Evidently, Vroom’s Super Bowl commercial really struck a nerve. For those who haven’t seen it (you must’ve been under a rock or busy working), you can view the Vroom commercial for yourself. The synopsis is a well-worn trope of a dealership torturing a customer, except this time it’s shot like the Quentin Tarantino version. Frankly, it’s rather lazy on Vroom’s part. Gasp! Dealerships are scary places! Despite confirming what survey after survey says, it ruffled the automotive community’s feathers. Dry your tears, you poor savaged people.
While desperately trying to keep the snark-factor contained, dealerships have given every inch of rope to those outsiders who want to take an expensive pot-shot. Instead of focusing on all the contributions dealerships have provided for decades, instead, the buying public gets shamelessly blanketed by every negative stereotype through every media channel. As if embracing the bad guy character of a professional wrestler, automotive dealers lean into perpetuating all that reinforces the heel that everyone loves to hate.
Many professionals have been doing all they can to add some polish to those who are rough around the edges. It’s almost laughable how many branding strategists (qualified or otherwise) have thrown their hats into the ring to help dealerships rebrand themselves for social media. For the last several years, nearly every major conference has offered sessions on improving customer experience. Some have even featured best-selling authors as keynotes. Brent Wees and I have brought methodical and scientific sessions around building customer experience to the DigitalDealer Conference for the last three years in a row. Still, the decision was easy enough for Vroom to drop $5.5 MILLION for 30 seconds of advertising time because nary a dent has been made.
We know there are dealers who are objectively good people. Clearly, we’ve all seen a little league team sponsored by a car dealership, at some point in time. Some of us even played on those teams. But, it goes so far beyond that. From college scholarships, to church youth groups, to supporting veterans’ causes, dealerships have quietly donated countless millions of dollars. A DealerKnows client in New Jersey outfits the local high school football team because many of the students are too poor to do so. The same dealership provided commercial laundry facilities after its community was struck by a hurricane. Another DealerKnows client in Iowa maintains its commitment to the local radio station for the sole purpose of helping another small business out. That’s right. No expectation on return. Anyone would agree these are good people, and these are just a couple of examples.
In the twenty years I’ve been working with businesses across all verticals, I’ve never known an industry to lift so many marginalized people up. With my own two eyes, I’ve seen battered mothers gain safety and security. Those with petty criminal records given the ability to permanently rehabilitate their lives. People of color and from the LGBTQ+ community allowed the space to be themselves, not forced to conform to outrageous and unreasonable standards. With all of their children living their very best lives. With everyone earning a living that far exceeds anything any of them could have dreamed of. Yet, it’s a reality for hundreds of thousands across the country.
Sadly, that’s the face we don’t get to see. Instead, we get to see the guy in the funny hat. Or, a cartoon dog. Some cowgirl on a blinged-out horse. Or, worse, some blinged-out model, selling something entirely different than automobiles. Don’t forget the jingle based on culturally appropriated music. All of it stitched together with car guys and car gals wearing gaudy jewelry, sunglasses fused to their foreheads, pointing and screaming into the camera about something that’s cheap, cheap, cheap! The buying community is robbed of the opportunity to see and hear someone who changes lives almost every day. Robbed of it. But, here we are complaining about Vroom.
As it has been said before, if you point one finger, you have three pointing back at you. Dealerships cannot keep crying foul when they simply do not do enough to give themselves the identity they deserve. Instead of perpetuating the stereotypes with kitschy gimmicks, while letting non-dealers speak for the dealer body as a whole, dealerships need to become their own advocates. They should always be looking to tell the story about their dealership, and what that story means to other people. When it comes to reputation, the buck always stops with you.
Advertisements don’t always have to be about incentives. That may come as a shock to marketing agencies. It can be argued, that making about the incentives demonstrates a complete lack of creativity. Bold statements aren’t just for $5.5 million Super Bowl ads, either. A former DealerKnows client in Alabama made an entire series of commercials celebrating the dealer group’s employees and history. Not the inventory, the brands, or the slashing of prices. Just the people. Every dealership has the chance to make it about something other than discounts. They just need to take it.
Stop making it so easy to be the victim. It’s time to get loud about the generosity, the second chances, and the empowerment. It’s time to celebrate the success stories, the history, and the commitment to the community. It’s time to stand up and be recognized.
If history tells us anything, companies like Vroom come and go. Despite decades of predictions, forecasts, postulation, and guarantees, the dust hasn’t settled on the fate of the car business. And, while many well-capitalized companies have taken aim at dealers, just over a million people are still gainfully employed by dealerships. Still working hard every day, still exceeding expectations. Dealerships don’t need anyone to stick up for them. They just need to finally stand up and be themselves.