Vintage and Contemporary Car Advertising

Task 1 from Visual Language in Photography (click here to view brief)

I decided to use car advertising for the selection of advertising “then” and “now”. This  because there is a long history and clear evolution of the style of this advertising. Presumably reflecting the general norm that men were the bread winners and providers in families much advertising was aimed squarely at men who controlled family budgets and thus often had some “Sex appeal” element in, not just, car advertising. Typically featuring impossibly desirable women drooling over the product on offer and thus inferring that if you possess the product you can also posses the woman.

However what is also clear from the earlier adverts that it is not just the sexual references but the blatant sexism that treats women as clearly second class and either not financially independent, i.e. always relying on a man to provide for them and additionally technically incompetent in the case of cars it being some sort of miracle they can drive at all. (Click on Images to Enlarge).

Summed up by this classic VW ad where the concept behind it is that you should expect your wife will inevitably crash the car and therefore you will be glad to own a VW because they are cheap and easy to repair.



Or this Mini ad which infers that can be driven by “simple people” and features a woman with a somewhat clueless expression.



On a related theme this Road Safety poster suggesting accidents caused by women drivers being more concerned with their make up than driving.



The text elements in the adverts, particularity the latter two, are generally short strap lines that support the concept being expressed, often patronising or blatantly sexist.

Perhaps the ultimate sexist strap line occurs in this alleged 50’s Pontiac advert. I say alleged because there is some doubt if this is a genuine advert or a modern copy in the “style of”. Whilst the illustration is certainly in the style of the era the blatant sexual reference of the tag seems slightly unlikely even at the height of sexist advertising.


Modern adverts are much more likely to focus on elements such as the price, performance,safety and functionality of the car. Alternatively it is also common to advertise the life style that such a vehicle can bring whilst this is reminiscent of the earlier adverts the desirable situation is not restricted to a pretty women. From the 60’s onwards when is was much more common for women to have independent live styles in terms of career, finance and relationships then advertising started to evolve to be directly targeted to this new cadre of potential customers. Additionally as the women lib movement gained influence then adverts became less blatantly sexist and more respectful towards the entire customer base.

A mini advert emphasising the horsepower and fun to be had with the car.



A Skoda advert which is interesting because it doesn’t even feature the vehicle directly but rather the impression left after hitting a block of concrete emphasizing the safety aspects of the vehicle and thus appealing to safety concious drivers e.g families.


Similarly this Audi advert for its SU (Sports Utility) vehicle gives and impression of the places you can go in it by the scenes depicted in the “mud splashes” on the side of the car. Giving the impression this a tough, go anywhere vehicle.


A Volkswagen Jetta advert which is a sand sculpture of the interior showing how much “fun” the vehicle will add to your life and is clearly targeted at family buyers.


Jetta special awards version final.indd

The text in the modern adverts is more “brand” and feature orientated than the previous generation which would either more sterotypical or feature for a single campaign. Modern advertisers want consumers to become loyal to the brand rather than a single product and thus have common styles, themes and strap lines across all of the products.  For example in car advertising Audi have used “Vorsprung durch Technik”  or roughly “Advancement through technology” as the main advertising slogan since 1982.  It has been used in Audi advertising campaigns all over the world, except in the United States where the slogan “Truth in Engineering” is used.

The style of fonts used has also evolved, modern aderts tending to use very clean, clear and simple fonts with the emphasis being on the overall style of the of the advert. Earlier adverts used more traditional serif fonts partially due to the costs / limitations of print media. In the digital world there is no cost difference to whatever font is selected however in the analogue days it was necessary to produce a physical type face layout.

However to demonstrate that sex in advertising is still prevalent and in the case of cars can still be squarely aimed at men a Renault advert, which was banned from general release in the UK, as part of their famous Va Va Voom campaign of the late noughties and featuring French stereotypical scenes  including Moulin Rouge dancers, all available on demand by pressing the “Va Va Voom” button.


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