DETROIT – Ford Motor Co. has asked a Ford dealership in Alabama to stop giving out certificates for free 12-gauge shotguns to anyone who buys a new or used vehicle.
The automaker told the dealership late Wednesday that the promotion was inappropriate after three people died Tuesday evening during a mass shooting at a California Ford dealership. There, a man who had been fired from his job at the dealership in the San Francisco Bay area fatally shot two employees, then himself, according to local media reports.
“So it’s done. They’ve ended our promotion. I’m very disappointed,” Colin Ward, general manager of Chatom Ford in Chatom, Alabama, said Wednesday.
Chatom Ford’s advertising offered a shotgun, a Bible and an American flag with a car purchase. The offer drew hundreds of calls from across the country from people wanting to buy cars to get the shotgun.
“Ford said we can fulfill our commitments to the customers that we’ve made up till now, but we have to cease it going forward,” Ward said.
‘God, Guns and Freedom’: A rural Alabama Ford dealership’s promotion is a viral sensation
Ford spokesman T.R. Reid said that leaders in Ford’s regional office asked Ward to cease and desist the promotion in light of the California shooting.
“This is a local promotion. It is not something Ford developed and the dealers are independent businesses,” said Reid. “But if a dealership is (altering the promotion) in light of the tragedy, that seems appropriate.”
From the start, Ward was overwhelmed by the response he got from the promotion that he and a buddy devised earlier this month. Some gun control advocates objected, but Ward insists the offer was not intended to offend anyone. He only wanted to sell more cars in the tiny rural town of Chatom.
A video that Ward posted June 21 on Facebook, called “God, guns and freedom,” went viral.
“All our phone lines are jammed up and it’s an overwhelming response,” Ward told the Free Press on Tuesday morning. “We only have three salespeople. They’re overwhelmed right now.”
In a promotion that was set to run until July 31, Ward was giving customers a $200 gift certificate for a 12-gauge shotgun good at any gun store, as well as a Bible and an American flag with a new or used vehicle purchase.
“This was not a political ad to offend anyone or exclude anyone,” said Ward, who added he would give equal value gift certificates for other items to those who didn’t want a shotgun.
Little video, big reaction
One customer asked Ward for “a different kind of flag” and Ward offered him an Amazon gift card of equal value to select what he wanted.
“If you want a Torah, I’ll buy you a Torah. If you want a Koran, that’s fine. I don’t discriminate against anyone,” said Ward. “We just didn’t have that on hand because 90% of our customers here are Southern Baptist.”
Ward’s dealership sells about 360 new and used cars a year, mostly F-150 pickups. In the past, he said, he has given away Microsoft Xboxes, Apple iPads and television sets. He wanted to do something different this time.
“We were catering to our local community,” he said. “With dove (hunting) season around the corner, the Fourth of July is the American flag, so we thought we’d combine both.”
Chatom is about an hour’s drive north of Mobile, Alabama. Largely rural, it has a population of about 1,200 people.
In the video, Chatom Ford sales manager Koby Palmer stood in front of a red pickup, draped in an American flag, holding a Bible, and pitched the deal intended only for “our little local community,” said Ward.
“We’re a small dealer, we just made a video on Facebook, it wasn’t even a TV ad, so I have no idea why it’s getting this reaction.”
Chatom Ford was not prepared for an influx of business from other states or the diverse new customer base.
In one case, a man from Miami called to buy a new F-250 pickup, but the man only spoke Spanish.
“I had to look around and my service manager speaks Spanish,” said Ward. “So I turned him into a salesperson today.”
Chatom sold a used Ram pickup to a customer in New York state, Ward said. He has received calls from Michigan, Ohio, Massachusetts, New York, Canada and Europe, he said.
“They’re literally coming from everywhere,” said Ward before hearing from Ford. “We can’t handle any more than what we have happening right now.”
He said the store sold about half a dozen cars in two days.
No sales gimmick
While Ward was emphatic that his promotion was not political, other gun gimmicks at car dealerships were indeed political.
One in southern Oregon at Earnest Auto Sales ran around this time last year.
The dealership in Roseburg, Oregon, erected a sign that read, “Buy a car, get a gun.” The sign went up the same day that 200 people rallied at the county courthouse in support of the Second Amendment, local media reported.
In November 2010, a truck dealership in central Florida took the promotion to a new level with a “Buy a truck, get a free AK-47” deal, upsetting some gun control advocates.
Nations Trucks in Sanford, Florida, offered $400 vouchers to truckbuyers to redeem at a nearby gun store.
In July 2009, Max Motors in the tiny city of Butler, Missouri, about 50 miles south of Kansas City, offered a gift certificate for a Kalashnikov AK-47 rifle to anyone who bought a pickup. The dealership’s business slogan was “God, Guns, Guts, and American Pick-Up Trucks.”
But the appropriateness of a gun giveaway depends on geography, auto industry experts say.
“In my 15 years here at the association, I cannot recall a Colorado new car dealer running any kind of a gun promotion as a sales effort (or any other other effort),” said Tim Jackson, president of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association.
“Frankly, in most areas of Colorado (and the country), this would not be a good idea due to the controversial nature of guns. Though, geographically, there are areas of the country that may be an effective program.”
On the East Coast, such promotions are rare, dealership association heads say.
“Not in New Jersey,” said Jim Appleton, president of the New Jersey Coalition of Automotive Retailers.
But Chatom Ford appears to have the blessing of his state.
Tom Dart, president of the Automobile Dealers Association of Alabama, said the promotion was a good marketing move.
“Those are iconic symbols in the patriotic Deep South that would resonate with many consumers,” said Dart. “It seems to be a pretty effective promotion given the coverage it has received.”
Follow Jamie L. LaReau on Twitter: @jlareauan.