The contents of automobile ads in the past sixty years reflect the changes in society. Companies make huge investments, utilize sophisticated technologies, and make use of very persuasive language to market existing products (Green, 2012). In the automobile industry, advertising is a key strategy to promote and sell cars, trucks, and accessories. According to Georgano (2013) “the advertising industry and the automobile grew up side by side and each was a major stimulus to the other” (para 1). For the past sixty years, there have been changes in automobile ads, not only in the contents but also in their platform of presentation as well as in the target audience. In this study, the specific focus are the following:
- Variations in the contents and platforms of advertisements;
- Expansion of the target audience of the advertisements; and
- Shift in emphasis in the ads in each decade.
The contents of automobile ads in the past sixty years reflect the changes in society.
Honda’s “Hands” commercial, winner of 2014 Best Auto Commercial (Adweek.com) is completely different from the print commercials published several decades ago. Examples of these print ads are the 1957 Chrysler 300C commercial published in Sports Illustrated in May 27 1957 and the 1972 Gremlin X advertisement published in the Hot Rod and Car Craft in April 1972. Both ads are in full color with detailed backdrops of natural settings. The Chrysler depicts a couple sitting on their car with the beach waves behind them while the Gremlin shows a long drive on a tree-lined pavement in the countryside. The cars certainly were shown in perfect condition. They both looked shiny, clean, comfortable, and quite powerful. However, the movement in the video of Honda’s hands was entirely captivating. What the print ads conveyed through long lines of text at one side of the ad was presented by Honda in a matter of seconds through the changing images that come out from the movement of the hands. Television ads of automobiles are also extremely popular. In fact, automobile ads have become short movies in the 1980s, complete with a funny slogan and a joke that aims to be recalled a later time (Perch, 2013). At present, automobile ads can be found in newspapers, magazines, flyers, TV, movie theaters, billboards, social networking sites, search engines, and even in your inbox.
Target audience expand
Before the 1920s, the target of the advertisements was mostly the male population, although there was recognition that the woman has a major say in the purchase of the car. Some of the earliest ads were even directed towards retailers such as this line from Marion in 1912 that says “[H]ere is a car you can sell with the confidence and certainty that the sale does not entail a burden of attention and subsequent cost” (Georgano, 2003, p.87). In the succeeding years, women’s ownership of cars was recognized in ads like that by Pullman and Columbia of the 1915 De Luxe Coupe which has the caption “Tailored for Her Majesty the American Woman" (Georgano, 2003, p.87).
Shift of emphasis
The earliest advertisements focused on the specifications of the car. This was referred to as the nuts and bolts. An example is the line that says “[t]he Car That Has No Valves--let us tell you the vital points about the Elmore valveless two-cycle engine" (Georgano, 2003, p.87). Later on there was an emphasis of the car’s power, how far it would go, at what speed. According Frumkin (2002) the period of 1962-1974 was particularly significant in the field of automobile advertising. This was considered “an era when high-performance cars captured the hearts and wallets of the motoring public and the press” (p.6). During these years, auto ads were extremely colorful, outrageous and highly competitive. These were advertisements of cars manufactured by American Motors, Chrysler Corporation, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors. The ads presented in the automobile magazines showed ”engine-snorting, tire-squealing, psychedelic-rendered pieces of art” (p.5). This period was also known as the time of the muscle cars. In the US drag racing became popular in the 1960s and having the most high-powered car meant power on the road.
At present, automobile advertisements do not just focus on the power of their vehicles. The message communicated is the power that an owner would have once he/she goes behind the wheel of the new car or the new truck. According to Gibson (2013), what is being promoted is the “power, luxury, status, freedom, adventure, making your neighbor feel inadequate, and dazzling especially attractive members of whichever gender catches your fancy.” Thus, advertisements of automobiles would show a family enjoying a spacious vehicle, a woman off to work looking confident and attractive behind an SUV, or a good-looking man with toned muscles driving through rough terrain in a powerful truck.
The changes in a particular society are evident in the advertisements of cars and trucks. In the US, the contents and form of car advertisements provide a view on a particular period. In the 1960s to the 70s, the major car manufacturing companies in the US promoted muscle cars. This was the period when drag racing was very popular and owning powerful cars was the trend. The target consumers likewise expanded. Ads before the 1920s contained lines in text alluding to men buying cars for women but this changed decades later with ads showing women behind the wheel. The image of families enjoying a spacious car which keeps them safe has also emerged in contemporary ads. Besides contents and audience, automobile ads evolved into different platforms through the years. The pictures in print media decades ago have grown to become multimedia images of commercials shown on TV, in theaters, social networking sites, websites, and billboards. The present day automobiles ads are promoting not only the basics of the care but most of all, these ads are marketing a lifestyle. At present, image is very important and having the right car would definitely boost the image that one intends to project.
Frumkin, M.J. (2002). Classic Muscle Car of Advertising: The Art of Selling Horsepower. Iola, WI: Krause Publications.
Georgano, G.N. (2003). Chapter 4: Advertising. In Vintage Years 1920-1930, p.87. US: Mason Crest Publishers
Green, J. (2012). Advertising. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.
Gibson, R. (2013). Advertising. Alternatives Journal, 39 (2), 64.
Perch, J. (2013, May 13). “How automobile advertising has changed over time” DMV.com. Retrieved from http://www.dmv.com/blog/auto-industry-advertising-trends.