Chevrolet backed the enormously popular "Dinah Shore Chevy Show" that aired on NBC from 1951 until the mid-1960s. Ms. Shore belted out "See the USA in Your Chevrolet," a song that not only helped drive Chevy to the top in sales but also made the brand an American icon.
Chevrolet's advertising in later years would play off that status-with "Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet" during the 1970s, "The Heartbeat of America" in the 1980s and the current "Genuine Chevrolet."
Automakers came up with inventive, often memorable ways to use TV advertising during the '50s and '60s. Ford's 1958 advertising featured an around-the-world durability test for a car that drove through exotic locations such as Afghanistan. In 1967, Ford showed durability by jumping barricades on a steeplechase track, climbing the steps of the Los Angeles Coliseum, whitewater rafting on the Colorado River and ski jumping at Lake Placid.
`PINNACLE' OF ADVERTISING
Chevrolet floated one of its models on a canal in Venice in 1962 and later put a woman in a convertible atop a towering red-rock pinnacle in the Utah desert to prove that "Chevrolet stands alone in '64."
Styling became increasingly important as the annual model changeover became established. "Planned obsolescence" was the term coined to describe the marketing strategy, which begat advertising that often used the phrase "all new..."
American Motors Corp. tried to go against the flow. George Romney, AMC's president, criticized "those big fat cars" in a 1955 speech entitled "the dinosaur in the driveway." AMC's advertising by Geyer, Morey, Ballard often poked fun at the size and expense of "gas guzzlers," using creative ideas like cartoons and "love letters to Rambler."
The growing popularity of small cars like Rambler and the Volkswagen Beetle convinced Detroit's Big 3 to start bringing out their own economy cars in 1959.
Underlying much of the advertising during the '50s and '60s was an attempt by automakers to present their products as "an extension of the self," says Ms. Kurtz. As the personal expression of an owner's psyche, the car took on meanings about social status, sexual prowess and political convictions.
For instance, during the '60s the VW Beetle "was a way to proclaim you were a counterculture individual," Ms. Kurtz says. The high-horsepower muscle cars that emerged during the same period announced a desire to be seen as sexy.
The VW work done by Doyle Dane Bernbach beginning in 1959 is regarded as some of the best advertising ever created.
Classic print advertising with headlines like "Think small" stood out with wit, a focus on single selling points, understatement that appealed to the reader's intelligence and a clean, uncluttered look.
There were standout commercials for VW. One shows a funeral procession for a wealthy man, who bequeathed pittances to most of his free-spending family and the bulk of his fortune to his sensible nephew, who brings up the rear of the limousine procession in his Beetle.
BOOMERS FALL IN LOVE
Baby boomers began to reach driving age during the 1960s, and the first car that targeted this enormous emerging market was the Ford Mustang.
On the day of its introduction, April 17, 1964, Ford ran ads in 2,600 newspapers listing the $2,368 price along with a simple line, "The unexpected." The long hood and short deck made the Mustang a sensation and propelled the career of Lee Iacocca,