Before Cal Worthington sold cars, he sold trust.


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Cal Worthington, the famous car salesman/spokesperson whose wacky commercials and catchy “Go see Cal” jingle helped sell an amazing number of cars since the 1950s, passed away a few weeks ago at the age of 92.

To say Worthington fundamentally changed the way vehicles are sold would be a gross understatement. He got his start in the days when the model itself was king, and the dealer was given little thought, perceived mostly as fulfilling the sale. Cal elevated his franchises beyond the “dealers are all the same” perception, and actually created the first true “brand” of auto dealers.

The way Cal built his brand is amazingly consistent with how successful brands across time have been built:

  • He understood his audience, and respected that a car or truck represented the second largest purchase a family would make. As such, he recognized that before a sale could be made, the customer had to trust him. Instead of selling cars, Worthington sold a personality. This made his brand “human.” And trustworthy.
  • He developed a meaningful Brand Vision, and more importantly, he and his dealerships were consistent in living it. Worthington’s motto was “I’ll stand on my head to beat anybody’s deal” and his manic advertising illustrated that point in ads that would feature him performing over-the-top stunts such as riding a killer whale or wing-walking on a bi-plane. And from what I’ve heard from those who’ve purchased from him, his dealerships for the most part walked this talk.
  • He understood the best way to connect with people is through emotion. People liked his entertaining, albeit campy commercials featuring him and his “dog spot,” who could be anything from a tiger to an armadillo. He viewed himself as an entertainer. He wasn’t afraid to be self-effacing. He came off as someone you’d like to know. And this haloed onto his dealerships.

You can view a compilation of some of Cal’s most famous stunts, set to the melody of his famous “Go see Cal” jingle (based on the children’s classic “If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.”) here:

They say the highest form of flattery is imitation. In that regard, Cal’s success spawned an unending number of half-hearted reprises from dealers who didn’t get the whole story behind Cal’s success. Most either had no personality or were more interested in the hard sell. Ironically, this fed the popular perception of car dealers being insincere.

In closing, please allow me to share my own verse of Cal’s famous jingle:

“If your sales are a-saggin’ Go See Cal.
If your messages are laggin’ Go See Cal.
If you need a better vision, then I give you all permission to
Go See Cal, Go See Cal, Go See Cal.”

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mickey Lonchar
Mickey Lonchar has spent the better part of two decades creating award-winning advertising with agencies up and down the West Coast, Mickey currently holds the position of creative director with Quisenberry Marketing & Design, a full-service advertising and interactive shop with offices in Spokane and Seattle, Wash.


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