Saying, “goodbye Dick” to a car dealer and an El Paso advertising icon

Goodbye Dick
I watched a lot of television as a child. Probably too much. While there aren’t many benefits to watching TV, it did make me a student of advertising. At an embarrassingly early age, I could sing the jingles and recite slogans for many local El Paso’s businesses. That’s why I was saddened to read of Dick Poe’s death. Mr. Poe was influential in so many ways in the El Paso community. He’s described as a mentor, father, business owner, friend, supporter of Special Olympics and United Cerebral Palsy, and a caring employer.
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While there aren’t many benefits to watching TV, it did make me a student of advertising. At an embarrassingly early age, I could sing the jingles and recite slogans for many local El Paso’s businesses.

To this day, I can’t drive past a furniture store without the Regis Bernard song running through my head. (click here if you want to get the song stuck in your head too!)

That’s why I was saddened to read of Dick Poe’s death in the El Paso Times on Sunday.

Mr. Poe was influential in so many ways in the El Paso community. He’s described as a mentor, father, business owner, friend, supporter of Special Olympics and United Cerebral Palsy, and a caring employer.

Of all the things the 81-year-old business owner will be remembered for, no one will forget his most famous five words:

“Hi folks, I’m Dick Poe!”

Generally friendly guy or a secret advertising genius?

I believe Dick Poe was an advertising genius.

Mr. Poe’s grandfather, A.B. Poe, opened the family’s first Texas Chrysler dealership in 1928. The dealership was located on Texas Avenue in Downtown El Paso.

Around the same time, my own Great-Grandfather, Walter E. Pofahl, was growing a Goodyear Tire store and service station around the corner from Mr. Poe on Mills Street. In what was then, the small town of El Paso, I am sure the two patriarchs must have known each other.

Dick Poe took over his grandfather’s dealership in the late 1960s, and built the business into a household brand-name in El Paso.

Here’s where the genius comes in: Mr. Poe changed the way cars are sold in El Paso by harnessing the power of personalization and identification.

Prior to the days of streaming video and DVR, every El Paso resident with a television set would recognize Mr. Poe’s trademark commercial greeting of “Hi folks, I’m Dick Poe” followed by the familiar refrain of local voices answering back “Hi Dick!”.

That exchange was featured in thousands of Dick Poe commercials over the last five and a half decades. San Diego car dealer Cal Worthington has consistently used the same strategy in his commercial. Worthington took it to another level by integrating a variety of wild animals in his commercials. If you want a good laugh, check out this video.

It’s just a guy introducing himself, so what’s the big deal?

On the surface, Dick Poe commercials are typical, local car commercials. They’re loud, busy, and sometimes a bit tacky.

But there’s something deeper happening.

Dick Poe used advertising to overcome one of the biggest customer objections to the car buying process: It’s too impersonal. If you’ve ever purchased a new or used car, you’re probably familiar with the feeling of walking into a showroom. I remember buying my first car.

I felt like a baby seal thrown into the shark tank at SeaWorld.

It was a totally impersonal process. It was a salesperson making a commission and a driver in need of wheels, nothing more. It was just business.

My friend Dick Poe

Whether it was intended or not, Mr. Poe’s commercials overcame the formality of car dealing by making me feel like Dick Poe was my friend. With the amount of television I watched as a child, Mr. Poe probably said hi to me more times in any given month than my own grandmother.

Dick Poe understood the value of virtual social relationships, long before the advent of social media. Mr. Poe created a relationship with every viewer long before they ever stepped onto one of his dealership lots, even before they needed a car.

When it came time to buy a car, you could walk into any Dick Poe showroom because, hey, you know Dick Poe! He says “Hi” to you ten times a day!

Anonymity is one of the scariest parts of making a big purchase. By creating an virtual social connection, Mr. Poe make potential customers feel welcome, valued, and anything but anonymous.

Consistency is the key to success

Earlier this week Ruben told you about the importance of having a marketing plan for your business. You’d be surprised the number of business owners we talk with who take the following approach to marketing:

“Well, I put some stuff on Facebook, but no one liked it. So, I don’t really do that anymore. We did an ad in The El Paso Times once, but I don’t think it really worked. We created a website about five years ago but it hasn’t been updated since. I mailed out one flyer for my last event, but no one came.”

That approach is the equivalent to throwing a handful of mud at a target and hoping to hit the bullseye. The problem is that even if you get a bullseye, you probably won’t know which dirt clot actually made the hit.

A consistent, reasoned approach to marketing is the only way to effectively build your business. I believe Dick Poe understood this.

Over the course of more than fifty years, Mr. Poe consistently delivered the same, effective message to viewers. “Hi folks, I’m Dick Poe” often followed by a, “Thank you very much, y muchas gracias” at the end of the commercial.

Mr. Poe stayed consistent with his message and that enabled him to build an empire.

Dick Poe is an El Paso icon for so many reasons. He made the El Paso community a better place. When it came to giving, friends say he did it humbly without seeking recognition.

And, of course, he left his mark on the business community. Thanks to his innovative approach to marketing, he will be remembered by generations of El Pasoans.

What do you remember most about Dick Poe? Leave a comment with your thoughts on Mr. Poe and other local businesses who’ve done great advertising.