In radio ads that began last fall, Brad Benson -- then Hyundai's second-best-selling U.S. dealer -- pledged to remain celibate until his store in rural New Jersey regained the top spot.
Benson, 54 and married, can breathe a little easier now.
For the first month this year, his South Brunswick, N.J., store outsold all other Hyundai outlets in October, and the ex-New York Giant's off-the-wall advertising has a lot to do with his success.
For several months, Benson kept things interesting on the airwaves with ads about his love life -- or lack thereof. Then he rolled out a new campaign, with a similarly risque theme.
"If I was to tell you that you could come visit our dealership to see my 40-foot erection," Benson asked in a radio spot, "would you think I was just another car dealer making an exaggerated claim?
"Well, check it out. I just bought one of the goal posts from the old Giants Stadium that they're tearing down, and I've erected them right here at the dealership."
Benson's commercials aren't all risque. But most range from slightly askew to downright bizarre. Like offering Saddam Hussein a free car a few years back if the Iraqi dictator would step down.
Other spots have skewered politicians, celebrities and professional athletes in the news. It's all part of a madcap advertising strategy that he says helps his dealership "cut through the clutter."
He sells an average of 405 new Hyundais a month, almost seven times what the store sold before he began running the off-kilter commercials seven years ago.
Benson was Hyundai's top monthly seller five times in 2009. Through October, he is about 700 units behind Hyundai's No. 1 store, Atlantic Hyundai of West Islip, N.Y.
How does Benson, who was the starting offensive left tackle for the 1987 Super Bowl champions, come up with this stuff? Well, he's always thinking. After deciding last spring to install the goal posts from the old Meadowlands stadium, he wondered if any zoning issues would come into play.
"I said to someone, 'This will be a 40-foot erection when I put these things up' -- that's it!" he recalled. "A 40-foot erection! Oh my god, that's my next ad. It follows up the celibacy ad perfectly."
Hyundai executives in Southern California have taken notice.
"We sort of wince a little bit when we look at some of the campaigns," said Dave Zuchowski, Hyundai Motor America's head of sales. "But we certainly don't dispute the results."
Today Benson is finishing a major renovation to add 8,000 square feet to his 18,000-square-foot dealership. The expansion will include a dedicated space for Hyundai's $60,000 Equus luxury sedan. He also is adding about four acres to the dealership for more parking and inventory as Benson expects Hyundai's upcoming redesigned Elantra to boost sales by about 100 units a month.
But business wasn't always this good. The dealership lost money for years after he acquired the franchise in 1997. Averaging about 60 new Hyundai sales a month, Benson couldn't support the overhead costs on his eight-acre facility. Things got so tough that Hyundai sent him a letter in 2003 warning that he needed to improve or lose the franchise, Benson says.
He and his sales and general managers met to come up with a game plan. Benson's managers suggested having a big sale, backed by $100,000 in radio ads.
"I'm not going to spend this much money unless we have a real message, and it can't be the standard car dealership message of, 'Come down here. We'll make you the best deal,' " Benson recalled telling his managers.
"I just felt like we had to do something. So we decided to give a car to Saddam Hussein if he got out of Iraq."
In April 2003, Benson ran a radio ad in which he declared his presidential candidacy and promised to solve America's foreign policy troubles. The U.S. military had just invaded Iraq after Saddam Hussein had balked at President George W. Bush's ultimatum to leave the country or face an invasion.
In the ad, Benson said he would give the dictator a new Hyundai every year for life in exchange for his leaving Iraq. When he saw how much the ads boosted sales, he knew he was on to something.