In 20th Century automobile print advertising, automakers often depicted their new models in settings that attracted the attention of potential customers and instilled a positive sentiment. Consequently, scenes from the beach, the mountains, the open road, a night out on the town, or even the driveway with the family simply admiring or washing their new pride-and-joy were a few of the popular concepts developed by the auto companies and their advertising agencies.
Many of the ads chosen for this article, however, show none of those inspiring notions. Rather, they generally took a more dramatic approach to elicit interest, with certain elements sometimes nearly overshadowing the vehicle they were attempting to sell. These types of ads were usually only a portion of a larger coordinated campaign, however, that also included a host of more conventional layouts. Nevertheless, they are intriguing.
Take a look the enclosed examples and see how many of them would have piqued your interest and motivated you to learn more about the car that was advertised.
While many ads of the era portrayed picturesque barns in rolling pastures or as part of colorful autumn backgrounds etc., Mercury took a decidedly different direction with this 1964 ad that presents a barn on fire! Attention –grabbing? Yes. Disturbing? Also yes. Though its purpose was to highlight the adventurous-types that would be drawn to a Mercury, like volunteer firemen, still, very few car ads have shown tragedies, described here as “excitement,” in their backgrounds.
1972 Mercury Monterey
For 1972, Mercury went for shock value again. A test to see whether or not a car explodes based on its ride smoothness certainly imparts a sense of danger, despite the fact that no potential buyers would seek out a luxury car to transport nitro carbol with a detonator attached. Additionally, no competing luxury cars were tested to see if they could accomplish the same task, so how do we know the Monterey is better than the competition in this area?
1976 Dodge Aspen R/T
Ski scenes were used in some ads of the era, but this one is “over-the-top.” Wayne Wong, “one of the world’s leading freestyle skiers” was willing to jump over his 1976 Aspen R/T for this ad. The result is a sports tie-in with a stunt component added to increase drama to great effect.
The little girl on the swing looks like she is about to clear the roof of her parents’ 1964 Cadillac with plenty of room to spare. However, if my kid was reaching that height on a swing, I think the expression on my face would show quite a bit more concern than theirs does. (Maybe her image was superimposed onto the Cadillac photo?)
1961 Pontiac Catalina
It’s a daring move to make the cropped photo of the cat that big and the line drawing of the 1961 Pontiac that small in this ad. Though I’d read that the Catalina was named for Santa Catalina Island (typically just called Catalina) off the California coast, and not for a feline, the comparisons are clever.
1967 Ford Mustang
It’s all hands and no car in this 1967 Mustang ad. The “Mustang Pledge” included a list of things that the owners promised to do and some they wouldn’t do. The big green hand, a veiled tie-in to the Jolly Green Giant of garden vegetables fame, seems strange today.
1954 Chevrolet Corvette
Advertising America’s sports car with a cat? Except for true animal lovers, most owners of 1950s Corvettes probably wouldn’t let their cat near theirs. The copy doesn’t even mention the pet. Was this an effort to see if everyone will stop to look at something cute-and-cuddly no matter where it’s sitting?
1963 Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray
Chevrolet did it again in 1963 with a giant dog riding shotgun in a Sting Ray. Is this supposed to be a “Made you look!” ad where the implausible attracts your eye? It made us look twice.
1962 Pontiac Parisienne
This pun-filled 1962 Pontiac Parisienne “recipe for zestful living” ad goes to 11—Pontiacs that is. Making the spice rack and jars so large relative to the car was a bold step, but no reader will forget the brand, as “Pontiac” is repeated on six of the eight bottles, and five more times below them.
1970 Oldsmobile 4-4-2 W-30
The ever-popular Dr. Oldsmobile-themed ads were enjoyably offbeat already, but this one for the 1970 4-4-2 W-30 455 also includes “Elephant Engine Ernie.” Coincidentally, Ernie’s nickname—Elephant—was the same as that earned by the competing 426 Hemi that was optional in Dodges and Plymouths. Additionally, try reading the lettering on the front tire of the 4-4-2.
1958 Pontiac Bonneville
Kissing your golf club in a car ad? We get it, you won the golf tournament and you have a trophy, but kissing your golf club instead of your wife or instead of praising that shiny new 1958 Bonneville for getting you there relaxed, refreshed, and ready to play at your best, is unforgivable.
1970 Plymouth Road Runner
Road Runners were already named after a cartoon character, so having it erupt from the hood scoop in this 1970 ad in way-larger-than-life fashion may not be all that much of a stretch. But it is unique.