The new millennium is almost here. And soon every newspaper, TV station and Internet Web site will have its own version of the Man of the Century, the Biggest Single Event of the Century, the Best Invention of the Century - even the Best Ad of the Century. It would be hard to judge that last one. The list of memorable ads, particularly automotive ads, runs too long for my memory.
There's the classic Dinah Shore 'See the USA in Your Chevrolet' and the 1970s' 'Baseball, hotdogs, apple pie and Chevrolet.' And who can forget Ricardo Montalban swooning over Chrysler's 'rich Corinthian leather' or Ford's longstanding 'better idea'? Even Plymouth proved to be ahead of its time when it introduced 'Suddenly, it's 1960' - in 1956!
Volkswagen captivated U.S. car buyers with its simple ads in the 1960s and, boy, the New Beetle is doing the same thing some 30 years later - only this time the ads are a lot jazzier.
Cadillac and the forerunner to the D'Arcy agency were propelled into prominence in 1915 when T.F. MacManus penned one of the most famous print ads of this century: 'The Penalty of Leadership.'
The Ogilvy agency also astonished the ad world with its classic print ad for Rolls-Royce: 'At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.'
There were the classic ads during World War II, when carmakers, whose factories were converted to wartime production, talked about what type of arms they were making just to keep their name in front of the public. Out of World War II came Jeep. And Jeep, arguably, has the best global automotive brand name today.
The automakers of this century also gave us a cast of characters. Who can forget such memorable characters as Joe Isuzu, Nissan's Mr. K, the Cadillac duck or the roaring cougar on top of the sign of the cat (Mercury).
And then came Saturn. The little car company was created from scratch by General Motors, and ad agency Hal Riney focused on the relationship side of the business, not necessarily the attributes or looks of the cars. It created a cult following that has forced almost every carmaker to re-evaluate the way it communicates with the public. The word 'advertise' is becoming passe, replaced by the terms 'relationship marketing' and/or 'one-to-one marketing.'
As we look back at the 20th century, we can't help but notice how automotive advertising has become embedded into the American psyche. It's even in the music: 'Pink Cadillac,' 'Fun, Fun, Fun
('Til her daddy takes the T-Bird away),' and 'Mustang Sally,' just to name a few.
Love 'em or hate 'em, they stuck in your mind, and you whistled their jingles in the shower. They might even have driven you right to a particular dealer's showroom - or driven you away.
Automotive advertising campaigns have helped brands and hurt brands. They have brought little-known regional agencies into the national spotlight and forced big agencies to restructure.
From its beginnings as hand-drawn magazine ads featuring cars on windswept roads to today's heart-pulsing, multimillion dollar global advertising messages, automotive advertising has become an art form.
But as the new century dawns the marketing world is moving so swiftly that any automaker caught sleeping may be left in the dust. For example: New technology is ready to explode on the scene that will allow TV viewers to watch only the commercials they want to watch or see no commercials at all. That poses an interesting - and crucial - question for carmakers that rely heavily on TV to show their wares: How will you talk to the consumer now?