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Published on .

then the head of Ford division.


The GTO-originally a 389-cubic-inch option on the 1964 Pontiac LeMans-jump-started the era of muscle cars.

In the late '60s period of youthful rebellion, the muscle cars touted speed and sex. A 1969 Camaro ad was headlined, "A word or two to the wise: You lose." Dodge made extensive use of female models to pitch "The Dodge Rebellion" and "Dodge Fever." One print ad showed an attractive model leaning against the car; "Mother warned me that there would be men like you driving cars like this," it read.

Soon automakers came under attack from Ralph Nader and other consumer advocates, raising safety and environmental concerns, and by the feminist movement. An unusual speech by GM President Edward Cole, delivered in late 1969 to the Adcraft Club of Detroit, signaled a change in direction for the industry.

"Too much emphasis is being directed toward the youthful segment of our population," complained Mr. Cole, who directed that GM advertising should move away from emphasizing power and youth and focus instead on value and comfort. The results were immediate.

In September 1969, Buick had advertised two of its Skylark models with the headline, "Introducing automobiles to light your fire," with copy that stressed the 360-horsepower engine. By January, an ad for the same models was headlined "Something to believe in" and talked about features such as hidden windshield wipers.


New federal safety and emission regulations, two gasoline crises, a staggering increase in inflation and a soaring demand for small, economical Japanese-made cars combined to humble Detroit during the 1970s. The first Arab oil embargo struck in 1973 and gasoline prices nearly doubled, climbing to 60 cents a gallon; the fall of the Shah of Iran in '79 also triggered huge increases in oil prices and the decade was marked with gas rationing.

Advertising for the domestic brands turned defensive, emphasizing reliability, carrying capacity for passengers and luggage and Environmental Protection Agency mileage figures.


The Japanese invasion hit in the early 1970s with Nissan Motor Corp. USA introducing its "Datsun saves" theme in advertising. The claim was backed up by U.S. Dept. of Transportation statistics that found the Datsun got 33 miles to the gallon. One of the early spots showed a Datsun running from California to Maine. Independent testers, the spot said, certified that the Datsun model got 40 mpg on the trip.

In 1975, Toyota agency Dancer Fitzgerald Sample developed the "You asked for it, you got it-Toyota" campaign, establishing that Japanese importer's credentials as both a quality manufacturer and a company responsive to consumer needs. Within a year, the upbeat advertising propelled Toyota to No. 1 among import brands, a position it still holds.

It was a different story for Chrysler Corp., which nearly went bankrupt during the decade. Mr. Iacocca, the deposed president of Ford, was hired as Chrysler chairman and he brought agency Kenyon & Eckhardt with him. K&E put Mr. Iacocca out front as company spokesman, first in a campaign to win congressional approval for Chrysler loan guarantees, then to pitch products. Mr. Iacocca filmed 61 commercials before his retirement at the end of 1992.

Republican Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, and conspicuous consumption came back into style. Sales of European luxury cars soared; the term "yuppie" was invented to describe young, upwardly mobile professionals, whose trophy-car-of-choice was the BMW. Ammirati & Puris positioned it in advertising as "The ultimate driving machine."

By 1990, Japanese-based companies moved upscale. Toyota's new luxury brand, Lexus, laid claim to "The relentless pursuit of perfection" in a series of admired and widely imitated commercials.


During the 1990s, U.S.-based automakers regrouped. GM created a new subsidiary to bring out a new brand, Saturn, that earned high marks for its devotion to customer satisfaction and its understated, people-oriented advertising from Hal Riney & Partners.

The auto industry remains a huge advertiser, spending nearly $9 billion on media in 1994, according to Competitive Media Reporting. For that money, it is sometimes chastised for a lack of creativity in its advertising.

"With so much depending economically on the auto industry, it doesn't necessarily lead to creative advertising," Ms. Kurtz says, adding: "You don't see a lot of passion about today's vehicles, but the exception is the rise in popularity of the urban truck."

Jeep advertising in particular has nurtured romantic, go-anywhere notions about the sport-utility vehicle, now the hottest segment of the market. Typical is a spot that won for agency Bozell the Grand Prix Award at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes in 1994; it showed a buried-in-the-snow Jeep burrowing mole-like through the Yukon wilderness.

"The trucks have played on the whole freedom motif, the idea of all the roads you can travel," Ms. Kurtz says.

And isn't that the way it all started.

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