Image advertising flourished as four-color advertising became widespread.
"It was an era of gorgeous advertising," Ms. Kurtz says. "It was also a time when the advertising industry saw itself as a missionary of the modern age, leading America onward and upward."
Earlier auto ad art had been undistinguished, using pen-and-ink sketches or ink drawings, accompanied by copy that stressed simplicity and reliability. But in the 1920s, many of the lavish ads ran without copy, using illustrations instead to convey a sense of status and style.
Earnest Elmo Calkins, of the Calkins & Holden agency, was a leader in the trend, hiring some of the most noted illustrators and artists of the day to produce image ads for Pierce-Arrow that appeared in publications such as Life and Harper's Weekly.
The Pierce-Arrow, a beautiful car, was popular with bootleggers because of its quiet engine. The artist Alfred Treidler, who painted extensively for Pierce-Arrow, once said, "They laid down no rules whatsoever, never told me to do this or that."
MODEL A'S ARRIVAL
The growing popularity of affordable, enclosed cars had finally forced Ford to abandon the Model T, replacing it with the Model A in 1927. The Model A was introduced with a big ad splash in newspapers, proclaiming "First pictures of the new Ford car" and promoting features such as "beautiful new low body lines," "choice of four colors," "55 to 65 miles an hour" and "typical Ford economy and reliability."
Alfred Sloan, who began running General Motors as president in 1923 and retired as chairman in 1956, revolutionized the marketing of cars by pursuing a strategy of producing cars "for every purse and purpose."
By 1928, GM's Chevrolet was producing 1.2 million cars, surging past Ford. A Chevrolet ad that same year showed a woman at the wheel and carried the headline, "Effortless driving."
The growth in auto ownership gave rise to the roadside board as an ad medium. Automakers also made substantial use of another new medium, radio. It was the Dodge Brothers company that in '28 used the first nationwide radio hookup advertising a new model. The same year, Chrysler sponsored a radio program with Amelia Earhart discussing her flight across the Atlantic.
Shortly after, General Motors began sponsoring Sunday night concerts from Carnegie Hall. Studebaker sponsored a radio program and named the orchestra for a line of its cars, the Studebaker Champions.
But new cars were only a distant dream for most Americans as Depression marred the '30s. Ironically, glittering fantasies marked Hollywood's movies, and expensive custom cars thrived. The Duesenberg was one of the standouts, and the phrase "It's a Duesey!" entered the language. Auto ad artists emphasized the beauty of line and color to whet the appetites of status seekers.
At the other end, Chrysler's low-priced Plymouth emerged as a challenger to Chevrolet and Ford. Plymouth's rise was boosted by a classic 1932 ad headlined, "Look at all three!" The ad showed a photo of Walter P. Chrysler, and the J. Stirling Getchell-penned copy was presented as a letter from Mr. Chrysler urging the reader to compare the Plymouth to its unnamed low-priced competitors.
Auto designers during the 1930s copied the streamlined style of airplanes of the day. An ad for the 1934 DeSoto Airflow, a pioneer in the design trend, showed it parked in front of a plane.
WAR AND PEACE
The onset of World War II meant auto factories were converted to producing tanks, airplanes, Jeeps, engines, ammunition and other goods for the war effort. Passenger-car production was halted in January 1942 until the end of the war.
"It was a time of enormous challenge for the advertising industry in arguing that it still had a place in times of shortage," Ms. Kurtz says.
Auto advertisers ran ads with patriotic themes, often aimed at boosting their image by citing the war materials they were producing.
"In peace or war there is no substitute for quality," claimed a Cadillac ad, proclaiming its engines provided "peacetime power with a wartime job." Dodge ran an ad with an ambulance it had built, headlined "Dependable vehicles of mercy."
As news from the fronts turned more positive, automakers began to anticipate postwar demand. When J. Walter Thompson Co. took over the Ford brand account in 1943, it began running ads illustrated with a crystal ball that touted the idea a Ford would be waiting for returning American soldiers. "There's a Ford in your future" was the theme.
FREEWAYS AND DRIVE-INS
Car sales boomed after the war, and the automobile played a huge role in changing America's cultural landscape. Urban freeways and interstates were created to provide faster and safer auto travel, spurring the growth of suburbs and tourism. Motels were invented to serve travelers; drive-in movies and restaurants sprang up so people wouldn't have to leave their cars.
The Great Depression had forced most of the smaller, independent carmakers out of business, but Chicago businessman Preston Tucker leased a government bomber factory and tried to crack the market with a car touted to have advanced safety features. An ad for the 1948 Tucker proclaimed, "How fifteen years of testing produced the first completely new car in fifty years."
Tucker Motor Corp. built only about 50 cars before it was subjected to a federal investigation into the way stock was raised for the company. Mr. Tucker eventually cleared his name, but the company went bankrupt defending itself.
For the most part, America's ascendance as a global power generated enormous postwar consumer confidence. That translated into an era of excess for car designers and advertisers.
"The enormous size of cars, the tail fins, the chrome, the two-tone paint jobs were a certification of affluence," says David Bushman, TV and advertising curator at the Museum of Television and Radio, New York.
THE CAR AND TV
During the 1950s, TV emerged as the dominant medium for car advertising, and auto companies took sponsorship in many of the
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