Finding New Roads: Improving Advertising

Peter DeLorenzo:

I happen to think that these themes are thinly disguised attempts at getting back to another, more romantic era, where the simple act of driving was such an adventure unto itself that whole car companies rose up around that notion. These spots are trying in their own way to capture that magic again, even though we live in an era where surprises quickly well up and subside in a fleeting, momentary social media blast, only to be buried by the next story, which is soon to be swallowed up by the next story, and so on.

Are they as artfully done as some of those calls to action of the past? In a word, sometimes. Certainly there are bursts of brilliance in some of the individual executions, with the majestic power of words showing up on occasion and the equally powerful imagery present and accounted for just as intermittently, but it’s hard to find the real enduring power in some of these new car campaigns.

I’m going to remind you of one advertising campaign that set out to create majestic imagery for a car and instead ended up defining the craft of advertising for decades.

I’ll set the scene for you. When Edward S. “Ned” Jordan, a former advertising guy, founded the Jordan Motor Car Company in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1916, he had dreams, big Technicolor dreams of fame and glory and of the world beating down his door.

Jordan’s cars were for the most part a collection of other manufacturers’ parts, but they were high-styled machines, because, as Jordan was quoted as saying, “Cars are too dull and drab.” He was out to change all that, so his designs were arresting and his bold advertising forays, which created an aura for the brand, were even more so.

And change it he did. In the June 1923, edition of the Saturday Evening Post, an ad for the Jordan “Playboy” – a rakish roadster – appeared. In it, a flapper girl was wrought low behind the wheel, with a cowboy racing beside her off the right rear fender, framed by wide-open skies. And the words:

“Somewhere west of Laramie there’s a bronco-busting, steer roping girl who knows what I’m talking about. She can tell what a sassy pony, that’s a cross between greased lighting and the place where it hits, can do with eleven hundred pounds of steel and action when he’s going high, wide and handsome. The truth is – the Playboy was built for her. Built for the lass whose face is brown with the sun when the day is done of revel and romp and race. She loves the cross of the wild and the tame. There’s a savor of links about that car – of laughter and lilt and light – a hint of old loves – and saddle and quirt. It’s a brawny thing – yet a graceful thing for the sweep o’ the Avenue. Step into the Playboy when the hour grows dull with things gone dead and stale. Then start for the land of real living with the spirit of the lass who rides, lean and rangy, into the red horizon of a Wyoming twilight.”