Modern car adverts are ridiculous. There's only so many times you can say “this car has four wheels and seats and an engine and is driven by a wheel”. As a result, car adverts – like all adverts – aren't trying to sell a product, they're trying to sell a lifestyle.
Rather than telling you what a car might do for you, car adverts instead tell you what a car will say about you. That's why they seldom show cars in traffic jams, on school runs and on supermarket excursions. Instead, car adverts tend to show epic vistas of storm ravaged desert across which the sleek object of desire is gliding effortlessly. This could be you!
But it wasn't always this way. Early car adverts are so earnest they're almost sweet.
The first car adverts were published in the Scientific American magazine in 1898 to promote the Winton Motor Carriage. At this time, the roads were still dominated by horses, carriages and stagecoaches. The first ever car adverts therefore present these early motor vehicles as alternatives.
“On The Wings Of The Wind”, proclaims one. “You can't imagine – unless you have tried it – how pleasant is the sensation of riding in a Winton Motor Carriage and propelling it yourself, absolutely independent of coachmen or servants. You can make it go fast or slow, just as you wish, and start or stop it when you please.”
Why don't modern car adverts ever use the fact that you can stop the car as a selling point? They're missing a trick there.
Another advert focuses upon the relative speed of these early cars. “Its success has been demonstrated,” it says. “Running time between Cleveland and New York (707.4 miles) was only 47 hours and 34 minutes. Can you imagine a better argument?”
Truly, I can't.
By far the best of the lot, though, is that which encourages you to “Dispense with a horse and save the expense, care and anxiety of keeping it.”
It goes on to say that to run a motor carriage “costs about ½ cent a mile”, before boasting that it can travel “from 3 to 20 miles an hour...[with] no odor, no vibration.” It comes with a very tasteful engraving which, when you think about it, is just a very early form of Photoshop.
The very first car adverts can all be viewed on Retronaut. I'd encourage you to see how far we've come, but I personally think we've regressed. I just wish that modern car adverts were this simple, this honest, this innocent.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.