It's not every day that you meet someone famous for dressing like a giant pickle.
So when I arrived for an interview with Scott Elder, the used-car salesman who became a local celebrity thanks to his over-the-top monthly TV and radio spots in which he'd dress up to promote everything from his self-proclaimed title as the "dealer for the people" to his "nickel pickle" sales, I hoped he might greet me in costume.
He didn't. But Elder, 52, did tell me the, er, real dill about his long history in Austin, his take on his celebrity status and why the past year has been noticeably quieter on the airwaves.
American-Statesman: You've had a consistent presence on TV and radio in Austin for a long time. For the past year, as your company has transitioned from Dreams Cars Austin to Elder Mitsubishi, you've basically disappeared from the airwaves. Why?
Scott Elder: We had a lot of things change in a short period of time. The whole facility (which is in Cedar Park) was under a massive transformation — it was almost unrecognizable as a business. We were changing our name, changing the fact that we had new cars in addition to used cars now. We had a little bit of difficulty taking the marketing that we had been doing for so long and flipping a switch and changing it to Mitsubishi. We decided to go a different route.
You were an engineer before you got into the car business. Did you have any experience acting before you started shooting commercials?
No, no acting experience. So it was a little uncomfortable for me at first, I was definitely pushing myself to the fringes of my personality. But it's like anything else. Sometimes you have to push yourself to do things you’re a little uncomfortable with, and over time you get more comfortable with it. The truth is developing this business has meant putting myself in a lot of uncomfortable situations. Sometimes I look at it like I’ve been so uncomfortable that I’m comfortable being uncomfortable.
What were some of your favorite commercials over the years?
I liked the "breaking bad credit" one where we had the RV from the "Breaking Bad" show. The most famous one is the "nickel pickle" one, that really caught people’s attention, for sure. We had a lot of good ones. We started on the radio in summer 2012 and we started TV July 2013, so we pretty much shot a new commercial every month from July 2013 until December of 2017. Really, over four years we got, like, 50-plus commercials that we shot and produced.
Where did the commercial ideas come from?
We work with a marketing group out of Florida, and they come up with different monthly campaigns and themes. We would have to take the idea and the concept and decide what we’re going to do, what our take is going to be on it, especially for the TV commercials — what the setting is going to be, if we're going to do to costumes. ... We had good success with it, and it worked, so we started doing more and more and investing more into it.
Do you get recognized often?
Yeah, I do. People are usually pretty nice and complimentary unless it’s late at night at a bar or something and people have been drinking. Normally everyone's nice. I was just at lunch today and someone recognized me even though I haven’t really been on TV in eight, nine months.
Some people didn't like your commercials, though, right?
Oh, yeah, definitely. Especially when we started, we’d get quite a few complaints about it because at the time we did it Austin really hadn't had anybody doing that type of advertising before. When we started doing it we got a lot of people coming out complaining. We had a lot of people coming into the dealership, too. The way I look at it is, it’s a rule of thirds. If you do something that’s going out on the edge a bit, what you're going to get is probably a third of people are going to hate you, a third of the people are going to be indifferent and a third of the people will love you. You just have to cater to the third of the people that you think are going to love you and work with them, not worry about the people that hate you. If you do stuff that’s a little different, you’re going to get some people who don’t like it, and that’s OK. We’re not for everybody.
Have you always liked cars?
In high school I was building cars, at 16 or 17 years, old, taking engines out. I was always into cars more than anything else probably. It seemed like a natural thing for me to get into. I have a lot of knowledge about them. I had to learn the car business a bit, that took some time. It's been an evolution.
Why make the change to Mitsubishi?
Mitsubishi has a longtime reputation — a lot of people remember their Eclipses and Monteros, a lot of people had those and really liked them. Mitsubishi just kind of went away in a lot of areas in the country for a while. The last few years, they're starting to really come back on strong. Partnering up with Mitsubishi and being able to offer those cars in addition to the used cars had a lot of benefits for us.
You were born in Scotland and lived in California before moving to Austin in 1990. What do you like about Austin?
I love the city. What really attracted me to the city was the lake and the hills and the outdoor lifestyle. It was kind of reminiscent of California in a lot of ways; it had a lot of benefits of California but didn't have some of the negatives in terms of the extreme high costs and extreme crowding and that kind of stuff. I love the atmosphere, love the people, love the downtown area. I think it’s just a great place to live.
Do you think you'll ever return to starring in commercials?
We’ve been so busy the last nine months that in a sense it’s been nice to get a little bit of a break from the demands of putting that stuff together every month. But it was fun, it’s been fun doing it. Now that we’re coming up on the year mark, I think we’re going to likely start going back into a little bit more of me being in the marketing and doing more of it, probably by early next year is what I'm thinking.
Do you still have your pickle costume, and will people see it again?
Yep, with the big white hands. It’s possible. It’s possible.
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