How Tom and Ray sold me on Car Talk
This October, when the leaves begin to turn and summer finally changes into fall, millions of Americans will take note of another change in the air and, unlike the relief of cooler weather, it is not one I am looking forward to.
After 35 years, Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers, have decided they will no longer record new episodes of their hit NPR* call-in show, Car Talk.
Those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure of stumbling upon a Saturday morning episode of Car Talk are not completely out of luck: NPR will continue to air archived episodes even after the hosts, Tom and Ray Magliozzi, have officially retired. Never the less, the announcement last week got me thinking about the show and how the two chuckling mechanics have me loading a new episode on my iPod week after week even though I don’t really care about cars.
Each week Tom and Ray, brothers that run an auto repair shop in Cambridge, Mass., dispense automotive (or marital, or parental, or philosophical) advice that is miraculously both funny and informative. They never miss an opportunity to poke fun at themselves, their profession or even their callers. The show is entertaining to listeners like myself who don’t even know how to change a tire (a sad fact my father would shudder to learn) simply because Tom and Ray are that good on air. I started listening because they are entertaining — I continue listening because they are entertaining and because each week they somehow manage to teach me something, like why my tire started squeaking (and why I should be even more concerned if it suddenly stops).
It may seem surprising, but this question-and-answer program hosted by two mechanics with thick New England accents is NPR’s highest rated show. And it is not just “car people” who listen. Millions of listeners don’t know much or even care much about cars, but we listen anyway. The Tappet brothers have me hooked. If they were selling a product or service, I would be a loyal customer, and their success has everything to do with how they talk to me.
Tom and Ray have managed to do something I wish more businesses and organizations would do: Ditch jargon and formality to reach their audience with a genuine, relatable message. Often businesses feel the need to include every piece of industry jargon they can think up in an attempt to convince the customer how great they are. The result usually ends up making me think they are trying to convince themselves they are worthy even more than they are trying to convince me. Maybe it is their degrees from MIT, but even when they joke about how often they are wrong, Tom and Ray exude a confidence that assures the listener they already know they are experts in the field. And because they already know it, they don’t feel the need to waste time (and words) convincing me, and instead can focus on actually “selling” me their show.
Though they would probably be astounded to hear it, marketers can learn a thing or two from these self-proclaimed grease monkeys. Focus less on impressing me with your words, and instead let the content of your message convince me.
*My colleague Susannah also wrote a blog post about public radio just a few weeks ago, so for all you non-NPR nerds out there, I apologize for the redundancy. Normally I would not have written about such a similar topic so soon, but I felt the end of Car Talk warranted an exception. I still haven’t gotten up the nerve to call and break the news to my Dad.