The Failure of La Femme

I have been reading a lot about how car advertising changed after the First World War. The development of efficient mass-production for munitions during the war allowed car manufacturers to take advantage of the technology after it. The result was reduced production costs that in turn lead to reduced car prices – making  cars more affordable. American car brands in particular even tried to push the idea of the ‘two car family’ as you can see from this Chevrolet advert below:

From this advert (published in Driving it Home by Judy Vaknin (2008)) you can see that the consumer is clearly a woman, the wife in the family. The customer however is a man, her husband, who will purchase the car. The photograph shows two woman with the car, one of whom is at the wheel; yet the advert is speaking to men: “Is your wife. . .”. In fact they even say “The wife finds it of every day utility for shopping, taking the children to school. . . etc” They are talking directly to men and telling him what his wife will use it for. They also presume that the man they are speaking to already owns a car but uses it himself to go to work.

The advert also backs up the need for a second car by saying that it is a perfectly reasonable concept, so much so that modern houses are already being built with twin garages. In fact it is a ‘must’ that they are.

Overall you can see from this that at the time of this advert, (1923) the decision to buy a car was made by a man, both when it came to buying his own car and that of his wives. Fast forward about three decades and things had changed quite considerably. The levelling out of the sexes that occurred in the years following the Second World War seen advertisers starting to market to woman directly.

They did not always get it right however as I have been reading in Brand Failures by Matt Haig (2003):

Apparently Chrysler created La Femme, the first car designed specifically for woman. They believed that the car should have flowers, accessories, a girly name, seats decorated with a rosebud tapestry and a burgundy carpet… I found some images of the car and a couple of the advertisements that were used:


Dodge sent out a very enthusiastic letter about the car which Haig includes in the Brand Failures book. It finished off by stating that the car was a ‘drawing card’ which no other dealer group had. The letter produced a few orders from dealers but the majority of the cars remained in the showroom. The car was a complete flop. The printed advertisements and indeed the car itself was seen as patronising by the majority of woman. Haig comments:

‘This was, after all, appealing to a classic male ideal of femininity, rather than how the 1950’s woman actually saw herself’

He goes on to say that the main lesson from this brand failure is not to patronise your customer. I would also say that the importance of talking to your customer and doing market research is highlighted by this example to. Design for your customer, not yourself or indeed your vision of your customer.

I would also note that from this research I can see that it was society which changed, rather than the car advertisers changing society. It was the World Wars, both the first and the second that caused the market to change and the adverts of the times simply followed the changing culture.



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