Retrospectacle: A Neuroscience Blog

So, I went to the Detroit Auto Show last night, which was awesome! The Auto Show is perhaps one of the coolest things about living near Detroit (and there’s not many), so I usually try to go during the two weeks its open to the public. I’m a big car enthusiast, and while that interest is 99% geared towards car manufactured pre-1970, that other 1% keeps me drooling over the chromiest, vroomist rides the big D has to offer. Now, when I walk into the show, the first thing on my mind is “Ok, where’s the Mustangs??” I usually make a beeline for the Ford setup, giggle and clap my hands over the Mustang concepts for awhile (alternating between criticizing the too-spartan interior or why this of that bit of chrome was moved or added), and then meander starry-eyed through the Wonderland of concepts that will never see the light of day.

However, the stars soon faded from my eyes as, instead of noticing the cars, I was noticing the conspicuously- placed attractive people that were posing as talking heads for the cars.

Now, these models (men and women, both) were of course pretty to look at, but lets just say they obviously weren’t selected for their automotive knowledge. Some were just rambling on, some were reading off cards. It was a disgrace, but most of the grunting masses didn’t really seem to notice. Which got me thinking: wouldn’t the real car enthusiasts (who, I expect are the only people who pay $12 to go in and look at cars) rather talk to an engineer, or behind-the scenes mechanic? Someone who knows the car back and forth, and can talk about it like it was his baby? Rather than some blonde, Double-D bobble head who’s only talking to you because she’s getting paid to? Furthermore, this trend seemed to be distinctly one of American and image-conscious high-end car makers. Ferrari, Lamborghini, but also Chrysler, and GM was the worst!

Now, I’m sure you’re all going to say I’m giving the average American car-lover too much credit. Indeed, we are all hard-wired to like a pretty face, nothing wrong with it at all. But at some level, you gotta just feel more than a tad manipulated that car manufacturers expect you to by into the “oh I wanna know more about this car cause there’s a pair of talking tits standing by it!” Not that this is any different than any other form of advertising. But I suppose 30-second ads I can tolerate, because really, how much can you really learn about a product in 30 seconds anyway? Might as well rely on cheap associations and feel-good crap. But at a car show, when i really DO want to talk to someone who’s knowledgeable (and longer than 30 sec), its irksome that those people are few and far between.

Comments

  1. #1 C.S.albert
    January 19, 2007

    I do service and repair on ultrasound and laser’s that are used mainly in Ophthalmology as well as dermatology and other applications. whenever I am at a trade show it seems that as soon as the doctors find out that I’m not a sales person but someone who knows the in and outs of all our units from an engineering standpoint they are rather more interested in talking to me than getting a BS sales pitch :)

  2. #2 J-Dog
    January 19, 2007

    Ahem…Where, precisely, are these “Double Dees” located? Did you perhaps get phone numbers, so that we might call and interview them later?

  3. #3 Roy
    January 19, 2007

    Heh.
    It’s funny you mention this, because I’m going to the show tomorrow specifically to say hello to one of the blonde, Double-D bobble heads. Well, to be fair, I doubt she’s a Double-D, and she isn’t a bobble head (though she went through a phase where she seemed almost obsessed with them).
    She was actually complaining about the same thing to me last week- that most of the other men and women working there didn’t know anything about the cars they were supposed to be showing the audience, so you’re not the only one who notices that. On the other hand, I can’t really say how much she actually knows about the cars, because I don’t really care that much about cars anymore. I used to, but then I worked for four years doing pin-striping and graphics, and it made me realize that I hate dealerships and repair shops, and I sort of lost interest in learning any more about cars.
    I will confess, though, that my boss’ 1970 Mustang Grabber was all kinds of alright.

  4. #4 Shelley Batts
    January 19, 2007

    Well, I’m certainly NOT saying that everyone I talked to didn’t know what they were talking about. Some were pretty, and really knew their stuff. Thats awesome, best of both worlds! But, my experience was disappointing to that effect. I’m sure there’s plenty of hot people that know all about cars. Can’t the marketing guys get them, if necessary? I was just sad that knowledge seemed to take a backseat, so to speak, to hotness, in who they hired to talk to us.

  5. #5 King Aardvark
    January 19, 2007

    The talking tits do get annoying sometimes, but even average looking salespeople can be insufficient for the hardcore enthusiasts. When I was on my university’s solar car team (me = nerd) we were invited to a David Suzuki earth week conference, and along with our car were the very first Prius and Insight. As representatives, one company (I won’t say which) sent a salesperson while the other one sent an engineer. We quickly got bored of talking to the sales guy and spent almost an hour soaking up every bit of info from the engineer we could get. And, rightly or wrongly, we came out much more impressed with the car flanked by the engineer than the car flanked by the sales guy.

    Talking tits may get people to come over to the car but it’s real knowledge that will sell them.

  6. #6 J-Dog
    January 19, 2007

    King AArdvark – Thanks dude…

    I’ll take the talking tits, you take the car. I am sure she was boken up at losing her audience, so we’ll discuss it over dinner, and I will console her over a nice after dinner cocktail, perhaps a movie and dancing… Then we can discuss the Deep Tunnel Project a while, perhaps experiment with various vacuum effects, and other types of tactile stimulation.

    Of course, I will have to get up for an early appointment, but I will tell her that I will call her later.

    Then I will meet up with all you geeks that ate pizza and watched Star Trek – again – last nnight on TV and get your crib notes on the cars…

    So thanks again Dude!

  7. #7 Ben
    January 19, 2007

    This post is to make people feel guilty about liking cars because of global warming.

  8. #8 Shelley Batts
    January 19, 2007

    This post is to make people feel guilty about liking cars because of global warming.

    Huh? Um, I *love* cars. Did you read the post or is your point not getting across?

  9. #9 Roy
    January 19, 2007

    I wonder if this is common at all conventions/Trade Shows of these sorts? I know that it absolutely plagued E3. My exposure to these things, outside of E3 and the auto show is pretty limited, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that it’s a common feature. You’re right, though, it’s a curious. I mean, I can see why they use pretty people to draw people in- the reality is that many people (re: men, who are at least seen as main audience for these shows) are attracted to the models. But, you would think that they’d want people really knowledgable on hand, as well. Maybe a model and an engineeer at each car? Heh.

    Now I want to quiz my friend on the cars to see if she’s one of the knowledgeable ones or not.
    Any really great questions she ought to know? ;)

  10. #10 Shelley Batts
    January 19, 2007

    Hmm, well that depends on the type of car co. she works for!

  11. #11 Shelley Batts
    January 19, 2007

    One (mostly) rhetorical question would be along the lines of “Isn’t it a veritable crime to even manufacture Ferraris with an automatic?” :D

  12. #12 Roy
    January 19, 2007

    HAHA!

    I’m pretty sure she’s not working for Ferrari. I think she was working for Subaru, maybe? That sounds right. She used to work for Honda. I guess I’ll find out for sure, tomorrow.

  13. #13 Bob Abu
    January 19, 2007

    Just because a woman happens to be in a bikini and has big breasts, you automatically assume she’s not and engineer or a PhD. This is not true. just look at the Bond girls

    see

    http://tinyurl.com/2xlvl5

    Your right about handsome men being stupid, that’s an irrefutable scientific fact.

  14. #14 Roy
    January 20, 2007

    Phew.
    I dodged that bullet.

    Waaaaait a second…

  15. #15 Alon Levy
    January 20, 2007

    I would ask something like, “Do they even produce cars in Detroit? The stuff Ford and GM make should be properly referred to as ‘gas-guzzling junk.’”

    If it weren’t 3 am, I’d think of some viperous comment about the obvious superiority of New York, where the most common cars run on underground or elevated tracks and only stop at designated stations.

  16. #16 pough
    January 22, 2007

    Just because a woman happens to be in a bikini and has big breasts, you automatically assume she’s not and engineer or a PhD.

    Yeah, is razib rubbing off on you or something?

  17. #17 Shelley
    January 22, 2007

    I have big breasts and am often in a bikini (well, when I’m at the beach). I also love cars and am a PhD student. Come on!

  18. #18 Roy
    January 23, 2007

    My update:

    1. Where were all the great concept cars this year? I admit that I haven’t been to the DAS in a few years, but there seemed to be far fewer of the really outlandish, but awesome, concept cars. There was the Bevel, and a handful of others, but nowhere near as many as I’d have liked. The concept cars were always my favorite part of the show. *sigh*
    2. The Dodge display seemed to be the hands down worst offender of what you mentioned. They were very much on script, and took zero questions, and many of them looked practically identical. Maybe Dodge is at the forefront of the cloning race?
    3. My friend knows a hell of a lot more about cars than I do. I attempted to ask probing questions about the engines, and she not only answered, but gave me more information than I could ever possibly want to know about Subaru’s engine design.

    It was a good time, but since I was there on the last weekend, it was ridiculously crowded and hot.

    I did not, however, notice anyone (big breasted or not) in a bikini. There were, on the other hand, plenty of mullets in attendance.

  19. #19 Shelley Batts
    January 23, 2007

    I admit that I haven’t been to the DAS in a few years, but there seemed to be far fewer of the really outlandish, but awesome, concept cars.

    I noticed this too…perhaps as the carmakers are tightening their belts a bit, the concepts are the first “fat” to be trimmed? Also, does anyone know what happens to those concepts? I always wondered that. You should ask your rep friend!

    Maybe Dodge is at the forefront of the cloning race?

    Heh, well their cars all look the same to me–bad. Maybe a small exception for the Viper, but I think its kinda vulgar, even if it is a sweet machine.

    My friend knows a hell of a lot more about cars than I do. I attempted to ask probing questions about the engines, and she not only answered, but gave me more information than I could ever possibly want to know about Subaru’s engine design.

    Awesome! I need some friends like that! What were her opinions on the current Subaru lineup? I saw quite an interesting car/camper which I wasn’t sure was a concept or not. It was like a VW Bus camper in a car.

    Glad you had a good time. Mullets and all….

    What’d you think of the Mustang concept? It had a real pony interior, and by real, I mean horse hair.

  20. #20 Roy
    January 23, 2007

    I’ve never been a fan of Dodge, either, though I also confess a soft spot for the Viper. The first autoshow I attended was the one where they showed the Viper prototype, actually. They didn’t win any points with me with the Magnum- a thoroughly stupid looking vehicle. That they employ an army of poorly dressed clones doesn’t help.

    Re: concept cars. According to my friend’s brother, automakers cut back on the more unusual and interesting concept cars (in part) because the general public didn’t seem to get that some of the concept cars were just that- concepts. The idea that they’d show cars that were never intended as production cars really annoyed some people, apparently. I guess it’s sort of how people get annoyed about how runway fashion “would never be worn by real people” maybe?

    I’m not sure what happens to the concept cars, but I’ll definitely pass your question along.

    Are you talking about the Interceptor? I didn’t actually get to see much of it- the Ford display was so ridiculously crowded that we barely got to see anything there. *sigh* That’s interesting about the horse hair, though. I was actually really interested to see the redesign of the Mini, but wasn’t really very impressed (although, the fact that they had a Mini simulator was pretty awesome).

    Okay, I feel ripped off, now. I’m looking at Automobile magazine’s coverage, and they’ve got concept cars that I didn’t see while I was there. Was the Honda FCX there when you went through?

    Oh, and I’m not sure which car/camper you’re talking about, although your description is pretty close to how I would have described Nissan’s Bevel (which, apparently, is really focused on asymetry. Weird). I remember seeing the Outback there, but it’s not very VW Bus-ish.

    Did you check out the Rolls Phantom? It’s, frankly, ridiculous looking. Also, almost 6,000 lbs! With what appeared to be a brushed steel hood. Meh. I don’t know why, but the weight of that think really startled me.

  21. #21 pough
    January 23, 2007

    I have big breasts and am often in a bikini (well, when I’m at the beach). I also love cars and am a PhD student. Come on!

    I’m there!

  22. #22 pough
    January 23, 2007

    Maybe at the next show you can take a poll to find out people’s feelings about the models (human). It would indeed be interesting to know how irked people get by what is essentially manipulation.

    And do the marketers get irked by having to provide such manipulation to get attention? Are there any marketer blogs where they say “ugh! I hate that we have to hire these professional boobs, but goddammit it works!”?

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