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Used car offer from Renfrew Chrysler leaves some Calgarians feeling used

© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

A Calgary car dealership is apologizing for a letter to customers that’s drawn a lot of online backlash.

The outside of the envelope from Renfrew Chrysler had the words, “Urgent — Open Immediately Rent Subsidy.” But inside, there was a cash back offer from the dealership for the sale of used cars.

One person wrote; “The company responsible for such ads should feel a sense of disgrace.”

Another questioned how Renfrew believed this kind of advertising tactic would encourage sales.

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Renfrew Chrysler’s General Manager Shawn Fennell told Global News the letter was not intended to trick or mislead anyone. In fact, he said, it was supposed to do the reverse.

“It was totally set up to help people in times when everything is inflamed,” he said. “That’s really what it is.”

Fennell said most of the dealership’s customers are looking for cash back to offset other expenses — such as food and rent — and this could help them achieve that.

“For example, you buy a vehicle, your rent is x amount. That amount of money comes off of the vehicle. That’s cash to them.”

As for the urgency of the message, he admitted that was an unfortunate mistake.

“It’s definitely not bait and switch. If it came across that way, I totally understand that. I apologize,” he added.

“Wording could definitely have been different. It wasn’t malicious by any means. From the bottom of my heart — I’m sorry.”

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Marketing expert Neil Brigden told Global News a sincere apology is an “important first step” towards getting back trust. However, the assistant professor of marketing with Mount Royal University also said the letter was a bad idea from the start.

“Unfortunately, once consumers actually opened that letter and discovered that it was actually not what they considered rent subsidy, they’re going to feel tricked.”

Brigden said it may be a challenge for Renfrew to win back customers’ trust, especially since it’s in the business of selling large ticket items. He suggested the company look into some “restorative” measures, which could include donating to rental relief causes.