The discipline of advertising has evolved somewhat since the car became a consumer object. Indeed, the media through which advertising is now disseminated would blow the minds of the early carmakers. But for a bit of light-hearted afternoon reading, we look at a few examples of automotive advertising through the years.
1908 Ford Model T
In 1908 Ford advertised its Model T through the mass media of the time: print. The Cycle and Automobile Trade Journal – an early trade magazine – ran an advert boldly proclaiming, “(the Ford line) As Per Usual – will eclipse everything else”. For consumers, an advert was run in Life magazine that same year with the tagline, “Ford high priced quality in a low priced car”.
Perhaps most intriguingly, the delivery truck version of the Model T was advertised by comparing running costs between a horse and the car. Well, as Henry Ford allegedly said, “If I asked the people what they wanted, I’d have made a faster horse”.
Advertising was still very much content-led in 1914, but associating brands with achievements was already being exploited heavily. Speed had captivated society already, and as cars developed – driven in no small way by motor racing – on the road speeds increased. Sunbeam broke the one hour speed record at Brooklands in 1914 (before motor racing was banned in Europe during World War One), lapping at an average of 107.95mph.
Speed and power sold cars from day one – just as big BHP figures and small 0-60 times continue to sell cars today.
1935 Rover Streamline
By the 20s and 30s lifestyle imagery was beginning to be used more widely. As consumer confidence and knowledge increased, older forms of advertising became viewed as patronising and brands adopted their style to suit. Print would still be a major outlet, but billboard and increasingly transit (public transport) advertising was more and more popular due to its reach.
This gem from Rover brands the very handsome Streamline as ‘The car for the occasion’. It’s a strapline which you could well imagine a brand using for a car today.
1950s Chevrolet TV advert
After the war there was a surge in consumer spending as economies got back on their feet. Television was propagating through the social classes – as was car ownership. Brands jumped on this new advertising medium thanks to its impact and car manufacturers were among the first. In the USA, where television was somewhat ahead of much of the rest of the world, Chevrolet produced this advert to demonstrate the power and engineering in its V8 engines.
1960s and 1970s – Celebrity
The power of celebrity in advertising was no new thing by the 1960s and 70s, but as this montage shows, brand ambassadors were playing a greater role than ever in promoting brands to consumers. Even Robert De Nero can be found jovially enjoying an AMC.
By this point in time, too, multichannel advertising was becoming more normal. Ford had both print and TV adverts for its Capri, branding it ‘The car you always promised yourself’. This type of marketing continued through the 80s and 90s, but as the web developed, manufacturers made quick work of exploiting this all new medium.
BMW – The Hire
In 2001 and 2002, BMW produced a series of short films, specifically for the web, which leveraged celebrities, high production values and exciting script writing to promote a variety of its models. Actors such as Guy Ritchie, Madonna, Ang Lee and Ray Liotta starred, adding a huge desire factor to the cars they were associated with.
These were a huge success and a true ‘viral’ campaign. Whilst sales volumes can’t be directly associated with these films, BMW sold 12% more cars in the year after the series began. Other brands looked on enviously and the format has been used by brands ever since.
VW – The Force
Leveraging the power of a big event and a superbly pitched advert has big, positive repercussions for brands nowadays. During the 2011 Super Bowl VW played its new advert for the Passat. Called ‘The Force’ it caught the public’s imagination and in the era of social sharing, the public went wild. Until recently, ‘The Force’ was the most shared advert of all time racking up over 5 million through Facebook and Twitter (plus many other social media channels), viewed on mobiles, tablets, smart TVs and all manner of other devices. On YouTube alone it has been viewed over 60 million times.
Looking back over time, the evolution and technological revolutions – especially in the last 20 years – have been massive. Brands have more reach and more ability to target people than ever before meaning that advertising innovation is as fast moving as the developments themselves.
Bear in mind this: in 1998, the average person in the western world received 1 million marketing messages per year – 3,000 per day. Imagine what this figure is now.