Automotive advertising can tell us the story of the automotive industry as well as any other medium. This A-Z of automotive manufacturer advertisements (from left to right on the wall) and some that are not automotive which simply feature cool cars or drivers, taken from the Auto-Archives libary, shows just a few of our favorites from the thousands that are stored on our system.
We have been seeing car advertisements for over 100 years now. Shiny Cadillacs, sleek Jaguars, and pink Mustangs. In the beginning, it was all simply black and white. So how has it changed? Auto advertising throughout the years has evolved tremendously thanks to imaginative, and sometimes not so effective, creative techniques. The methods for marketing cars have changed dramatically over the past 120 years. These days, we’re bombarded from all angles with slick videos, flashy print ads and more online content than we could ever possibly consume. It all began with very simple adverts, produced soon after motor vehicles were invented. The first ever car advert in a US publication appeared in the July 30, 1898 issue of Scientific American magazine and featured the headline “Dispense with a horse” and simply sold the benefits of the Winton Motor Carriage. In 1912, Henry Ford said: “Ford advertising never attempts to be clever.”
Selling this aspirational dream of the good life, still a staple of American automotive advertising, became a more generalized force during the post-war boom. Impossibly elongated Buicks, Plymouths, and Pontiacs were posed in front of streamlined modern homes, nightclubs, and swimming pools, as emblems of the era’s suburban surfeit. The first ads for imports such as VW’s Beetle, with their famously minimal “Lemon” and “Think Small” campaigns, were an intentional undermining of that consumptive delusion, symptomatic of a countercultural youth trend that would result in both hippies and yuppies joining the foreign car bandwagon. Towards the second half of the 20th century, car advertising was already a professional area for photographers. The first studio photoshoots took place in the 1980s and showed a completely new side of cars. One full of elegance and style. These were the years in which automobile ads reached their peak in numbers. There were cases when one magazine would feature between twenty and twenty-five car ads in one issue.