As a superfan of American auto advertising, and as a companion piece to yesterday’s article about 1960 Buicks, I’d like to today explore some of the 1960 BOP advertisements from my collection. The best place to begin is the most obvious; Art Fitzpatrick and Van Kaufman are the heroes of the automotive advertising world, and their work for Pontiac in the 1960s stands apart from everyone else’s – nobody could touch them. Even though they also illustrated Buick and Opel ads, the bulk of their work was with Pontiac. This 1960 Bonneville looked good in real life, but Fitz/Van made it, and us, a star.
Aside from presenting the cars themselves in the best light, Fitz/Van also parked the cars in locations where you wanted to be. We were always our best selves in their world. We were powerful functionaries, rich playboys, owners of glamorous sailboats, beachcombers, or just attractive people walking in the rain with other attractive people.
We might also be the owner of a ski resort; after all, who else would be allowed to park his Bonneville in a place that obviously isn’t designated for parking while others look on with envy rather than anger?
Not all ads featuring Pontiacs, however, were illustrated by the aforementioned masters of their trade; Delco Radio used a Bonneville Safari to prove that a good radio is a better option than carrying a marching band on your roof in the desert.
Over at Oldsmobile, it didn’t take long for the marketing department to understand Fitzpatrick and Kaufman’s appeal, and they used illustrated ads for several years in the 1960s, but they somehow missed the mark a little. Maybe it was the scenery. This Super 88 is parked in front of a nice midcentury house on Saturday evening, but that scene could happen to anybody. A Manhattan or two, or three, and you’re on your way home trying to keep that big Olds in between the lines. Back to the real world.
In all seriousness, marketing departments used illustrations liberally throughout the 1950s, so they were nothing particularly special. The 1960s, on the other hand, ushered in a decade of photography, which made Pontiac ads stand out all the more. Not only were Fitz/Van ads done well, their medium was also increasingly uncommon. This Oldsmobile ad, in which a photograph was the featured image, would become the industry standard by 1965 at the latest. It’s certainly less dramatic than an exaggerated illustration, although this Super 88 looks wide enough in real life that Oldsmobile didn’t need any illustrator’s tricks.
Nor did Buick, although studios such as Boulevard Photographic in Detroit used plenty of camera tricks to stretch out their subjects if the shoot called for it. Buick ads of the 1960s were often plainer than their contemporaries, but this one is at least colorful, although I’m not exactly sure what this couple’s up to. Neither looks angry. Is he coming or going? Why is she just sitting in the window? Is she just seeing him off so she can watch the new Buick drive away? “I hate to see you go…”
Perhaps Buick’s advertising theme in 1960 was perplexity. In this ad, this mother seems to be using her new Buick as a school bus to drop off the class for a field trip to a country road. She’s leaving, while several adults wander away from a group of children that are looking back longingly at the car, wondering where Mom is going. It’s a confusing premise, but the car looks nice.
Now this is more like it. Buick sometimes got it right; in this case, they emulated Pontiac ads on film. Two glamourous couples are parking the new Electra 225 at the marina, dressed to kill for a party on the yacht. Of course, one of them will have to drive home afterward, but that’s a worry for another time. As we all know, advertising is just rudimentary psychology. If GM’s advertising is any indication, Pontiac sold the lifestyle best and they had the sales numbers to prove it, but Buick and Oldsmobile paled by nothing but comparison.
Fitzpatrick and Kaufman would continue illustrating Pontiac ads all the way up through 1971, but by that point, advertising had become far more utilitarian. Look at any car ad from the 1970s and you’ll realize that the golden age was gone – many ads included a picture of the car with a lot of dreary text about its specifications, which was more useful but less fun. There were always exceptions, but few would argue that 1960 was prime time for interesting advertising, and it didn’t hurt that the cars themselves were interesting subjects. Only one question really remains – who do you want to be today?
See below for a few more examples: