January 26, 2021

Ralph Paglia, ‘godfather of automotive digital marketing’ dead at 63

Ralph Paglia, a dealership software advocate known affectionately to industry insiders as the “godfather of automotive digital marketing,” died Dec. 21 of complications caused by COVID-19, his daughter confirmed to Automotive News. He was 63.

Paglia was director of digital marketing for ADP Dealer Services, departing before it became CDK Global Inc. in 2014. He worked at two dealerships in his career and briefly at Reynolds and Reynolds. He had been working as an automotive digital marketing consultant since 2013.

Paglia’s belief that the Internet would become a dominant force in retail was prophetic, Dale Pollak, former auto dealer and founder of inventory management software vAuto, said in a blog post.

“Ralph instantly understood how retail market-based pricing would benefit the dealership’s desire to connect customers with used cars online,” Pollak said. “He wasn’t just one of the good guys, he was a great guy. His loss is our loss.”

Dealership consultant Jim Ziegler told Automotive News that many of Paglia’s ideas became a framework for contemporary business development centers, bridging the gap to digital leads from dealership call centers.

“He was an absolute pioneer in digital,” Ziegler said. “He was doing it when nobody else had it on their radar screen. He was teaching it.”

The retail veteran and Internet consultant also leveraged finance-and-insurance experience in his advocacy of digital deals. At a time when dealers were hesitant to add F&I information online, Paglia advised adding content to prime customers for the in-store experience.

“Customers like to take their time and absorb information, and they can do it online,” he said in 2011. “At most dealerships, finance managers are already presenting products on a menu displayed on a computer monitor. If menu selling works, then using the Web to sell F&I products will work.”