August 19th 2016

A Brief History of Automotive Advertising.

Posted by Will Shadbolt

“DISPENSE WITH A HORSE.” So said the headline of the first ever automotive advertisement in 1898. It was for the Winton Motor Carriage Company, one of the first American companies to sell automobiles. The ad showed a picture of a man and woman riding in one of the company’s cars, which bears closer resemblance to a horse and buggy minus the horse than a contemporary vehicle. Beside it was a paragraph that outlined the benefits of owning a car, such as it being cheaper and less smelly than a horse. And it was only $1,000 (about $27,500 today). 

After that, not too much changed in automotive advertising for over 50 years. Henry Ford once said that his company never attempted to be clever in their advertising, and many followed suit. By the 1950s, nearly all car ads took up full pages, had an eye-catching headline, featured illustrations of the car and its parts, and had a ton of informational copy to fill readers in on why this car was special. 

Volkswagen took this established order and shook it up with their famous “Think Small” campaign. The ad took up a full page, but barely any of it was used. The ad consisted of a headline and copy that took up one fifth of the page and a small photograph of a VW surrounded by lots of white space—and it worked. It’s referenced as a classic ad and still comes up in pop culture today. VW measures the success of their other campaigns against it. It encouraged other agencies to get creative with their car ads, and the effects of it can still be seen today.

For example, early TV car commercials were much like early print ads in that they extolled the benefits of the vehicle. Now, it’s much more common to see TV spots that tickle the imagination, like Honda’s recent TV ad “The Cog,” in which a single rolling cog sets of a chain reaction with other car parts like dominoes. The final shot is a cog going past a Honda Accord. The Czech brand Skoda Auto made a life-size “cake car” of their supermini Skoda Fabia, even replicating the parts under the hood. 

The advent of the internet brought about more changes. Now manufacturers and dealerships can update deals so that consumers no longer have to worry about seeing a deal in print and finding out it has either expired or the vehicle is out of that stock. E-blasts can be sent weekly or even biweekly, informing customers about the latest sales. And websites (which most online advertisements link back to) allow people to browse and see the full inventory and offered services more easily. 

A recent video showed that TV spots could get shaken up again soon. An adjustable, drivable rig can have CGI placed over it in post-production, so that maybe in a few years not even the physical car will be needed to shoot these ads. Who knows what twists and turns auto advertising could take in the future? But whatever happens, Giovatto Advertising is ready for your next automotive campaign. We bring over 27 years of automotive ad experience and put it into every one of our pieces, whether it’s print, radio, web, TV, or an integrated campaign across mediums, all of which can be designed by our in-house team. At Giovatto, we won’t just make you hard-hitting advertising, we’ll also get you results.

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