By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Oct 14, 2015 at 9:03 AM

There is probably no category of television commercials that comes close to matching the frequency of automobile sales. And most of us can recognize them in an instant:

You’ve got the dealer himself, standing in front of his dealership, explaining the latest deal he offers on trucks or big cars or little cars. There are a couple of things that most car ads seem to have. frequently you see someone in a glistening showroom or in front of a lot full of cars with flags and balloons.

You see some guy who looks like he just stumbled in front of a television camera and has decided to shout about his business and all the great deals you can get if  you just show up. If it’s not exactly shouting, the energy of these dealers makes them look kind of like guys who have taken just a bit too much speed.

And then there is Jim Griffin.

There are essentially two ways to persuade people to do something. The most common is the rational appeal: you can save money if you buy a car from me.

The second, and perhaps the most powerful, is emotional appeal. That’s Griffin's approach.

His commercials, which I began noticing last year, appeal to a variety of emotional triggers: patriotism, historical pride, curiosity, generosity and heartstrings.

"The last thing he wanted was some commercial that was a ‘deal of the day’ kind of thing," said Steve Ewing, the creative force behind the spots, all of which are 60-second spots, a rarity among local car advertising in Milwaukee.

"I knew what I wanted," Griffin said, sitting back in his modest office in the Ford dealership, founded by his father, in Waukesha. "I wanted something that would be a brand. I wanted the Griffin name to stand for something."

It started out with the first commercial and the use of the phrase "Detroit iron." There was no doubt about what Griffin was talking about.

"There are similarities between Milwaukee and Detroit," Griffin said. "Both blue collar cities. Chrysler had run an ad for a new car saying 'imported from Detroit.' And that meant something to me."

Griffin sells a lot of different cars, but it is with Ford that he found his most memorable hook for a commercial.

In 2008 the automobile industry, especially the big three, was in trouble. General Motors and Chrysler took the famous bailout. Ford did not and that kind of defiance found a positive resonance with the public. Griffin tapped into that memory in a spot.

"When the storm clouds rolled over Detroit, Ford was the company that didn’t look outside for help," he said. "They looked inside and fought their way out with the help of a work ethic that wouldn’t quit. I’m Jim Griffin and I’m proud to say I’m Ford’s No. 1 dealer in Wisconsin."

In that one brief moment, Griffin got to the admiration people had for  not taking government handouts, for having pride in what you do and for working hard for what you get. You can see the spot here.

It’s remarkably effective with soaring music and video that starts with hard-hatted men working, carrying sledgehammers and pickaxes, sparks from a forge and morphs to Griffin taking off his hard hat and smiling, obviously proud of what Ford did.

"I guess you could say I’m a patriot," Griffin said. But his patriotism is not just the flag waving kind that might find him sitting at a desk with an American flag behind him.

Instead he is patriotic about the state and city in which he lives. You can see Leon’s Custard, The Pabst Theater, the Milwaukee Public Library, City Hall, the former Pabst Brewery, Miller Park, the Hoan Bridge, freeway signs and other images.

"Steve likes to push the envelope," Griffin said. "We were a perfect marriage because I like the envelope pushed."

Beside the production values and the theme, Griffin enjoys another advantage rare in automobile advertising. He has a sincerity about him that was obvious in our interview and which translates to the screen.

"I believe in what I say," he said. "I hope that comes through."

One other thing about great advertising is that you have to like the pitchman. That’s why advertisers work so hard to find the right person to do the talking. Griffin has that kind of favorite uncle appeal that is both heartwarming and open. It’s a "what you see is what you get" thing.

Great advertising is just like great theater. You have a beginning and a middle and an end. You have a hero (Ford) and you have a villain (the other guys and other countries). You have the ability to pluck at heartstrings.

"I see lots of people who come in here and just walk into my office," he said. "My door is always open and they’ll say they love the commercials. I’ve had people come in and say they aren’t going to buy a car but just wanted to stop to say they appreciated the commercials and the message."

One more thing that is unique about these ads is that there are almost no shots of the cars he sells. With these ads it's about a feeling, an emotion, some kind of pull that is different from "Hey, I want that car."

In some respects this kind of work resembles the kind of advertising you see in a presidential campaign. It's not issue specific but rather a subliminal effort to convince you that this is your candidate. 

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.