Vintage Ads: 1939 Ford Motor Company – Ford Attempts to Build Their Own Sloanian Ladder with Mercury

While GM can lay claim to inventing the pantheon of automotive brands that Alfred P. Sloan gathered into his eponymous ladder, that didn’t stop other manufacturers from also trying to get into the “Car for every purse and purpose” game.  Ford wasn’t about to cede any ground to GM, so over the years they made various attempts at creating their own stepping stones of brands, ranging from Mercury to Edsel to Continental to Comet.

These Ford Motor Company ads from 1939 showcase Ford’s effort at building their own Sloanian Ladder, with the introduction of the new-for-1939 Mercury brand.

1939 Ford Motor Company Ad – How many different cars are there really?

We’ve discussed at great length over the years the changing definitions of what constitutes a Brand vs. a Model and how this changed after the introduction of the Big 3 compact and intermediate models in the early 1960s. However it was defined, there’s no escaping the fact that Ford had fewer actual brands than GM in 1939, so they had to take some liberties even by the loose definitions of the day. I’m not sure how many people actually considered the Ford and DeLuxe Ford to be different cars. Similarly, I never thought of Lincoln and Lincoln-Zephyr as distinct brands, but Ford was clearly marketing them as such.

1939 Mercury Ad

1939 Mercury Ad

From the very beginning, Mercury’s rung of the FoMoCo Sloanian Ladder was tenuous. Even after reading the text in the above ad, I’m still not exactly clear who the audience for the new Mercury was, or what its value proposition was (other than being a slightly fancier Ford). If it takes eight paragraphs of text to explain, as the old saying goes, you’ve already lost the battle.

As we all now know, Ford fared no better than GM in their attempt to build a Sloanian Ladder. The Ladder as a concept was obsolete almost as soon as it was realized and was never able to match the realities of the marketplace.