Edmunds.com President Seth Berkowitz had the guts last week to ask me what I thought of the shopping site's controversial ads that spoofed price haggling at dealerships.
With his foreknowledge, I'll tell you what I told him. Edmunds did a good job of managing the crisis by pulling the YouTube spots after only two days and apologizing for offending dozens of dealers.
But the decision to produce and post the four ads in the first place demonstrated a remarkable degree of tone-deafness. In them, a grocery checkout clerk tries to gouge shoppers on items and haggle with them when they refuse to pay the asking price.
The scenes spoof dealer stereotypes, such as "let me ask my manager," before ending with the tag line: "You wouldn't haggle for your groceries, so why do it when buying a car?"
So how hard was it to predict that dealers -- who pay Edmunds a monthly subscription -- would take umbrage? First, dealers have seen this act before and never liked it. Before its metamorphosis two years ago, shopping site TrueCar Inc. painted itself as a defender of car buyers against dealers on price. CEO Scott Painter went so far as to describe a world in which the Internet would make dealership salespeople obsolete and turn vehicles into commodities.
He would regret those words. Dealers rebelled, state regulators intervened and TrueCar changed dealer price bidding so customers could fetch a fair price for vehicles instead of rock-bottom ones. Lesson learned, TrueCar is healthy today.
Also, third-party sites are under fire today from dealership groups such as AutoNation, which have vowed to reduce spending with the sites and redeploy money on their own websites and brands.
In an atmosphere where the relevancy and efficacy of third-party sites are actively being debated, it's amazing that Edmunds would risk a campaign that offended even a single dealer.
Edmunds management can only hope that dealers grant a mulligan on this one.