October 18 – ZUMBROTA – Zumbrota’s ‘Dealer for the People’ is reaching more people than ever after doing an ‘unbalanced’ ad written by comedian John Oliver.
“Our phones are exploding,” Zumbrota Ford owner Steve Johnson said this morning after Oliver, host of HBO’s award-winning ‘Last Week Tonight’, launched his new online ad.
Johnson, who has owned Zumbrota Ford for 22 years, is known for his loud and goofy car commercials that feature him and his daughter wearing silly, pickle-like costumes.
So how did Johnson end up filming a 90-second “tense domestic psychodrama” about the end of a marriage and an all-wheel-drive van written by Oliver and his crew?
“I kinda knew the show… A few months ago he did a little on his TV show about car dealerships who all did crazy commercials like me, but we’re all kinda similar,” Johnson said.
Johnson explained that there is a nationwide “peer group” of dealerships involving marketing, which is why so many dealerships use the same script for ads.
Oliver showed clips of car dealerships across the country using the same scenario involving pickle suits and a doctor’s order to “turn it down a notch or our hearts will explode”. Johnson previously ran the pickle ads and he brought it back in September in preparation for Oliver’s commercial launch.
“What’s a pickle got 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 dealers. He offered a free car ad script, but the dealership would have to agree to shoot the TV ad without any changes. Also, 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 usual Sunday night show was on hiatus this week, “Last Week Tonight” posted a short report online about Zumbrota’s publicity.
“It’s like a soap opera TV ad. They liked it. We liked it. It was a joke. I don’t know if it’s going to sell cars,” Johnson said with a laugh Monday.
Instead of the usual cartoonish ad with lots of shouting, Oliver’s piece highlights a couple talking about getting divorced and how their new all-wheel-drive van from Zumbrota Ford won’t fit in the garage.
Longtime Zumbrota Ford employees—sales manager Jared Maes and endorsement manager Dorinda Houglum—have volunteered to take on the roles of the struggling couple.
It ends with Steve Johnson in his now familiar pickle suit saying, “Couples therapy. Shumps therapy. A new car is what you want.”
Oliver gushed with compliments on Johnson’s publicity that went beyond the script.
“We got you into a lot of trouble and you did something that really made my heart feel like it was going to explode,” he said at the end of the report.
The ad is expected to hit the southeast Minnesota market this week.
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