Automotive Advertising: The Evolution of an Industry

While Henry Ford did not invent the automobile, it was his Model T that revolutionized the automotive industry in 1908. The invention of this car meant that a car was now something that could be owned by the average American, not just the wealthy and elite. Sales soared within a matter of years, but because the car was not considered a “necessity” at that time, the first automobile advertisements were actually very simple. Well-planned car ads didn’t really start until the 1920’s; these advertisements marketed the car to soon-to-be-drivers as a part of their lifestyle. This was significant, because it showed that the car was not just a recreational item to be enjoyed by a select few, but a fundamental shift in transportation.

When the Great Depression hit, only the wealthy could afford to buy cars, so advertising during that time period was targeted to that crowd. During World War II, automakers began to market and promote their cars as simpler, well-built vehicles without all of the frills. This is when advertisers began to market cars to more and more middle-class families across America. Once the war ended, car ads were more about style and luxury, and less about practicality. It’s really interesting how automotive advertising shifted to align with what much of the country was experiencing during the 1940’s-50’s.

Another shift in the automotive advertising industry occurred as the 60’s rolled around. During this era, many advertising pieces featured young couples in love, a very clear cut sign of the times during this decade. By 1970, the Interstate system of highways was for the most part fully developed, which meant that new possibilities were now open to just about anyone — if they only had a car. Advertising during this period of time was all about the places you could go in a new vehicle. Many ads depicted the cars they were advertising in different locations across the country, such as by the water or up in the mountains.

As we approach modern times, the decade of the 1980’s saw a rise in technology, which of course effected the way cars were equipped, advertised and sold. Many automotive marketing agencies began featuring two-page spreads of the cars they were advertising during this decade, especially in magazines. The purpose of this was to show off what was then very modern technology, which you could now take with you on wheels in your new car.

As you may have caught on, up to the 1990’s, many people drove cars specifically. There weren’t as many options for cars, trucks, SUVs, minivans, etc. during the early decades of the automobile, but that began to change when the clock struck 1990. The SUV came on the scene during this decade, which showed drivers that trucks weren’t just for hauling gear, but could actually be stylish and comfortable as well. This effective advertising led many people to purchase sport utility vehicles.

As the 1990’s gave way to the new millennium, automotive advertising began to look ahead to the future — quite literally. Now, many car ads — whether analog, print, or digital — focus on the innovative technology that their vehicles offer. It’s all about staying in the loop with the latest technology, and offering innovative cars, trucks, and SUVs to customers on an ongoing basis. Not to mention that automotive advertising agencies began to offer more and more digital services to reach a new generation with effective marketing tools. As we progress on, automotive advertising will continue to evolve to stay on the cutting edge of what is happening in the industry and in the minds of consumers.

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