Car Ads & Mad Men
As the TV series Mad Men draws to a close, I’m starting to wonder whether there’s ever enough misery to go around. Scenes of Don on the apex of his second failed marriage, Roger’s lust for helpless women, and Peggy’s jealousy are all coming full circle as the series comes to a head.
Mad Men is is a drama series focusing on the business of the advertising agency, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, as well as the personal lives of the characters, regularly depicting the cultural and social conventions of the United States across the 1960s. The focal point of the series is Don Draper, Creative Director of the agency, and his life inside and outside the office. According to the show’s creator, Matthew Weiner, the phrase “Mad Men” was a slang term conceived in the 1950s by advertisers working on Madison Avenue.
Rather than reviewing the show’s storyline, though—and to prevent us from spoiling too much of the plot—we wanted to celebrate the significance of the car ads featured in Mad Men, specifically Jaguar and Chevrolet.
In the early ’60s, Jaguar realized it needed a quantum leap forward to maintain its sales and prestige; and so it introduced the E-Type. Announced at Geneva in 1961, history has shown it was an instant and lasting sensation among enthusiasts. The car exerted comfort, refinement, vivid acceleration, and, like Don pitches to Jaguar executives, “something beautiful you can truly own.”
Although the ad in Mad Men was fictional, it garnered attention from current Jaguar North America executives, as reported in Jalopnik, in one article saying, “This is [Don’s] masculine fantasy, and the car plays an important role. We like it because it captures the essence of Jaguar as more than a machine — something emotional, alive.”
Matt Weiner, director of the series, went as far as consulting with Jaguar North America to learn how Jaguar showrooms looked back in the late ’60s.
Early Jaguar ads in the ’60s revealed a similar tone, valuing the personal relationship between the owner and car, humanizing the vehicle to a certain point.
The pitch, orchestrated by Don Draper, can be experienced in the below video.
In the show, Don and Ted’s separate pitches for a top secret car, described to them as the ‘XP-887’, was actually for the Chevrolet Vega, or what the company described as the “Car of the Future.”
Their pitches went a little something like this:
“Just music…people’s faces…all kinds: teenagers, dads, moms. Expressions of wonder. What could it possibly be? It’s so new, this combination of power, technology, comfort, and price that it’s impossible to imagine. But not at Chevy. The future is something you haven’t even thought of yet.”
“This is a car for the young and the young at heart. Because today, nobody knows where they’re headed, but they’re not afraid of what’s around the bend. Power plus design equals adventure. Throw the map out the window, then hit the road, Jack.”
In my opinion, Don had the better pitch, but here’s what actually happened:
Chevrolet’s emphasis on the car’s surprising interior space was overshadowed by the fact that the car was one of the worst in history. Rick Newman, writer at usnews.com, crowned the Vega as the, “…worst Detroit car ever, as its exterior was rust-prone, its aluminum engine warped, and engine fires were common.”
So, I ask all of you: what is your favorite car ad in the late 1960’s?