The Penalty of Leadership

I have been reading Driving it Home by Judy Vaknin (2008) who mentions that this advert below, by Cadilac in 1915, marked a definitive change in car advertising style and attitude.

In a very similar way to the Apple Macintosh 1984 television advert, this advert was only printed once, in the Saturday Evening Post. If you read it, there is no mention of a car at all in the text. Instead, it is a very grand narrative about the qualities and difficulties faced by leaders. There is a strong suggestion of envy and ambition within the sentences. I found this sentence quite significant:

“Spiteful little voices in the domain of art were raised against our own Whistler as a Mountebank. Long after the big world had acclaimed him as its greatest artistic genius”

By saying ‘our own Whistler’ they have cleverly endeared themselves to the American public by being patriotic. Snippets like this captured people’s imaginations and were seen as inspirational and motivational narratives. Elvis Presley had a framed copy of it on his office wall in Graceland. To this day, Cadalic have had requests for copies of the text. Many leading advertisers cite it as the best copy-writing of all time.

I wonder if it was just brilliant copy-writing or was there anything else that made it such success? From my reading of the book, the adverts previous to this were full of car illustrations (some more daring than others) technical descriptions and prices, all advertising the car they were selling. This one didn’t do any of these but more significantly advertised the brand. In the original publication only the Cadilac logo appeared on the border in a very small size. Thus implying the brands status as a leader. Therefore, being the leader in a new style of advertising greatly contributed to it’s success. It was an advert of it’s time; it was relevant; it was cashing in on the imagination and culture of people of that time. It spoke to people in a different way and made them feel something, made them want to be something rather than making them want a car. It was the first non-direct advertisement, the first use, if you like, of the power of association.


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