But the innovation that put Dichter on the marketing map involved a problem Chrysler was having with its relatively new line of Plymouth cars—which consumers were shunning. Dichter headed out to Detroit, conducted extensive interviews with a couple of hundred people, and deduced that the company’s first problem was its existing advertising, which boasted that its cars were “different from any other one you have ever tried”. This evidently triggered an unconscious fear of the unknown among buyers, for whom familiarity in a car meant safety.
He also learned from interviews that whereas convertibles made up only 2% of sales in 1939, most men, particularly middle-aged ones, dreamed of owning one. When convertibles were placed in the windows of dealerships as “bait”, more men came in. But when they returned actually to make a purchase, they typically came with their wives and chose a sensible sedan (the Plymouth line offered both).
Dichter gathered that the convertible symbolised youth, freedom and the secret wish for a mistress: an idle bit of temptation. He suggested that Chrysler beef up its convertible advertising—and, in recognition of spouses’ role in the final decisions, begin marketing cars in women’s magazines. Meanwhile, a new and more reassuring campaign emphasised that it would take “only a few minutes” to feel at home with the new Plymouth.Sure enough, all of the dealerships I've driven by since have convertibles front-and-center in their showrooms.