Monday, March 4, 2013

Caveat Emptor

Last week I was chatting with several copywriters and we were exchanging horror stories about car dealers. This is chock full of irony as we are all employed at agencies that service car manufacturers and their related dealership organizations.

In essence, the people who are paying us are the same people who are trying to rip us off.

Years ago, while a staffer at one of these agencies, I attempted to take advantage of the pre-arranged discount offered exclusively to agency employees. They called it the "friends and family deal". The dealers had a different name for it, "fresh meat."

A day after driving all the way out to Duarte and securing my brand new SUV, I took the time to look over the long, barely legible sales agreement printed on tissue paper designed to self destruct in 30 days. That's when I noticed the "special deal" I was given also included an $89 a month payment for credit insurance.

Credit insurance is the financial equivalent of undercoating. It's a sucker's game. So I sucked down some coffee and made a beeline back to Duarte to set the dealer straight on the meaning of friends and family.

Of course, we all have stories like this.

But the best came from a Director I worked with years ago. He was shooting a Porsche commercial and told me the legend of Captain Hook, a Porsche dealer from Philadelphia who had lost an arm in a meat cleaving accident.

When Captain Hook caught customers staring at his prosthetic for too long he would volunteer that the amputation was necessary due to combat action in the Mekong Delta. It wasn't true, but fighting off Charlie in a firefight scored a lot more sympathy points than the errant splitting of a rump roast.

Once Captain Hook had his customers seated across the desk from him, the charade would escalate to the next level. He started all negotiations the same way. He'd ask a customer to write down a fair price for the Porsche. There would always be paper in front of the customer but there would never be a writing utensil, prompting:

"Here, let me get you something to write with."

And then Captain Hook would attempt to pick a pen out of a wire cup that sat on his desk. For able-bodied people, this would take no more than 3 seconds. But Captain Hook would have none of that. He fidgeted. He fussed. He purposefully went about his business like an epileptic child trying to claw a stuffed bear at a carnival midway.

Once the pen was secured between the two metal tines, he rolled it across the desk while simultaneously explaining that the VA was holding up his benefits and that he was trying to raise enough money for a new more dexterous hook. Many times the pen rolled off the desk.

That was never an accident. And the agony would start again.

When it was over, Captain Hook would wave goodbye to the owners who paid way too much for their new 911 Carerra. Then he would gloat in front of all the other salesman by easily grasping a thick black Sharpie and with meticulous handwriting that defied all reason, inscribe his name at the top of the sales leader board.

Captain Hook had won another trip to Tahiti.
For the eighth year in a row.

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