239: What I Learned From Advertising the (Absolute) Auction of My Own Car
In the first week of March, 2020, I bought a MINI Countryman S All4 in Colorado for $16,990. Two weeks ago, I sold it in a no-reserve auction to a buyer in California for $23,000.
I intentionally chose an auction as the method for sale for two reasons:
(1) I’ve advertised more than 9,500 auctions but had previously never sold a major asset of my own via auction. I wanted to show my clients that I put my money where my mouth is.
(2) I had modified my vehicle with rare options—including one I had to order from a vendor in China that my MINI dealership’s service personnel didn’t even know was equipment a MINI could have. I knew dealers wouldn’t value those modifications in a trade-in, but I didn’t know how much those upgrades were worth to others. I trusted the price discovery method auctions provide.
I asked my MINI owners’ Facebook group where they recommended I list it online. They introduced me to CarsAndBids.com, a site created by a popular automotive reviewer who had helped build AutoTrader.com. This auction site specializes in modified vehicles, right-drive imports, and exotics. After reviewing my vehicle’s spotty CARFAX report and unique modifications, they gave me an ultimatum: if I wanted them to auction this vehicle, I had to offer it without reserve. (That is not a requirement for their site as a whole—just my specific case.)
I built a $930 Facebook advertising campaign that started when bidding opened and then closed 50 minutes before bidding was scheduled to close. For the first time ever, I experimented with a boosted post built natively from the Instagram app. Outside of that $30 test, everything else looked like the kind of Facebook campaign I build for clients every day. CarsAndBids.com included my MINI in two of its daily email blasts, first in the “just listed” section and then in the “ends today” section. Their famous reviewer added a glowing write-up that appeared above my vehicle’s description (something he does for listings that catch his eye).
When the dust settled, more than 22,000 people visited my vehicle’s auction page. My Countryman sold for roughly three times Kelley Blue Book trade-in value and more than twice its estimated private party value. It brought almost $9,000 more than the last MINI Countryman listed on the site. As a bonus, I gained five insights from this experiment.
Traffic & bidding aren’t always congruent.
My clients who don’t track their Facebook ads in their Google Analytics or Meta Business Manager ask me all the time how our Facebook campaigns are performing—because bids are few or low. What’s wild is that most of the time, the campaigns in question are earning some of the most efficient results of all of the ads currently on my desk. I gained empathy for these inquiries while selling my MINI. Thanks to my Facebook ads, traffic built steadily over the course of the seven-day auction; but significant bidding didn’t start until about 24 hours before the auction closed. More than $8,000 of the final sale price came within the last 2 hours (when the total traffic count changed little).
Hyper-targeting misses bigger secondary markets.
Often, my clients ask that I target our ads to the tiniest of audiences on Facebook—many of which aren’t even options available to Facebook advertisers. I tell them that my experience has proven that bigger, more general audiences usually perform better. That bigger-audience strategy held true for my vehicle. My national ad targeting MINI Countryman enthusiasts proved the least efficient in cost per click, click-through rate, and cost per reach. My more efficient results came from used car dealers & auto auction enthusiasts nationwide in one ad and regional used car shoppers in another. My most efficient results came from an audience comprised of lookalikes of those who responded to the first three ads.
Getting on the right platform isn’t enough.
AuctionTime, BidSpotter, HiBid, ProxiBid, and others tell auctioneers that their platforms will get assets the exposure necessary for great sale prices. My clients hire me every week to bring their own people to those platforms, and I knew I had to do that even with everything CarsAndBids.com offers. As with Google advertising, auction and listing platforms rely on people who are actively searching—prime candidates, for sure. But some of the best auction bidders and buyers come from disruptive advertising like Facebook and direct mail. The Facebook ads I sponsored for my MINI accounted for more than half the page views on this auction.
Buyer geography is bigger than you think.
I’ll never forget an auction before the era of Facebook advertising when bidders showed up at my client’s on-site auction in Kansas—from 31 states. In the summer of 2021, two of my friends drove from here in Virginia to Louisiana just to look at a wake surfing boat that neither bought. Because of these and other stories, on a monthly basis, I tell a client that their requested geographic coverage area is too small. Frequently, my clients marvel at how far from the auction site the buyers live. I expected a national audience for my Countryman. It was purchased new in Texas and later by a dealer in the Denver suburbs. I had it shipped from the Rockies to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the CarsAndBids.com buyer hired a car hauler to bring it to Silicon Valley.
Instagram-only ads are woefully inefficient.
As I write this, I’ve got a campaign running for a client who requested one of his auction’s ads be distributed exclusively on Instagram. So far, that video ad is costing 4.8 times as much per click as the auction’s Facebook-only video ad and 13.3 times higher than the photo ads that Meta is distributing across all of its platforms. (I’ve never had video ads outperform their photo counterparts in the same campaign.) The traffic generated from my MINI’s boosted post on Instagram was abysmally less efficient than my all-platform ads built in Meta’s Business Manager. The Meta algorithms measure viewer engagement with ads across all of its platforms and adjust each ad’s distribution to where it’s getting the most efficient response. I trust that algorithm with my income every day.
I was relieved when what I create for my clients also got fantastic results for me. Auctions don’t work unless the marketing for them does, and I’m grateful for all of the practice on client auction campaigns that helped the marketing of my MINI work so well.