Pop culture delivers a black eye to the auto industry, dealers

Automotive News | May 30, 2012 - 1:57 pm EST

DETROIT -- The auto industry's image needs all the help it can get. But that help is not coming from AMC's hit TV series Mad Men.

A Gallup poll released in December showed that 47 percent of Americans rate the honesty and ethics of car salespeople as "low" or "very low." Lawyers and stockbrokers were deemed more trustworthy.

Into this mix comes Mad Men. Set in the 1960s, the series delves into the goings-on at fictional ad agency Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, which is competing this season to win the coveted Jaguar account.

In the latest episode, a lecherous bigwig Jaguar dealer asks an agency partner to arrange a sexual rendezvous with the agency's female head of operations, a married woman. The dealer is an immoral, gluttonous, flamboyant fast-talker -- a stereotype.

The message? Many car salesmen were sexist scumbags who would happily hoodwink a customer while having sex with the customer's wife.

Not good for an industry still struggling with negative stereotypes. But the bruises don't stop there.

A male partner later tells a female colleague that once the agency wins the Jaguar account, he can't "put a girl" on the account, implying auto executives' attitudes toward women won't allow it. Regular viewers of the series will note that the female colleague has headed up accounts in other industries.

The message? The auto industry was behind the times in treating women as equals.

Ouch.

I wonder where the Mad Men writers might register in that Gallup poll?

Jamie LaReau covers auto dealers for Automotive News.Jamie LaReau covers auto dealers for Automotive News.

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