Cal Worthington's "Cheesy" Spots Sold A Million Cars

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Maybe it’s inappropriate to call an obituary “fun,” but this one in the New York Times for Cal Worthington, a car dealer who firmly believed in the power of local broadcast advertising–and had the hundreds of millions of dollars to prove it–made me smile.

The cowboy hat-wearing car dealer died at 92.

To live in one of the west coast markets where Worthington’s “Go See Cal” spots ran must have been like living in Ohio during the barrage of political spots.

Writes the Times:

Stuck with a dud location when he bought his first dealership, Mr. Worthington decided that the only way to attract customers was to hit the airwaves hard with radio and television commercials that stood out from the pack. This turned out to be his ticket to fame and fortune.

In relentless campaigns that treated television viewers to as many as 100 commercials a day, Mr. Worthington proclaimed the virtues of the latest gem on the lot while, for example, strapped to the wing of a soaring biplane or standing on his head on the hood of a car - a visible demonstration of his motto, “I will stand upon my head until my ears are turning red to make a deal.”

In the background, a chorus of male voices and frantic banjo pickers sang a jingle to the tune of “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” each of its many verses ending with the tag line: “Go see Cal, go see Cal, go see Cal.”

Worthington would go to great lengths to get viewers’ attention. Reads the obit:

When a rival dealer began using a pet dog in his television advertisements in the early 1970s, Mr. Worthington rustled up a gorilla and told the audience: “Howdy, I’m Cal Worthington and this is my dog Spot. I found this little fella down at the pound and he’s so full of love.”

Spot reappeared as a hippo, an iguana and a snake, but never a dog. In other Spot spots, which ran until the 1980s, Mr. Worthington rode Shamu the killer whale at an aquatic theme park while waving his cowboy hat, chauffeured a tiger in a golf cart and sat astride an elephant.

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