Giuliettas classic: Automobiles, as Henry Ford understood them, were conceived of as basic transportation, but as automakers emerged and brands began to compete for sales, lines were drawn, classes were formed and image, a mans image of himself, became linked to his* car. Advertising began to focus on the aspirational longings of it’s target audience, with what has played out to be strange, and as such, interesting results. (I must digress for a moment here and point out that the above paragraph is true for just about any product. ‘Jeans, as Levi Strauss understood them, were conceived of as basic clothing…’)
“Hey Ladies! Either of you interested in going for ride in my new car? The dealer couldn’t supply the ultimate passenger seat accessory.”
“Your hat is almost as big as my hair!”
“I hope you have a lot of pins in your hair -it’s about to get messy.”
It’s not my purpose to examine what advertising copy has done to the image a man has of himself, but rather, to consider what strange offspring generations of car advertising and brand loyalty has spawned among car owners. I grew up in a family dedicated to Ford. ‘What does that even mean?’ you are thinking, and I remember thinking the same thing when I was questioned harshly for expressing interest in a 1973 Toyota Celica ST. It’s my mom’s side of the family. Her father was a physicist with Ford Aerospace for many years, he was a company man, so the family all had Fords. It’s the American way. Simple as that. Brilliance and honest introspection can easily be never-intersecting skew lines in curved space.
Fast forward a few years and you are behind some (fictional) member of my family in a big black Everest SUV with tinted windows and a white silhouette of Calvin peeing on a Chevrolet badge. But why? We’re talking about consumer products right? I’m not all up in arms about my Bosch dishwasher. I don’t have a sticker of Calvin peeing on a Whirlpool dishwasher on it. I’m not going to fly into a murderous rage at anyone because they disrespected my dishwasher. But people get really up tight about their car.
People get uptight about their car, because they wear their car around in public. Advertisers have made sure everyone knows how much that BMW cost you, so when you wear it around, it is a status symbol giving a first glance impression that you are successful -if it’s new anyway. If it’s not, your moments away from a head-warping radiator failure that will put closer to your eyeballs deep in the poor house.
In addition to status is the selection process. You, lord of your domain, hath decreed you shall buy a Dodge Super Triple Power Ram Turbo Harley Davidson Do-rag edition with chewing tobacco resistant drivers door paint, because it’s the ruggedest toughest real man truck around and when you drive into a quarry, if some jerk decides to drop a yard of #57 gravel in your bed from 30 feet up, it’s got you covered -that is if the jerk has decent aim with his excavator and doesn’t break your windshield. You have made a decision about an item that you will be identified with based on some criteria, you want to be respected for your judgement. That Dodge Magnum XL is an extension of you, not just as you are, but as you aspire to be.
Calvin isn’t peeing on a your Chevy -he’s peeing on you sense of self, your decision making and aspirations.
Interesting results advertising has created!
*Sorry ladies, I’m thinking of the early-mid 20th Century and it is only recently that the woman has become an automakers target audience.