“Our phones are exploding,” Zumbrota Ford owner Steve Johnson said Monday morning, Oct. 18, after his new online ad was launched by Oliver, host of the award-winning “Last Week Tonight” on HBO.
Johnson, who has owned Zumbrota Ford for 22 years, is known for his clunky, clunky auto ads that feature him and often his daughter in silly costumes, like pickle costumes.
So how did Johnson end up filming a 90-second “tense domestic psychodrama” about the end of a wedding and an all-wheel-drive minivan written by Oliver and his team?
Segment “Last Week Tonight” (Warning: some languages may not be suitable for all viewers):
“I knew the show a little bit… A few months ago he did on his TV show kind of taunt the car dealers who all did crazy commercials like me, but we’re all a bit similar,” said Johnson.
Johnson explained that there is a national “peer group” of dealerships involved in marketing, which is why so many dealers use the same script for ads.
Oliver showed clips from car dealerships across the country using the same script involving pickle costumes and a doctor’s order to “take it down a notch or our hearts will explode.” Johnson had previously run the pickle ads and brought them back in September in preparation for the Oliver ad launch.
“What does a pickle have to do with selling cars?” I don’t know, but it gets people’s attention and it rhymes with a nickel, ”Johnson said.
At the end of his show in June, Oliver issued a challenge to the dealers. He offered a free ad script for a car, but the dealership would have to agree to run the TV ad unchanged. In addition, they should agree to the condition before even reading the script.
“We raised our hands. I think we were chosen, in part, because no one has ever heard of Zumbrota before, ”Johnson said.
The script was for a 90-second commercial, three times the length of Zumbrota Ford’s usual 30-second commercials.
While Oliver’s regular Sunday night show was on hiatus this week, “Last Week Tonight” posted a short report online about the Zumbrota ad.
“It’s like a television commercial for a soap opera. They liked it. We liked it. It was a lark. I don’t know if he will sell cars, ”Johnson said with a laugh on Monday.
Instead of the usual cartoonish ad with a lot of screaming, Oliver’s play highlights a couple talking about divorce and how their new all-wheel-drive Zumbrota Ford van didn’t fit in the garage.
Longtime Zumbrota Ford employees – sales manager Jared Maes and head of approvals Dorinda Houglum – have volunteered to take on the role of the struggling couple.
It ends with Steve Johnson in his now familiar pickle costume saying, “Couple therapy. Shump therapy. A new car is what you want.
Oliver gushed out compliments on Johnson’s publicity that went beyond the script.
“We got you in trouble and you did something that really made me feel like my heart was going to explode,” he said at the end of the report.
The ad is expected to air in the Southeast Minnesota market this week.