The Olds Motor Works produced 425 of Mr. Olds' curved-dash Oldsmobiles in 1901, making it America's leading auto manufacturer of the day. A 1902 Oldsmobile ad in The Saturday Evening Post boasted it was "just as useful in winter as in summer" and claimed it could safely carry 1,500 pounds. And in 1905, the most popular song was "In My Merry Oldsmobile."
However, "horseless carriages" were still viewed as an experiment. The early manufacturers had to persuade a skeptical-sometimes hostile-public that the auto was not a passing fad, that it would dependably get them to their destinations and back. The derisive taunt, "Get a horse," reflected a common prejudice of the day.
Many newspapers reported on progress in the industry and on the many early races, providing publicity to the auto pioneers. The industry reciprocated, and soon more money was spent in newspapers advertising the auto business than any other line of enterprise.
Some newspapers, however, took the stance that the car was an extravagant luxury. About 1907, the Chicago Tribune adopted a policy of not mentioning the name of any motor car. In response, local dealers withdrew their ads, and the paper quickly reversed its stand.
Roy Chapin, one of the organizers of Hudson Motor Car Co., instigated a 1910 publicity and ad campaign to refute the idea that the car was more than an expensive toy for the rich. Part of the effort was an ad in The Saturday Evening Post headlined, "Thirty per cent of Hudson owners saving money every day." Scorning the idea the motor car was only a luxury, ad copy said 30% of them were being used by physicians or for commercial purposes.
`BOSS OF THE ROAD'
It was Mr. Ford who emerged as the giant of the period, bringing sweeping changes to the social and economic structure of the country by hooking mass production to mass selling. Mr. Ford organized Ford Motor Co. in 1903, and 11 days later ran its first Saturday Evening Post ad for his first Model A. "Boss of the road" was the headline; copy described the $850 "light touring car" as "so simple that a boy of 15 can run it."
E. LeRoy Pelletier, a former circus press agent, became the company's first ad and publicity man. He managed to get Mr. Ford constantly in the headlines and came up with the memorable ad slogan, "Watch the Fords go by," in 1907.
Mr. Ford sometimes complained advertising was a waste of money, especially when he was selling all the cars he could build and could attract free publicity from the media. But he and his company continued to use advertising strategically.
When Mr. Ford installed moving assembly lines in his Highland Park, Mich., plant in 1913, the man-hours required to produce a Model T dropped from 12.5 to 1.5. Advertising enabled Ford to sell in quantity, which meant lower prices.
In 1915, Mr. Ford announced in ads in 143 newspapers in 51 cities that if Ford sold 300,000 cars that year, each buyer would receive a cash rebate of from $40 to $60. The goal was met and buyers got their rebates.
Mr. Olds, who didn't have controlling interest in the company bearing his name, split from Oldsmobile and used his initials as the name for his new venture, Reo Motor Car Co.
When Mr. Olds' new company hit financial trouble, Claude Hopkins of the Lord & Thomas agency proposed he run a signed ad declaring his new model "My farewell car." Although Mr. Olds said he didn't intend to retire, Mr. Hopkins pointed out that every farewell was subject to reconsideration. In the resulting ad for Reo the Fifth, Mr. Olds declared it "the final results of my 25 years of experience."
One of the most successful early ad copywriters was Theodore F. MacManus, who helped build the reputation of Packard and Dodge. His Detroit agency, MacManus Inc., worked on several other car brands and was a forebearer of today's D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, agency for General Motors Corp.'s Cadillac and Pontiac divisions.
Mr. MacManus' most famous ad was written on the back of an envelope during a train ride and ran just once, on Jan. 2, 1915, in The Saturday Evening Post. Headlined "The penalty of leadership," the ad for Cadillac defended the company against its detractors of the day.
"In every field of human endeavor, he that is first must perpetually live in the white light of publicity," wrote Mr. MacManus. "When a man's work becomes a standard for the whole world, it also becomes a target for the shaft of the envious few."
In 1945, readers of voted "The penalty of leadership" the greatest ad of all time.
One of Cadillac's important innovations opened the women's market. Beginning with 1912 models, Cadillac replaced the dangerous and cumbersome hand cranks with a practical electrical starting system.
No one targeted women buyers better than Edward S. (Ned) Jordan. Mr. Jordan, who wrote the ads for his own car company, played a significant role in romanticizing auto advertising with the lyrical ads he wrote for his Jordan Playboy.
His most famous ad, "Somewhere west of Laramie," appeared in The Saturday Evening Post on June 23, 1923. The wistful copy began, "Somewhere west of Laramie, there's a bronco-busting, steer-roping girl who knows what I'm talking about."
In a 1952 article he wrote for Advertising Age, Mr. Jordan commented: "No wonder we made a couple of million dollars. When all the other manufacturers were thinking about `what makes a car go,' we were proving `what makes a man go.' It's a woman."
THE GLAMOR ERA
The 1920s saw a marked effort to improve both the appearance of cars and car advertising.