While manufacturers have been name-dropping their competition for as long as they have been making advertisements, actually showing a picture of a car from another manufacturer in an ad is quite rare.
Perhaps the granddaddy of this trope (to me, anyway) is the series of ads Ford ran between roughly 1975 and 1978 for the Granada, comparing it to various contemporary Mercedes Benz products. I remember these ads very well, even though I would have been between 7 and 10 years old when these ads ran. Ford produced maybe a dozen or so different variations of this ad – I’m including just a few here.
Other than some superficial similarities like blackwall tires, body-colored wheelcovers, and vertical grilles, even my childhood self could tell the difference between the two. Really, these ads are more of an exercise in framing than anything else: Take two cars with similar shapes, in the same color, and with the same background and same lighting, well then of course they are going to look similar.
But as we all know, beauty is more than skin deep. Even as a kid I knew then that comparison was laughable, and I wasn’t even aware at the time that the Granada’s bones dated back to the 1960 Falcon.
Of course, Ford is hardly the first manufacturer to feature cars from other manufacturers in their ads. In most cases, the “other” car is not a direct competitor of the car being advertised but rather is included to burnish the image of the advertised car. Case in point, the 1927 Bugatti photobombing the 1961 Corvette ad above. Clearly, GM is not worried about anyone cross-shopping the two. I will leave it up to commenters to speculate what is going on with the backward-facing passenger.
This 1963 Volkswagen ad is using the same playbook as the 1961 Corvette ad, in this case drawing a connection between one cult car (the Ford Model A) to another that was well on its way to cult status (the VW Beetle). They even included a model made to resemble Henry Ford.
This 1963 Saab ad is a repeat (it appeared in my Nighttime vintage ad trope piece), but I still like it. It gets as close as any to featuring pictures of cars that could be considered actual competitors. The car on the left is of course a VW Beetle, while the car on the right appears to be a 1960 Volvo 122S.
But more often than not, the appearance of other manufacturers’ cars was typically used for comedic effect, as is the case with the legendary 1984 Citroen ad above.