Sunday, January 31, 2010

Chrysler's booth babe backlash - UPDATE

I decided to dig deeper into this story because a lot of really good people are losing a lot of work over this, and that's not cool. A commenter on my original piece said that a good friend of his was still on the Chrysler team from last year and obviously hadn't been laid off, and that got me thinking about exactly what sort of shenanigans were actually going on over there.

There are eight auto shows happening at once this weekend, and I happen to be working a regional one rather than a major. (There are almost 80 shows each season; obviously they are not all Detroit.) At this smaller regional show I noticed the women manning the booths were most certainly not the women in Detroit, most certainly not wearing silver Herve Leger bandage dresses and most certainly did know their shizz about their vehicles.

So I ventured over to ask a few questions, and this is the info straight from the horse's mouth, as it were...

A few product specialists from previous years were kept for one purpose and one purpose only: to fill in the gaps at tiny little regional shows held in cow barns where Italian fashion models don't care to venture. They have had maybe eleven days of work the entire auto show season. Meanwhile, the Italian fashion models are working all the medium- and major shows like Miami, LA, Detroit, Chicago, NYC and a bunch of others despite the fact that they don't know anything about the cars.

And the crazy thing is that last year's team was beautiful AND talented AND knew their product inside out. But Fiat decided if you're not taller than 5'9" you're outta there unless you want to work in places where consumers can see through marketing tricks designed to get their attention: small-town America where they value substance over style.

Seriously, when you're at the Chicago show in a couple of weeks go over there and ask something not in their very basic brochure. See what happens.

Joke's on Fiat, methinks. Of course, this is a company that thought an effective slogan would be "Cars you want to make out in." Does it come standard with the latest Sade CD and Bradley Cooper? Because as one of the 80% of women who help make all car-buying decisions in the US, those are pretty much the only things that could overcome this company's blatant pandering to the basest of penile instincts. (Also? Totally grammatically incorrect.)

That and giving my deserving friends their jobs back.

(BTW, I want to make clear that I don't begrudge the models working this year's shows their employment. This is a corporate decision they had nothing to do with. I'm sure they are very nice, lovely girls and are specifically told they don't have to know anything about the cars - that isn't their fault. This is an issue with the poor marketing decisions made by Fiat.)


  1. Yes! What I enjoy most about your blog is that you too are frustrated by the poor marketting choices we have seen lately throughout the auto industry. In spite of the times, the engineering advances we are witnessing with every new model year are incredible. However, if the significance of these advances can't be communicated to the customer, what good are they? (GM Quadrasteer, anyone?)

  2. Yes! What I love about your blog is that you too are frustrated by the poor marketing decisions we have seen lately in the auto industry. In spite of the times, we have witnessed some incredible advances in engineering with every new model year. Yet, if these advances can't be communicated to the general public, what good are they? (GM Quadrasteer, anyone?)

    Anyway, keep up the good work!

  3. There are only a hand-full of major auto shows in the U.S., and I'm proud to say that I work in the industry and get to travel to many of the mid-level regional shows - including the ones in the cow barn, just this past week. Many of the times, I get to meet the same specialist over and over again at the various shows. You start to form working relationships, and I count on the product specialist to help me out when I'm working with reporters, as many of you cannot go on the record for the TV news. And that's okay, I just want to be able to talk to a product specialist (male or female) that can give me accurate info. Keep up the great work...

  4. DYCWTC,

    You've made it a point to complain about the people who come up to you at shows and try to show how little you know about cars.

    Here, though, you're suggesting to people that they try to embarrass the Fiat/Chrysler models because they don't know much about the products they are representing.

    It seems as though you yourself look down on the pure models who don't have the technical training that the product information specialists have. But then, that's why they're called specialists, isn't it? They have special training.

    We both know that in your line of work you can be hired for both roles. Like you said, it's not the Fiat ladies' fault they got hired, but because some of your friends lost their jobs and because you think it's a poor marketing decision you're think it's okay to embarrass the Fiat models.

    Speaking of marketing, my guess is that some of the spokesmodels end up transitioning to the marketing industry. Marketing people, like pharma salespeople, tend to be good looking. Though you've noted that some companies do indeed go in for "mature" (i.e. older than 25) looking women (you used the term MILF), let's face it, all but very few models have a limited shelf life.

  5. Ronnie, you are picking and choosing what you want from my post. As I've said, even their product specialists don't know anything more than what they have barely memorized from the same brochure that visitors can read on their own.

    Nor did I say anywhere to harass them or play "Stump the Spokesmodel." I merely said to ask them the same questions you would ask at any display. Any product specialist anywhere else can give you a more in-depth understanding of the vehicle they are representing. Not Fiat.

    What I hate is when people (in my experience always men) ask me incredibly obscure questions then tell me I'm wrong merely because they don't like the answer, or don't like the fact that I could actually provide one. That's an entirely different story than just not knowing what the hell I'm talking about.

  6. I agree, asking ridiculous questions just to "beat" the product specialist. On the other hand, I think every (in this case) model should know at least the basics of the product she is selling. Again, it's a marketing thing: if you are appealing to women who have a say in car-buying, they may want information from a fellow woman. If you are after the guys, you might as well get a chance to impart some product knowledge when they invariably come up to the Italian models and want to chat.

    P.S. Generally, guys don't care THAT much about a woman's height (within reason) which makes Fiat's decision to replace their specialists all the more pointless.

  7. Christopher - 5'9" is pretty much the industry standard minimum height for agency-represented fashion models. Other types of models are not necessarily held to this restriction.

  8. DYCWC

    I am a 4 year PS for Chrysler. Just to correct some of your facts. All the Product Specialist were kept, it was the narrators that were let go. I agree it was a bad move on Fiat's part. The new models are told NOT to answer any car questions, but to send them to the PS. This is completely absurd where as last year the narrators were informed and able to help the PS' answer questions. And yes, it unfortunately does carry over and make people assume all of Chrysler PS are ignorant.

    ps. You do not have to post this quote. I just wanted to inform you of who was actually let go.

  9. Having done a brief stint as a "booth babe" at NAIAS for the first time this year, I'm pleased to say that I not only knew more about my product than most of the "enthusiast" show-goers who tried to trip me up (or hit me up), but also am only 5'5" and I'm (gasp) over 40. Crazy, huh?

    Some manufacturers really do care more about brains than looks (not that I'm hard to look at). And no, you can't take a picture of my butt.


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