels in the car wash space despite falling user bases.
“Facebook and Instagram are our primary channels still to this day,” Ivey said. “They have been the prime lead generator for us for years, and they are still generating leads really, really well. We see Facebook and Instagram as where we are going to be leading our clients to continue using for the foreseeable future, until data shows that our target customers are using other platforms.”
Ivey said the other platform that is tracking well in terms of generating awareness and leads is Google Performance Max, which allows performance advertisers to access all of their Google Ads inventory from a single campaign.
“We have been using Google for a long time, but there is the newer Performance Max ads on Google, and those cover Search campaigns and YouTube and a bunch of different channels within Google,” Ivey said. “We are seeing these campaigns perform really well, specifically the video content. We are encouraging our clients to invest in getting video content created that we can leverage on these platforms because these are driving very high engagement.”
Platitudes for Meta Platforms?
Senior vice president of marketing at National Carwash Solutions, Jason Baumgartner, agrees with Ivey. However, he said he always falls back on the Metaverse players as a first pick in the ad platform draft.
“There are some things that Meta has done that are unique, but they have not necessarily happened recently to be considered the next big thing,” Baumgartner said.
He believes the shared Facebook and Instagram advertising platforms are underleveraged when he looks objectively at a singular tool: an ads form that allows users to autofill their own contact information that is on Facebook.
“If you are looking to give away a free wash or promote a grand opening, you want users to give you their contact information in exchange for a coupon of some sort,” Baumgartner said. “A lot of times, you have to send them to a landing page and have them fill stuff out. Well, Facebook automates that so that you just click.”
In addition to this under-utilized feature, Baumgartner suggests users tie in the backend of Facebook with Instagram and then tie that back into customer relationship management.
He adamantly expressed the car wash industry’s need to send out digital messaging via multiple channels in order to maximize efficiencies.
“It is not really just about one channel — it is about exposing viewers to multiple channels at the same time through omnichannel marketing,” Baumgartner said. “If I see something just once on Facebook, I have a 1% chance I will respond. If I saw that same ad on Facebook and a billboard, and I found it on Twitter, and I saw it on Instagram, then that likelihood that I will respond because of that omnichannel campaign goes up dramatically three or four times.”
In theory and practice, Baumgartner has found that there is no one silver bullet. “In digital marketing, a lot of it has to do with strategically getting six to eight impressions with the same individual in multiple digital platforms,” he said. “That is where you are more likely to find success.”
Compared to the Meta platforms, “I don’t think anybody does Facebook and Instagram from their TV,” Sousa said.
The YouTube television component has proven to be a marked anomaly from the Meta platforms of Facebook and Instagram that tend to deliver messaging via handheld screens. Yet Sousa does not discount the steady growth the same “free car wash” video campaign has generated on Instagram.
“Since we started doing the video in the last year, we’ve gained 1,200 followers on Instagram, and we just keep building that page when our ad is running, trying to get new people on the site. By getting them here, we are seeing a lot more engagement because we are offering that free wash, and once we get them into that drip campaign, they can join our birthday club, and if they redeem their wash on day three, we send them a coupon for 50% off their next wash. And then at day 21, we send them a coupon to join our wash club for 50% off.”
“We are using all the social media to try to get the customer here and try to create wash habits.”
Multiple digital platform advertising is the gospel, according to Bubble Bath CEO Nick Lopez. For Lopez, the brand needs to be everywhere from a digital marketing perspective.
“Social marketing, in general, has just gotten to the place where if you are not on every channel, you are missing people,” he said. “People are everywhere now, and you can’t just find them in one place.”
There is a caveat to this method.
“There are things that are more successful than others, and for us, Facebook has always been a boon,” Lopez said. “It has been a part of my life for 20 years, which is just terrifying, but it has remained a place for us where we still get a lot of movement.”
Lopez has had more traction with still photos and messaging than videos. And, of late, he said feel-good stories have been very well received.
“We have been posting a lot of stuff that we do internally with our staff, such as employee of the month and best location awards,” Lopez said. “We are celebrating the folks that do the hard work, and the response to that has been really, really positive. We have seen an increase in engagement as our followers get excited about seeing their favorite team members online. Social media can be vitriol at times, so we’re leaning into these feel-good stories to get our followers to pause and smile as they scroll.”
Baumgartner is a proponent of these personality pieces, especially in a challenging labor market. He readily admits that recruiting can be a good example of a juxtaposition where audience targeting is different.
“One of the challenges facing a lot of operators right now is finding quality employees, so a good active presence on social media and using social channels that are more emerging, like TikTok, to promote again is about a different action,” Baumgartner said. “We want people to respond to a job ad, and who is most likely to take the action? Let’s say 18-, 19- and 20-year-old individuals.”
In order to feel like it is in their best interest, Baumgartner said this late teen and early 20s demographic needs to view, through the eyes of social media, that the car wash is a cool, fun place to work.
“Your ads have to reflect that your car wash is interesting with good and cool people there,” Baumgartner said. “If you have a presence online, they are looking for you online. If your website looks like it is 30 years old and photos on your site are bad, you are not going to get the same response on advertising or job-posted ads. But if you have good energy in your social media, with solid pictures of young people enjoying themselves and having fun, you get the benefit of being able to recruit well and that can make all the difference in this competitive market.”