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How Advertising Influenced a Generation

RYAN MATTHEWS July 22, 2022 All Feature Vehicles

How Advertising Influenced a Generation

In the fictional world of Sterling Cooper, the advertising agency from the AMC television show “Mad Men,” the nation is completely at the mercy of the creative and manipulating minds at work on New York’s Madison Avenue. They told us what to eat, drink, wear and drive. To them, it was all about pushing products that would improve our public image and make us more desirable.

Being the sheep that we are, we bought into every word, jingle and claim. Correct or false, it didn’t matter; we just wanted to feel good about the consumerist lifestyle we had chosen for ourselves.

The line between reality and fantasy explored on the hit show was remarkably blurred. One fact that was absolutely true was that no agency was considered a real player unless they had a particular set of clients and/or products. These were the big four: airline, tobacco, breakfast cereal and (especially) automaker. For Sterling Cooper, their automaker was Jaguar. That was soon replaced with a piece of Chevrolet branding, a new, unnamed personal car. In one episode the clever creative team called the project Camaro.

Knowing they had no answer for the soon-to-be-released Mustang, Chevrolet made a preemptive strike to brand the Chevelle as its youth market car.
Ford fired at the unrefined heart of the Corvette with a sleek, sophisticated ad where everyone admired the new Thunderbird. Even police officers smiled with approval. The full-page ad was prepared by J. Walter Thompson and blitzed the market in a combination of general interest, sports and automotive magazines.

In the real world, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler have always employed major adverting agencies to brand its product lines. Long before the world wide web, this was done on an equal basis between broadcast, billboards and print. On television and radio, anyone could own 30, 60 or even 120 seconds of exclusive airtime. In print, the battle for the attention of the reader was an entirely different story. Plus, the next page could be (and likely was) a major competitor’s message. It was the print world where the biggest image wars were waged.

Every automaker used print ads as a staple part of its image and marketing plan. They all played to the masses featuring sedan, wagons, trucks and low-priced coupes. All touted innovations, safety and value. It wasn’t until the mid-’50s when the enthusiast market was approached. This performance space was where Ford and Chevy traded blows. When Ford created an ad for its new Thunderbird and gave it a heavy insertions schedule, Chevy was forced to market the Corvette in the same fashion.

It took a few years for Chevy to punch back. This 1959 Corvette ad was clearly focused on the gentleman driver. The message is that the Corvette is not only exciting but practical for daily use.
All about the Hemi. Long before it was the thing to do, Dodge was making its performance presence known.
In a quiet way (Ford’s Racing Division had no ad budget) Ford also wanted to brag about its racing efforts. The performance buyer was coming of age and everyone wanted a piece of the market.

The ’50s was child’s play in comparison to the youth market wars of the ’60s. This led to the battle for the muscle car market, where Dodge and Plymouth were the dominant brands. It is a major factor as to why models like Challenger, ’Cuda, Road Runner, Charger, Super Bee, GTX and Coronet are entrenched in the hearts and minds of muscle car enthusiasts today.

Here’s a look back at the influential print messages of the ’50s, ’60s and very early ’70s.

The Ford Mustang had always been about image and its ability to turn a loser into a winner.
By 1966, Dodge was all about performance. These two ads for the Charger and Coronet tout the same thing but are targeted at completely different buyers.

With the Camaro and Firebird on the market, Ford tailored its Mustang ads to owning the original rather than a copycat car. It also reminded buyers it was the lowest priced car with bucket seats. Not exactly a strong selling point
Got Dodge fever? For 1968, Dodge was also aiming at GM brands for building “me too” models. The ad copy is a hoot to read with words like “coddle” and “paraphernalia.” Don’t you just miss the ’60s?

The classic inner corporate marketing battle: these two ads are from 1968 introducing the Plymouth Road Runner and Dodge Super Bee. Plymouth had the whole, hip “Beat Goes On” thing while Dodge reminded you that “Speed Contests Belong on the Strip.” Far out, man.
In 1968, Ford offered an ad about a guy named Sidney and the bathing beauties. It was a classic message that said if you have one of these, you’re going to get a whole lot of that.
A year later the Mustang’s sexual connection was a bit more subtle. However, the male to female attraction message was still there. Get a Mustang Convertible and you’ll have stories to tell. Note the come hither look offered by the three female models.
The once lowly Dodge Dart joined the Scat Pack with the Swinger 340. It was yet another example of how the sexual revolution was tied to the performance car market during the “Love American Style” days.
At the very height of the muscle car era, Dodge designed ads to appeal to women buyers. The Challenger message was “you’d think it was designed by a woman.” The Charger ad shows off its new low price, available in Panther Pink, too.

In 1971, the Big Three could see the writing on the wall. The muscle car era was being shut down. Dodge was the last to swing its message from performance to sporty. These two ads for the Demon and Challenger promote a thrifty six-cylinder engine.


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