How Ford Sold Cars To ‘Punkers’ And ‘Gothics’ By Not Calling The Cops

Once upon a time, there was a decade called the 1990s. Things were better then. Americans were prosperous blissfully unaware of things like terrorism or extensive domestic surveillance. And unlike those good-for-nothing Millennials of today, young people could be bothered to get off their asses and actually buy cars.

The problem was that many of these youths dressed in ways that were upsetting to car salespeople at Ford. They wore baggy clothing. They had body jewelry — in their noses, in some cases. They were sullen and listened to angry music like "The Korn" and "The Nirvana."

So how were Ford dealers instructed to sell their new Focus to these strange young people? By not calling the police and kicking them out of showrooms, according to this now-hilarious 1999 article in Wards Auto.

A young person wearing clothes three sizes to big and body-piercing jewelry that wouldn't clear an airport metal detector saunters into your dealership.

What do you say?

"Someone call the cops!"

"Does that nose ring hurt?"

"Let me show you around?"

The answer is "C," says Julie Roehm.

She's young and hip. She also has an M.B.A from the University of Chicago and is the brand manager for Ford Motor Co.'s new Ford Focus, a compact that is aimed at the younger set.

[...] She adds, "Our message to dealers is, 'They may look funny to you with piercings and whatnot, but don't treat them differently.'

Yes, even though some of these people may have been "punkers" or "young gothics", as the story so eloquently describes them, Ford dealers were instructed to treat them with the same respect that any potential buyer deserves and not call the police whenever they set foot in the showroom with their giant Doc Martin boots.

I know what you're thinking. This must have been a crazy, almost radical-sounding idea at the time. After all, isn't judging people by their appearance an essential component of the shared American experience?

But hip experts like Roehm (the one famously later fired from Wal-Mart for sitting in a dude's lap) explained that selling the Focus to young people — instead of kicking their "punker" asses out on sight — could be a potentially lucrative move.

After all, Wards says there were 80 million so-called "Echo Boomers" in the U.S. at the time, and while not much money was to be made off the cheap Focus, dealers could eventually move them up to Ford's SUVs and luxury vehicles.

Sell a Focus to a "gothic" today, get that same "gothic" into an Eddie Bauer Excursion or a Mercury Sable in a few years. You get the idea. All you have to do is not treat them like shit when you see them. Simple enough.

Ford Credit even had a sweet deal for the "punkers": 9.9 percent financing on the Focus for people who had yet to establish a credit record. I bet that made those young people so happy they brought the white loafer-wearing Ford salesmen to see "The Nine Inch Nails" with them as a way of saying "thanks."

Ford taught their dealers how to do all of this using a now obsolete technology known as "video tapes":

"We played videos for dealers showing this group saying, 'We want to be treated the same as others.' The idea is to prepare dealers for who these young people are and where they are coming from."

You'd think that would drive the point home. Except that 14 years later, car companies like Ford still quite doesn't understand the youth market, having been forced to hire "generational experts" to help explain that today's kids love to be "connected" by social media but not that they aren't buying cars because they happen to be loaded down with student loan debt and are generally broke as shit.

At least the "punkers" were buying cars, unlike the hipsters. I bet the car companies miss them.

[Selling Cars To The Nose Ring Set]

Photo credit Shutterstock/Ford

Hat tip to Aaron Foley!