In a car-crazed society such as ours, the promotional jingles have often become as much a part of our collective culture as the national anthem itself. Remember, “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet,” or “Ask the man who owns one”? Moreover, more often than not the catch phrases, slogans, and ditties are remembered long after the vehicles they promoted are moldering in a scrap heap or have been recycled into beer cans or toasters.
Stevens-Duryea was a true pioneer in the American auto industry with production commencing in 1901. Leading the way in the development of shaft drive and sliding gear transmissions allowed the company to build a strong reputation for technological advancement. Strong slogans and catch phrases such as “There is no better motor car” interpreted into steady sales.
The Westcott of Richmond, Indiana was, as were so many vehicles of the time, an assembled automobile built from components acquired from numerous manufacturers. However, unlike many vehicles produced by competitor’s, attention to detail, meticulous engineering, and solid management allowed the company to build a vehicle that was durable as well as stylish and technologically advanced. As a result, the companies’ slogan, “The car with a longer life,” was more than mere advertising hyperbole.
Haynes-Apperson officially began production in 1898. Experimentation and testing of a vehicle actually preceded production by almost five years. Therefore, even though it was not the first automobile built in the United States the companies’ slogan of “America’s first car” was not much of an exaggeration.
When Horace and John Dodge introduced the first automobile to carry their name in 1914, the vehicle already had a reputation for durability because of the brother’s previous endeavors. Transmissions and differentials produced by their machine shops had provided a solid foundation for the formation of companies such as Ford and Oldsmobile. In addition, the endurance displayed in the campaign against Pancho Villa solidified this rock solid foundation making the companies simple slogan “Dependable” almost redundant.
More than a few companies chose rhymes and limericks to ensure their vehicles received attention. Nevertheless, catchy tunes and such were not always enough to overcome initial reputations for shoddiness or eccentricity in design.
The concept had merit – the number of drive speeds should be left to the driver and not be limited by the transmission, or so thought Byron Carter. In addition, even though his patented friction drive proved to be quite durable and the aggressively promoted ad campaign left little doubt as to the advantages, “the car of a thousand speeds – no clutch to slip, no gears to strip – no universal joints to break – no shaft drive to twist – no bevel gears to wear and howl, no noise to annoy” the concept never really caught on and even the legendary business acumen of William Durant, founder of GM, was unable to make it a profitable venture.
Then as now, slogans and catch phrases often encapsulated the social climate of the time in which they were penned, the technological state of the industry or its supportive infrastructure. With the Jackson “No hill is too steep or sand to deep,” an indication of road conditions in 1904. The promotion for the Allen, “The King of Hill Climbers,” and the Pope Toledo, “The quiet, mile a minute car” presents similar snap shots of that era.
Then there were the slogans that leave one wondering if the idea was to sell vehicles or to ensure the company was not bothered with annoying customers. Beggs – the car that is made a little better than seems necessary. The Daniels was “the distinguished car with just a little more power than you will ever need.” “A common sense car with no tender or delicate parts – Gearless.” A few cars as well as slogans have survived into the modern era with good reason, Cadillac’s “Standard of the World” dates to at least 1912.
Some early automobile companies chose simplicity in their promotion. Maxwell was, “perfectly simple, simply perfect.” King was “the car of no regrets.” The Durant was “just a real good car.” “A car to run around in” was the Austin.
Appealing to the pride and vanity of a customer in advertisement has most always proven to be a profitable marketing tool in the automobile industry. “Pride of its makers make you proud in possession” was the centerpiece of an early Pierce-Arrow promotion. The Dorris was “built up to a standard not down to a price.” “The Gold Standard of values” was Reo.
Then, as now, advertisement no matter how simplistic or short can speak volumes about a vehicle, the company that built it and those who buy them. In addition, for those who take the time to give thought those from the infancy of the auto industry take on a purpose beyond for which they were designed. They become time capsules from a time when the world stood poised on the threshold of a brave new world heralding promises limited only by the imagination.