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“Selling the dream” not just how car ads evolved

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“Selling the dream: how car ads evolved”, the article from last week’s Top Gear online magazine shows the car ads evolution during the last century, accompanied by some few lines describing their historical context. I found this article really interesting and relevant while reading Vlasic’s book Once Upon a Car because the ads are the result of their historical context, and therefore reflect the auto industry situation.

The image of the cars to the consumers’ eyes have changed the way the industry behaves almost from its very beginnings, when Ford lost its monopoly and had the change its design to stay up to date with what the market demanded.

When revising the ads, one can see how the concept of the car evolved from being initially the key to mobility freedom and a miracle to replace the horse carriage, something that everyone wanted and (what is better for the producers) NEEDED , to becoming a form of art and expression of the drivers personality, where the firms would create advertisement campaigns to show that their car was the most appropriate for the user to show this.

The VW Beatle campaign was one of the most successful. This campaigns gave the Beatle a great success in the American market, where small cars were not considered to have a sector big enough to be successful (image 3).

The Americans reacted to this new concept of the small cars by trying to reimpose  their classic concept of the big muscle car with high fuel consuming engines (image  4). “Many American brands persisted with the rock ‘n’ roll and superlatives. Their  ads featured big red boxing gloves and tiger skins stretched over Pontiac hoods.  This was the age of the muscle car, goddammit, and who were those Europeans  with their funny little cars, anyway? “

This American approach lasted for a determinate amount of time, until the oil crisis and the fast-growing low-cost Asian producers took over most of the market. This is when Vlasic’s Once Upon a Car starts, when the American firms, “The Big Three” found themselves facing yearly losses and diminishing shares of the market as a result of not changing their structure and concept of big cars with the same designs. It took people with more radical ideas like Fields, to change this structure, and start new projects that could confront the fresher-looking Asian designs that were taking over the market.

The larger portion of the market has now a philosophy of the car different to the one from the beginning of the industry. People need a car just to get to places, and they want to do it in the most fuel efficient way. There are still a lot of people who like big trucks that enjoy the roaring sound of the powerful engine, and the idea of being able to go off road. This brings us to the latest ads campaigns that summarize this whole idea of the still big truck, but now more fuel efficient:


  1. Peter Wittwer
    Peter Wittwer

    I think ad campaigns, specifically with trucks, target a more blue collar market. Car companies target people who need trucks to haul things around and actually need to use the truck for practical purposes. Also, trucks are built more fuel efficient because consumers have become more conscious of the environment, as well as car companies having to meet certain fuel economy standards.

    April 29, 2014
  2. Michael Barry
    Michael Barry

    I think your use of the new Ford ads is interesting because I have always found it sort of amusing how they talk about their fuel economy in the same, sort of aggressive tone that they use when discussing power and torque. It seems like their attempt to make fuel economy something that fits with the “blue collar” mentality is the result of the past ideals of “muscular” cars, and shows that their key talking points will continue to evolve.

    April 29, 2014
  3. Thanks – I pay little attention to ads, though I should watch Mad Men, a TV series that reputedly gets business right.

    May 19, 2014

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