5 Small Business Marketing Lessons from NPR’s Car Talk

Car Talk Guys: Business Lessons

This week the hosts of NPR’s most popular non-news show “Car Talk”  Tom and Ray Magliozzi announced in a post on their site “Time to Get Even Lazier”  that they would “stop and smell the cappuccino.”  Car Talk has been on the airwaves for over 35 years of which 25 years has been on NPR.  The Wall Street Journal said that Car Talk had an audience of over 3.3 million every week in over 660 stations quoting Eric Nuzum NPR’s vice president of programming.

My whole family are fans and will miss them having listened to them for 15 years. Every time I have heard Car Talk all these years,  this post has been on my mind. Here are my views on what small business can learn about marketing from the ” Click and Clack. the Tappet Brothers.” i.e., the Car Talk guys:

  • Humor : Use humor to make your marketing messages more interesting.
    •  Tom and Ray Magliozzi turned a difficult and complicated subject — car repairs — into a humorous show that interested both the people who wanted to learn about repairing cars and also those who wanted to laugh along with them.
  • Self-deprecation : Don’t be afraid to use this to make your audience laugh with you and not at you.
    • When used with humor in my opinion the audience feels safe and not talked down to. Even people who are not experts enjoy the show as the hosts of Car  Talk make fun of themselves and sometimes their audience in a very friendly manner.
  • Dumbing Down: Making your message clearly understood no matter what the expertise of your audience is. Ann Wylie, a well known communication expert, says your writing should be understood at the 6th Grade level.
    •  The technical details of car repair and parts are made so easy to understand on the show that people at any level of expertise can understand. This is also reflected in the type of callers who call in to the show — they have all levels of expertise.
  • Refresh and Recall: Use examples of your past successes and testimonials from your customers, past and present.
    • At the end of every show the hosts ask a previous caller to let the audience know if the recommendation from them had worked or not.
  • Call to Action: All messages should have a clear call to action of what you want the audience to do.
    • Throughout Car Talk the audience is spurred for a call to action- donate a car, participate in NPR efforts or visit the “Car Talk Shameless Commerce” part of the Car Talk website (their e-commerce site where they sell T-shirts and other items).

Are you a fan of Car Talk?  Will you miss them? What tips did you get from shows these like this or others you listen to? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Photo courtesy Flickr User WBUR Boston’s NPR news station


Shashi Bellamkonda Shashi Bellamkonda is CMO of Surefire Social, AKA "Social Media Swami" at SurefireSocial. Visit Shashi Bellamkonda's blog. He is also an adjunct faculty at Georgetown University. Shashi is a regular contributor to the Washington Business Journal, DC Examiner and other tech blogs like Smallbiztechnology and Techcocktail. Shashi has been in the list of Top 100 Small Business Influencer Champions list for 2011 and 2012.

14 Reactions
  1. Shashi, I’m going to miss that show, have been listening to Click and Clack for many years.

    One note on your self-deprecation point. I think humor is great for small businesses but they have to be careful about self-deprecation when they are *first* sharing their business idea or expertise.

    If people don’t know them well enough, they might believe the self down talk or see it as lack of confidence. “I guess you’re right, I did just squander another hour meeting with you on social media strategy.” …Not something a new consultant should want to hear from a client.

    Click and Clack shared their expertise and humor for a long time so listeners could chuckle when they heard each other say that their car advice might be totally off.

  2. Good point on being careful with self-deprecation. Usually it is better when explaining successes ” We may not be the best tennis players but we make the best tennis raquets” something like that..

  3. An excellent article. I loved listening to Click & Clack, but tuned in for the entertainment value, not for car information. Good marketing lessons learned. Thanks

  4. I am so sad to hear the brothers are retiring but very pleased to hear that we can still hear them through archived shows. When I talk about Car Talk to people who are unfamiliar with it, I say, “I never would have believed that I could be so thoroughly entertained by a radio show on car repair being a girl with otherwise no interest in cars.” I also have stolen their line, “stump the chump” and use it often when challenging myself or someone else playing trivia or similar competitive games. Love, love, love the brothers!!!!

  5. Shashi, in an era of constant change and especially in media, 35 years on the air at NPR is an amazing accomplishment and journey. Indeed, their friendly, down to earth, humorous and knowledgeable style was their brand!

  6. Two words “Oh no”!


  7. Hi Shashi
    I was also sad to hear that Car Talk was ending. I’ve been a huge fan for many years – along with Prarie Home Companion. You did an awesome job pulling business lessons from the show.
    I think one of my issues when talking to potential customers is that I tend to be just a bit too technical. I’ll be more conscious of that from now on.

    Thank you!

  8. I first heard Car Talk about 30 years ago. At the time I enjoyed their humor, but it got old never changing. Being an engineer and life long car nut their replies were clearly DUMB, but sometimes they made it funny. I didn’t like their prejudices against certain brands and often wondered if they got promotional pay for some of their comments. I have seen that so often in trade magazines and know it is rampant among other public forums. Once there were more tech shows on the radio I switched away from this show. And for the record: the conservative blood in my veins knows that I don’t like my taxes paying for dribble like this, but so far I haven’t found anyone to vote it away and make NPR stand on its own like public radio.

  9. Hi Russ,
    Thanks for your comment and appreciate the view point.


  10. What did I learn from Car Talk? It’s all about relationships. They always asked their callers what was happening in their lives, what were they doing when the car trouble started, etc. Oftentimes what they uncover in those questions leads directly to a solution for the car (and maybe the person too)!