Nothing like a poke in the eye to get the competitive juices flowing.
Franchised auto dealers who run on integrity have plenty of reasons to be ticked off after Vroom’s Super Bowl ad.
The upstart online used-car retailer used one of the world’s biggest advertising stages to equate dealerships with torture chambers. And it didn’t just pick on the bad apples. Look closely and you’ll see a “Dealership of the Year” poster on the wall as a salesman approaches a long-detained shopper with electric clamps and a taunt: “So, are you gonna buy the car?”
It’s all a dream, of course. The shopper spins from his sweaty nightmare to an easy chair on his front lawn, just in time to behold his car being delivered on a Vroom flatbed truck.
Now this isn’t the first time a used-car disrupter has taken the “never go to a dealership again” route. Carvana, the one with the vending machines, has had its share of fun at the expense of traditional dealers for years.
But Vroom has gone darker. Take it from Cars.com Executive Vice President Dean Evans, who was the force behind a 2017 Hyundai Super Bowl ad that celebrated our better angels. Vroom has “laid down the gauntlet,” he said on our Daily Drive podcast.
Count Brian Benstock among those fighting back.
The partner and general manager of Paragon Honda and Paragon Acura in New York City made the Vroom ad the focus of one of his signature commentaries on LinkedIn.
The written message: “The feeling of being ‘trapped’ will never happen at Paragon Honda.”
And in the video: “That is not representative of our industry, and certainly not representative of Paragon Honda,” said Benstock, matter-of-factly in a dark suit and white shirt before invoking Lee Iacocca: “If you can find a better price on a certified pre-owned [car], buy it.”
I followed up with him by phone last week.
“It’s just unnecessary,” he said of Vroom’s approach.
No, he’s got nothing against disrupters. And he’s “vehemently against” trade restraint of any kind.
But if Vroom is going to equate dealerships with a torture chamber … well, his gloves are off. And he hopes the rest of his peers running 18,000 U.S. dealerships join him.
“We have the most adaptive entrepreneurs in our industry,” he said. “With a pack of wolves approach, we can do some damage.”
So he is paying to have ads for his dealerships pop up when online shoppers in his region use Google to search for “Vroom.”
Among his pitches: He can beat every Honda and Acura on Vroom’s platform in quality and price. He’s been delivering cars to customers for longer than Vroom has existed. And, unlike Vroom, his dealerships service the certified pre-owned cars they sell, and so will the 1,300 other Honda and Acura dealers across the U.S.
He encourages other dealers to follow suit. “Get your message out there,” he said. “Outmaneuver them.”
At last check, the LinkedIn post had dozens of comments, most of them drawing responses from Benstock.
One of them came from a Nissan employee, who wrote: “The problem is there are dealers that do operate like this!”
Answered Benstock: “Darwin will take care of this problem.”