Planes, trains, and automobiles.
A Branding & Advertising Evolution: 3 in a Series of Musings Sparked by “The 100 Greatest Advertisements,” Julian Lewis Watkins, Dover Books, 1959
Today’s digital/Internet/mobile/social media world is indeed a modern marvel, but we have a tendency to lose sight of how far technology has come in the last century plus. Data, data everywhere at the drop of a hat, with apps that entertain and inform and guide is remarkable and ever-morphing, although it has the capability to trigger an ADHD epidemic as youth gets used to multi-tasking by multiple devices and disengagement from the real world grows.
A trip through some of the 100 greatest ads reminds us how enormous a part transportation played in growing industrial America, connecting our vast country, and helping to create the global economy we all enjoy today.
For those who have a hard enough time remembering when air travel was a pampered, glamorous experience, and that coal once enjoyed a heyday powering transportation and heating our homes, this car card for the Lackawanna Railroad will seem very mysterious indeed. There was a time when train travel was the epitome of sophistication and a dramatic way to see the country. I doubt Joe Biden’s boosterism and California rail subsidies can ever take us back there.
Eventually, as this ad for Boston and Maine shows, train travel was so prevalent that weather and usage demands created real world problems and PR issues. The ad is an acknowledgement, but an underscore that in spite of it all, Boston and Maine always runs.
Overbooking of train berths took another wrinkle during World War II when the nation’s young men received orders to report for duty on short notice. The Kid in Upper 4 for the New Haven RR was one of the earliest and best of ads in support of our military — everyone who read it had a young son or brother and they could instantly relate to the ad’s poignancy.
Moving to America’s roadways, it is hard to imagine being able to sell a new car with 1,500 words of text, no image of the vehicle, but a head shot of its inventor and manufacturer, Henry Ford. However, this announcement of the arrival of the Model A in 1927 was one in a series of five such ads produced by the N W Ayer agency. It must have been pretty heady stuff to have Henry Ford himself arrive in Philadelphia to approve the low-key copy in a series of low-key meetings. It must have resonated because within a few weeks of the new campaign orders for the new car reached over 800,000.
Ironically, one year later, N W Ayer and Ford collaborated on another series — for Ford Air Transport. Lift Up Your Eyes was the first ad in the first ever campaign to sell air transportation to the general public. It included tributes to the Wright Brothers and Charles Lindbergh. The dramatic shadow over the landscape emphasized that American transportation was about to change in a big way.
By 1938, another car company exec made some history of his own. J. W. Packard not only built a sought-after automobile, he penned one of the most famous ad slogans of all time — Ask The Man Who Owns One. Young and Rubicam were smart enough to recognize that it doesn’t matter where great ideas come from, so long as they’re great. They concentrated on the nostalgic copy and the rest was history.