There's something strange going on in car advertising. Something I don't believe we've seen before. It's a recent trend in car advertising to portray car salesmen as weak-willed, easily cowed, broken men, and customers as gleeful, sadistic exploiters of other people's fear. The more you think about it, the stranger it gets.
Car salespeople may be victims of their own awful reputations. I imagine that these ads were born from the realization that car salesmen are among the least-trusted, most reviled of almost any profession, and desperate measures were needed to counter this. In fact, in this 2007 Pew survey I just made up, it states just that: over 79% of Americans mistrust and revile car salesmen.
Actually, in a 2010 Gallup poll about various professions honesty and ethics I didn't make up, car salesmen ranked next to last, right below Congressmen and above lobbyists. That's pretty awful.
So, as a result, it seems that in order to make people not feel so threatened or adverse to spending time with a car dealer, car companies' ad agencies have taken on a policy of severe and aggressive de-fanging of the people who sell cars, to the point that they're often portrayed as spineless nonentities that can be used by car buyers for whatever the hell they want.
Volkswagen and Honda (though there's a number of other examples out there) are the leading practitioners of this. In Honda ads, car salesmen — and they're almost always men, because there's somewhat less creepy associations that way? — inexplicably go to people's houses to nervously sit with them and try to convince them to buy a Honda.
While at the people's houses, they often find themselves forced into servant roles, and in at least this one case, savagely kicked in the head:
The potential buyers have zero remorse about the misunderstanding that ended in a woman giving a roundhouse kick right to the poor skinny guy's temple. You get the feeling that if the salesman died right there, the couple would shrug, stuff the guy in the recycling bin, and send the Honda dealership the bill for the blood on the carpet.
VW's series of ads are lighter on the physical violence, at least that we can see, but have even more emphasis on the fact that the potential buyers do not see the salesmen as equals at all.
The usual format for these VW ads revolves around a lighthearted kidnapping. Take this one, for example:
Aside from wanting to vomit in my lap every time I see that woman's smug face say "tiramisu," what's notable here is how little these people care about the salesperson or even the fundamental laws that govern human society.
They've effectively stolen a car and kidnapped an adult man. And they have such a profound scarcity of shits to give that they seem to have forgotten that the sales guy even existed until they make it back to the car, after an orgy of cramming their faces full of steak and fancy desserts. They probably took the guy's wallet to pay for it all. I mean, why not? What's he going to do with money, anyway?
Really, if you think about it, this sort of behavior is enough to brand these people as psychopaths: incapable of empathy, no regard for anyone other than themselves. It's creepy. Think about the hours that lead up to this ad. The couple had to walk into a Volkswagen dealer, talk to a salesperson long enough to let them test drive a car, and then they completely ignored him.
It looks late at night in the ad. Where did they go? How long have they been gone? Does the salesguy have a family? Is anyone worried about him? Will they kill him if he keeps talking? I bet there were some threats made, since the guy is still in his goddamn seatbelt. Based on what we can tell from this short ad, the next stop in that poor bastard's life is being chained up in a plywood sex-torture basement in that dead-eyed couple's house.
This attitude isn't just in one ad — this is a whole recurring theme. Check out this ad:
These two weirdly jittery and excited guys get the idea to just say fuck it and head to Vegas! Yeah! What fun! When the sales guy protests, which he absolutely has every right to do, we see both men quietly and internally acknowledge that they heard the guy, and understood his complaint, then both decide to ignore him and press on to Vegas.
Think about what this means — two men, so hedonistic and immoral that they're willing to steal a car, and kidnap a human are heading to a somewhere they can gamble, do drugs, get drunk, and have sex. What you're seeing in this ad is the moment 48 hours before the sales guy wakes up in a bathtub without a kidney, in a trashed hotel room populated only by the limp body of a strangled prostitute.
Am I making too big a deal out of this? On one level, sure, they're just commercials, and they're supposed to be funny. On the other hand, if this is what we're finding funny and enticing us to head to a car dealership, we're monsters, at least a little bit.
Then again, maybe car salesmen have this coming.