100 YEARS OF AUTO ADS;FOR SHOPS, THERE'S NO SUBSTITUTE FOR CAR WORK;COMMENTARY: WANT TO MAKE THE A TEAM? AD REVIEW COLUMNIST CONCLUDES AUTO BUSINESS IS THE ONLY WAY AGENCIES ARE ALLOWED TO TOUCH CONSUMERS' SOULS (PART 2)

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"See the USA in your Chevrolet" captured Eisenhower zeitgest: the burgeoning interstate highway system and a national sense of optimism. It wasn't about Dinah Shore, tailfins or V-8 engines; it was about endless possibility, and it established Chevy-with Coca-Cola and Levi's and very few other consumer products-as an icon of Americana.

BEYOND THE TEXT

Great advertising reverberates far beyond the substance of the text.

Volvo's safety message has become a self-fulfilling prophesy because safe drivers have gravitated to Volvo. Lexus wasn't about ballbearings in body seams; it was about precision-engineered details standing for the precision-engineered whole-making tangible a slogan that could just as easily have been vaporous and meaningless: "The relentless pursuit of perfection." But ballbearings and stacked wineglasses helped people buy the claim. Then they bought the car.

MIATA BRILLIANCE

The story of the Mazda Miata is one of thoroughgoing marketing brilliance that may have succeeded with no advertising at all. But that's doesn't diminish the genius of the original Miata TV spot, which was nothing less than perfect. Cunning and lovely and perfect, establishing a ragtop roadster not as a means of highway travel so much as time travel. A follow-up commercial topped it: a lingering, loving shot through a Main Street USA showroom window took you to a place in your heart that is both long gone and neverending and-better perhaps than any car ad ever-captured the timeless romance between man and machine.

Then there is that Chevy truck campaign: Bob Seger singing "Like a Rock," maybe the best musical adaptation in advertising history, seizing in one earthy lyrical phrase both the essence of the product and the driver's emotional connection to all that is sturdy, dependable and strong.

It is as resonant and catchy as "Heartbeat" was catchy and absurd.

SATURN: A STATE OF MIND

And then there is the advertising for Saturn, the latter-day Beetle.

When Saturn advertising broke five years ago, small minds complained that it was too self-effacing and maddeningly unbombastic for a product so obviously a watershed in American industrial history. For once, these critics said, there was a product that deserved to speak in grand and glorious terms but instead said, "Aw shucks, we sure hope you'll like our little ol' car."

These small minds, it turns out, were ours and how stupid and shortsighted and wrong we were. Not only would bombastic advertising have been disastrous when early production problems caused an almost immediate product recall, but the campaign has evolved into something truly wonderful.

Saturn is more than a different kind of car from a different kind of company; it is a state of mind.

DEFINING MATERIAL

The advertising documents and cultivates the remarkable reality that the Saturn customer base is not just a market share; it is a community-a community that substantially defines itself by what it drives.

So, no, car commercials are not mere commercials. They are also cultural artifacts. And emblems of achievement.

And, sometimes, manifestos for a way of life.

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