We started with the premise that advertising was a means to create dissatisfaction.
Car advertising, for the most part, has lived up entirely to this. The exceptions such as those described by Sam, Eoin and myself, have not created dissatisfaction but other negative feelings unsuited to selling cars. The French advertising for the R14 was actually very honourable in that it seemed only to want to tell customers that the car was pretty well packaged. We must ask ourselves if it’s right that advertising that actually does what it is nominally supposed to do deserves such criticism.
Contrasting neatly with this is Eoin’s timely reminder of the awfulness of some British advertising. The British – if I may generalise – are acutely aware of irony. That Vauxhall chose to push their good but ordinary products as emotional and compelling was a staggering act of cultural ignorance. It rang hollow and did so because it assumed the advertising could change people’s minds without changing the product.
Good advertising manages to entertain and capture attention and also tells us something that is in some way reflected in reality. We don’t mind a small twist of the facts if the underlying message is true and for Vauxhall it simply wasn’t. Audi’s Vorsprung Durch Technik campaign, on the other hand did indicate something about Audi’s cars that could be seen and experienced.
The ads selected for our attention have also indicated how their design has changed down the years. What has been successful is consistency and a judicious balance of art and fact. Sean’s example of the Beetle captured this, at least at face value. What has helped some ad campaigns work is that the product is selling itself.
For a variety of reasons, the German brands have shown a remarkable degree of consistency. The BMW ads of today would be recognisable to someone from 1980. “Move over for BMW” still underlies their mood and content. Britain has been a land of cultural tumult by comparison and the ads variability has shown this. Only Ford has managed to home in on some consistency in their promotional literature.
I had intended to use the VW ads of 1997-1998 as an example of anti-advertising: they contrasted the durability of the VW Golf with the shortness of relationships and frailty of our bodies. I think these ads avoided the usual tropes of sex selling and pretending every saloon car was racing free on a Sunday morning. I think because they were depressing they have been forgotten.
Seldom has humour worked (c.f. Vauxhall again and Griff Rhys Jones) but I thought that as well as VWs self-deprecating ads of the 60s, Toyota managed some nicely gentle print ads in the late 90s such as the one where the Avensis driver comes early to a meeting only to find his client throwing darts at his image on the wall. Honda have stressed their originality by using graphic design and thereby avoid even showing the car. Jaguar has not produced much of merit and Fiat’s ad campaigns are as unsettled as their products.
There was so much more to discuss on this topic but, reflecting advertising’s many media and ephemerality, we ended up focusing on print rather than television, radio or cinema. We can only say, we may come back to the topic again.