Drive by Tim Falconer

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Authors: Tim Falconer
world” and really laying the groundwork for making the brand synonymous with quality and luxury. The ad remains one the ten best auto ad campaigns ever, according to The New York Times . In the 1950s, a “Universal Symbol of Achievement” ad featured a photo of two distinguished looking couples, dressed in tuxedos and evening gowns, walking out of a hotel toward a waiting car. The copy read:
    The New 1959 Cadillac car speaks so eloquently—in so many ways—of the man who sits at the wheel. Simply because it is a Cadillac, for instance, it indicates his high level of personal achievement. Because it is so beautiful and majestic, it bespeakshis fine sense of taste and his uncompromising standards. Because it is so luxurious and so regally appointed, it reveals his consideration for the comfort of his fellow passengers. And because it is so economical to own and operate, it testifies to his great practical wisdom. The magnificent 1959 Cadillac will tell this wonderful story about you.
    Along with striving for the perfect white picket fence, Americans were spellbound by the promise of the future, so advertisers gleefully compared cars to jets and promoted the modern look and conveniences of the contemporary automobile. The photo in the “Magic Touch of Tomorrow” ad for the 1956 Dodge showed a woman effortlessly changing gears by hitting a button on the dash with her gloved fingertip.
    Weirdly, regardless of any earlier progressiveness and despite the huge number of women who had entered the workforce during the Second World War, many advertisements displayed a decidedly pre-feminist image of women. “If you look back at the ads in the 1950s, they were in some ways a shameless throwback to earlier attitudes in the ways women were depicted,” pointed out the Chrysler Museum’s Barry Dressel. “It’s strikingly sexist stuff and you always see sexist ads, but it suddenly flowers in the 1950s. It seemed like they were trying to put the genie back in the bottle.” Indeed, the “gals” were often little more than glorified hood ornaments. “Since men were the primary purchasers of automobiles, ads of the mid-century invariably featured a winsome female. The code was not hard to crack,” notes James B. Twitchell in Twenty Ads that Shook the World: The Century’s Most Groundbreaking Advertising and How It Changed Us All . “It was the same code that informed the selling of beer or aftershave: buy the product, get the girl.”
    THE IMAGE of the diminutive Volkswagen Beetle sits in the corner of a vast blank space. The headline is “Think small,” and the copy starts off in a self-deprecating manner before extolling virtuessuch as good gas mileage, the ability to park in tight spaces and the small size of the repair bills. Part of a campaign that started in 1959 and remains one of the most famous and influential in advertising history (making it to Twitchell’s list of twenty ground breakers), such ads took for granted that readers were intelligent. “What is happening here in the VW ads is the effacement of the fourth wall in advertising,” argues Twitchell, noting that playwrights and novelists had already used this technique. “You were not being lectured, you were being included.” The “Think small” ad, which first appeared in 1962, is probably the most famous example in the black-and-white series, but others included “Lemon”; “It’s ugly, but it gets you there”; and “If you want to show you’ve gotten somewhere, get a beautiful chariot. But if you simply want to get somewhere, get a Bug.”
    After the social oppressiveness of the post-war era, America was finally beginning to loosen up—a trend the admen of Madison Avenue (and their cousins in Detroit) were eager to both reflect and promote. While ads continued to play to consumers’ emotions, transformation and rebellion

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