Opinions & Advice

NADA 1982?

NADA 1982

I’ve just arrived in Hartford, CT, after a four day transcontinental trip that led me through snow in Dallas, rerouted through L.A., and then mercifully, eighteen hours later to my final destination, San Francisco, for the 2011 NADA convention.

Eighteen hours of travel could land you virtually anywhere on earth, but my eighteen hours of travel did more. It transported me to a time long since passed, which all things considered is an impressive feat for a commercial flight, the second leg of which couldn’t disembark without spending three and a half hours to de-ice a plane. (Hey Dallas, it has snowed there before, yes?)

As I deplaned, San Francisco appeared normal by today’s standards, yes, it was 2011; I was safe. The hotel, same thing. Signs referencing WiFi availability, wall mounted, flat screen televisions and the mono-chromatic comfort of a modern four star hotel made it clear that I had not been sucked through some sort of time-bending worm-hole. Then I went to the 2011 NADA convention…

Welcome to 1982. Yup, just like that. Enter the convention; roll back the calendar 30 years. I have nothing personally against 1982, but while I’m thinking of it, why couldn’t NADA warp us back a few years to prevent the mortgage crisis? But at any rate, there we were, 1982.

Now I’ll grant you that I live in Connecticut, a progressive state by most standards. Where I live, it’s okay for a woman to have a high paying job, wear sensible shoes, hell it’s even okay for a woman to marry another woman and become a husband in 2011. Having been to San Francisco before, I found the city to have a similar perspective and in some situations, far more liberal. But the NADA convention is like a time capsule that annually descends from the sky to land in a different city and provides a brief glimpse of an industry, the automotive industry, from the unique perspective of 1982.

With a large and ever growing female demographic taking the automotive industry in a new direction, (to the evident consternation of men) what was the promotional tool of choice?

That’s right, scantily clad young women!

I don’t know about the rest of you gals, but I say to hell with iPads, or digital cameras. If you want me to check out your slick new CRM, show me the butt-cheeks of a twenty two year old girl.

Selling a brand new concept in advertising?

How about a very obvious pair of saline breast implants! I especially like the ones that are barely contained in a super low-cut cleavage revealing, loosely knit collection of threads.

Oh, I hope I didn’t embarrass any of the male readers out there. I just assume you guys are as comfortable reading about cleavage and tushies as you are with flaunting the obvious fact that I’m still being objectified due to my gender. The proof was everywhere at the 2011 NADA convention. In fact, it was celebrated with the devil may care attitude of 1982.

I understand the need to occasionally get away from it all and surround yourself with indulgence. Become a different person, shout things like “more champagne!” while raising your hand triumphantly in the air without having to worry about anyone saying “take it easy honey”. I really do. I however, have been living under the naive impression that they built Vegas for that very reason. I feel like such a fool. I should go to more conventions. Why vacation when you can convention?

But seriously, this is a convention right? Not a cabaret? I understand, back in 1982, there weren’t many women in the business to hold your entertainment decisions up to scrutiny. Who’s to complain if we have strippers walking around the convention floor? We could turn this hotel into a veritable see of butt-cheeks and cleavage. The more the better, I say! But it’s 2011 and there are almost as many women employed in the automotive industry as there are men.

I know, it really does suck. It turns out the automotive industry isn’t a closed club of rapidly aging men who can govern the business any way they see fit, because hey, like I said, who’s to complain? It’s an industry. A business. It’s an industry that needs the female portion of the labor market the same way all other industries do.

So why the misogynistic attitude in this day and age?

My first guess would be that it has something to do with the makeup of NADA’s board of directors. Based on the information I found at www.nada.org there were no women serving on the board, but I was able to confirm that in fact the board of directors now has one women, it’s just that the information on the website wasn’t updated yet. Frankly I was shocked and even a little impressed. Hopefully, that one lone woman will have an impact on next year’s convention policy, but it was too late for this year.

To be clear, it’s the vendors who create this atmosphere, but it’s NADA that allows it.

For example, it was the choice of a vendor, a marketing company, to have Playboy bunnies walking around signing autographed pictures. A vendor’s decision, but it happened at the 2011 NADA convention. I did consider having one of the bunnies sign my cleavage. I mean think of the power. I could walk up to the President of a large company, cleavage exposed and strike up a conversation about how, just moments ago, I had a Playboy bunny’s face buried in my boobs while trying to spell Crystal with a sharpie.

Resistance is futile boys. And it would have happened at the 2011 NADA convention. Of course, I have this bizarre compulsion to keep my dignity intact as I feel I am an executive of ability.

Which brings me to my next point. Condoleeza Rice.

There was a small, but passionate group of protesters outside the hotel holding creative signs accusing Ms. Rice of a litany of transgressions, the worst of which was war criminal. I’ll set aside my political differences with Ms. Rice for a moment and suggest that she may have been following orders and doing her job whether we agree with it or not. That being said, what we have here is a woman. An exceptional woman. An exceptional woman who earned a PhD in her mid-twenties, and ascended to one of the highest offices in this country. Condy, do you really need the speaking fee so badly that you would lend your name to an event that views women as sub-human amusement rides asked to wander the convention floor to appease a group of ginned-up, slack jawed gawkers who are feigning work?

You answered my question with an excruciating, monotonous and interminable drone. I waded through a sea of butt-cheeks and cleavage to hear you speak, would some inflection have killed you?

I don’t mean to suggest that all men are guilty of boorish behavior. In fact that’s the principle reason for my disgust. Most of the men and vendors I spoke to claimed to have been put off. Within the male demographic, there was an overwhelming majority of happily married men who would have rather been home watching the Superbowl with friends and family, just like me. (Hey NADA, you need to schedule around the NFL, not the other way around!) But here they were, so they busied themselves with conferences, meetings, you know, business stuff. And at the unfortunate instances when I found myself discussing business with a male counterpart, and we were happened upon by a butt-cheek, or some cleavage, it created discomfort. Discomfort, the fuel that drives business. Wait, that’s not right. When you’re discussing business with an acquaintance, additional discomfort sucks!

I would like to personally thank NADA’s board of directors for all the uncomfortable moments, all the discomfort. They must have come to the conclusion that having strippers and bunnies and other scantily clad young women who have nothing to do with the business of selling cars, would improve the atmosphere for all of the attendees of the convention, except the women.

It’s a shame that so many hard-working and innovative people feel the need to resort to base means in order to attract clients.

The female demographic will continue to grow in the automotive industry, just as it will in most industries. Eventually, there will be so many people having so many uncomfortable moments that the environment will change. Perhaps the pendulum will swing so far the other way that the 2021 NADA convention will be littered with g-string clad, well-endowed men with washboard abs giving free neck massages as long as we listen to the pitch about the slick new CRM.

Of course, I wouldn’t attend that conference either. Not for all of the hand sanitizer on earth. I find the thought revolting and really don’t see how it would be conducive to business getting done. But I would love to see the expression on the faces of all the men who came expecting butt-cheeks and cleavage.

It’s clear that the NADA convention isn’t ready for people like me at this juncture. By people like me, I mean normal, professional women who are tired of being objectified and uncomfortable while attending a work function.

One of the speakers suggested that the world looks to NADA for leadership. Well I suggest to NADA that they take the opportunity a bit more seriously unless it’s NADA’s intention to boldly forge a path backwards to 1982. If that is the intention, kudos. If it was your intention to be a beacon of professionalism and innovation, you truly missed the target.

I think the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. You threw a great party and didn’t really consider who you’d be offending. You harkened back to some of your early memories at the convention. You did what has always been done. 1982, butt-cheeks, cleavage.

It wasn’t the beautiful city by the bay, the glorious hotels, the spirit of innovation, or even the bright, hard working professionals that will have defined the 2011 NADA convention for me. Nope, none of those things will stand out as much as all of the uncomfortable moments that confronted the hard working professional people like me. In that spirit, I would like to leave you with a word that will most likely create an uncomfortable moment for the men on NADA’s board all by itself; vagina.

  • A
    Arnold Tijerina
  • February 21, 2011
That article was fabulous to read, extremely well-written, entertaining, and timely. Great job, Erin!
  • B
  • February 21, 2011
Bravo! Excellent writing and spot on message. I am fortunate to have you presenting at the Automotive Marketing Boot Camp. Can't wait to hear your message.
  • J
    Joe Webb
  • February 21, 2011
Erin, what a great message wrapped in a sardonic, triumphant article. As a married dude with a second child on the way, i too walked the convention floor and was somewhat surprised how many companies sought out modeling "talent" to represent their products. It is not NADAs fault, but that of misogynistic CEOs that are trying to distract the shoppers from the fails in their technology with allure of skin. For shame. Put a better product out there and sell me on the benefits of your solution.

Just like when I saw you speak at a DD conference, witty and to-the-point, it carries over in your writing. Don't stop attending NADA conventions. We need the likes of you more there than the female vendor candy on display.
  • Anonymous
  • February 21, 2011
Erin writes: "...It’s clear that the NADA convention isn’t ready for people like me..."

Erin, that hits on so many levels. Compare and contrast NADA Convention to Digital Dealer's Convention. Think about it...

NADA Convention -vs- Digital Dealer Convention
Old School -vs- New School.
Old Boys Club -vs- Life in this Century
Bunnies -vs- No Bunnies
HIPPOs in Need of Youth -vs- Leaders Exploring the New World.
"only ralph can call a car" -vs- vAuto

The upper ranks of the Auto retail industry is chuck full of decision makers that are physically, mentally and socially locked in 1982. In fact, 1982 fits them so well, they want to stay there.

How in the world has the Société de 1982 remained in power?

3 Words. Dealer Franchise Agreements.

For decades and decades, these Franchise agreements have inoculated dealer principals and their managers from the pains of difficult choices. Compare how often dealerships turn over (read: fail) as compared to other retail businesses. The factory franchise agreements provide fresh product, massive amounts of marketing & merchandising all in a robust marketplace (where almost every single American must do business with a dealer every 3-6 years). Until our recent financial crisis, nothing, not even the internet hasn't cracked our dealers' Fiefdom.

Now, not for one minute will I ever say that owning/managing a dealership is easy. That's not the point here. Erin's post is all about a culture of old. Every businesses has a culture and this culture always starts at the top and trickles down. Which brings us to...


A bizarre Old-School Culture Example (made possible by the Franchise):
If a business is truly customer centric (ala 21st century), then why would a dealer principal allow in-fighting between a parts department manager, the service department manager and the used car manager over cert fees and policy... EVERY DAY? The in-fighting exists because of the pay plan. Who wrote & endorses the pay plan? The Dealer Principal.

In this model, what controls product quality and customer retention? FAIL.

Would it not make more sense to align the pay plan with a COMMON GOAL? Naw. That would disturb the Dealer Principal's world and why do that?

Welcome to Caveman Motors, where we won't give you a number without a commitment, no appraising your trade until you pick out a car, we can't give you a price over the phone, we have a hard enough time with regular mail forget about email....now why don't I show you some colors so you can bring back your husband & we'll talk business little lady.

xtra rant, Nephew Craig ; )
What great commentary and I love the sharp wit in your writing as well. Although the amount of scantily clad "talent" (and just as an aside, it is funny how that word has developed in the trade-show industry to try and justify the practice), has decreased in the past few decades, it is still clearly obvious and abundant. I would love to hear a real response from one of the companies represented by such "talent" but they probably aren't much for reading blogs and such other drivel. I would love to hear the justification or rationalization.

Anyway, well written and well done!
But Professor Kershner led me to believe there was real ROI there: http://www.dealerrefresh.com/the-roi-of-an-nada-booth-model/
  • T
  • February 21, 2011

An extremely well written, insightful, and intelligent article. While I happen to agree with your central premise, allow me to play devil's advocate. Please understand that I am not defending the practice, I am simply illustrating a truth you may have overlooked.

I understand that, within the context of a relatively enlightened community like this forum, it may seem that in 2011 "there are almost as many women employed in the automotive industry as there are men," but this is far from the truth. In fact, according to a New York Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/12/business/business-as-car-dealers-women-are-scarce-but-successful.html) from 2003, women "fill only 7.1 percent of the general manager roles and 4.9 percent of the ownership positions, numbers that haven't changed much in the last decade." In other words, somewhere around 95% of those with decision making power in dealerships are men. Granted, this story was written in 2003, those numbers may be off a little bit for 2011. Even on your own website, you brag that you were "one of only a handful of women General Managers throughout the country." The fact remains that the VAST majority of decision makers (read: exhibitor prospects) are men. And we all know that men tend to like women. Which is why it will be a long, long time before the death of the "Booth Model" this forum is evidently so fond of:




I'm not going to employ the old, cliche "sex sells" defense. Just because NADA allows vendors to market their products to a pre-qualified and in-market audience by employing attention getting "accessories" in their booths, does not mean we have traveled back in time. I fancy myself a pragmatist, and I recognize that the auto industry is far from the only guilty party in this whole area.

Take GoDaddy.com for example. Bob Parsons has been using overt sexual innuendo and barely dressed models for years to promote his doman name service on the Super Bowl.

Speaking of the super bowl, cheerleaders have been around for generations. Why? Because sports fans have for generations been predominantly male. Anytime you gather a predominantly male audience there will be pretty girls there to get their attention and/or sell them something.

It isn't only men's sports, either. Have you seen the bikinis women beach volleyball players wear? Speaking of butt cheeks!

And sex doesn't just sell to men. Take Reebok's recent "Easy Tone" commercial for example. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhSI3sg3pKM This is a product for women, sold by a woman, and the focus is on her "butt cheeks" for more than half of the commercial!

Erin, I get it. It can be a little uncomfortable. And before you suggest that I am just some horny guy who likes staring at the half-naked chicks, let me say that I actually respond much more favorably to a witty, confident, and sincere sales pitch than I do to the models. I just recognize that seeing all the methods vendors employ to garner attention is just another part of the experience of attending the show. Much like you have probably simply resigned yourself to the fact that half naked cheerleaders are part of the experience of attending a professional or college (Go Red Hawks!!!) sporting event.

By the way, has anybody asked Jamie Lynn, the CarDoll herself (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vX0ylAgEQw), what she thinks of using sex to sell a service to car dealers?

  • P
    Patrick O
  • February 22, 2011
I'm going to go out on a limb here and say how I actually feel, it's a telling sign of the times when part of me is afraid to actually write this. I understand the author's annoyance to some of the marketing at NADA, but I think this article is a bit too much. Must everything be white-washed and PC? If a company wants to spice tings up and be a bit edgy, so be it. It can be fun, it doesn't have to be painful. Remember, this is the car business, we are a cast of characters who should have a thick skin. I don't think any of the female talent that were hired were acting offensive or lewd. It seems the only problem with them here is their mere presence. They have just as much a right to their jobs as anyone else, right?
  • N
  • February 22, 2011
I think that her point is that literally every vendor does this yet no one bats an eye. While other conventions are typically moving away from these kind of shenanigans, the vendors at NADA show no sign of slowing down. Even scarier, the new media vendors who are supposedly changing the car industry are just as guilty as some of the older established vendors. Call it peer pressure, I guess. No they don't dress them in bikinis (although this year they did) but they are still handpicked and will sometimes have nothing to do with the company they represent. Often times, their product education will be lacking at best and this happens to me on a monthly basis!
The very worst part of all of this is when there is a woman who has worked her way up to this role, she is taken less seriously because of the ones who are just put in a public facing position because of looks.
  • K
    Kevin Frye
  • February 22, 2011
Wow, I just googled "Butt cheeks and cleavage" and found this site, lol... Point well taken, I enjoyed the post, but please don't ask me to pose with the cast of "Thunder Down Under" in my next Digital Dealer Vegas review, or Kershner is going to have to pay me big money...
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • February 22, 2011
Done! How much you want Kevin?
  • S
    Stan Sher
  • February 25, 2011
Excellent read. It was an a pleasure to read. You are right on the money.
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • March 8, 2011
My own partner just bitch slapped me. I was younger and foolish then.
  • K
  • March 9, 2011
Well done Erin. You hit the nail right on the head. When will we get back to the day when your product can stand alone and market itself...respectfully.