(first posted 10/14/2016) While the consumer internet was furiously picking up steam in the late 1990s, people continued to read a lot of magazines. So print advertising continued to be a great way to reach consumers. The October 1996 issue of Automobile Magazine was filled with ample print ads, including several multi-page inserts. In some cases, “multi-media” was pushed too–prospects were encouraged to send away for VHS tapes of additional information. The print era would soon be coming to an end, but for a bit longer advertisers could still “Party Like It’s 1999!”
Lexus had a 4-page ad unit on the inside front cover touting the all-new ES300. But who could tell? This car would earn my vote as the least noticeable major refresh ever–to me, this Lexus was virtually indistinguishable at a glance from its predecessor.
Nothing like alcohol advertising in a car magazine!
Mitsubishi spared no expense when it came to showcasing their 1997 wares. The following is a 12-page insert on heavy paper stock, essentially like a full-line brochure bound into Automobile Magazine.
Depend on having a great time at a Mitsubishi dealer? That seems like a stretch, buy they sure were trying!
The tagline of “Imagine Yourself In A Mercury” rang hollow, as this was clearly a Ford Explorer, inside and out.
Dodge ran a great deal of advertising in Automobile Magazine–this 8-page insert is one of three ads Dodge ran in the October 1996 issue. By the mid-1990s, Dodge was arguably the most aggressive company when it came to promoting a racing and high performance image.
Auto-by-tel was a pioneer in getting dealers and consumers online (or connected via phone) to drive sales. The company still exists, though it has been eclipsed by newer, bigger digital car shopping services.
Land Rover has been incredibly consistent through the years in-terms of creating aspirational, evocative imagery to promote the vehicle’s go-anywhere capabilities. Far more effective than showing 1997 Land Rovers in their more likely habitat–aka dealer service bays…
How about a Pathfinder video tape? Snake not included!
To this day, I love watching MotorWeek. Back in 1997, it was actually much harder to find on TV, though luckily it was carried where I lived at the time. I even used to record the shows, on VHS tape, to watch them again when I wanted. Talk about high tech–we were livin’ large in the 1990s!
“Garage-ability” was a key selling point for the jumbo SUVs, as domestic makers pushed ever-larger trucks to be used as primary family vehicles.
Based on these ads, the market shift to trucks was becoming increasingly evident. While there were still plenty of appeals to enthusiast drivers, more and more the focus was on conquering the terrain rather than handling the road. That style trend toward “go anywhere capability,” though softened a bit for the reality of today’s tall rolling cocoons, is as popular as ever 20 years later.
The only advert that isn’t complete bullshit is the Pirelli tyre company’s. Seriously; it doesn’t matter what sporting pretensions your car might have; if it comes unstuck on the road; you’re in big trouble.
Pirelli got my vote way back in the 70s when I fitted a set to my father’s lethal Renault 12. The transformation was amazing; finally it could go round corners without drifting across three lanes in doing so.
I am really not into trucks. The Yukon ad with the roomy interior shot from above spoke to me. The front seats and the shape of the console between looks a little like an executive jet. With all the smooth, fast, go anywhere exclusivity that entails.
I have been in one and close up the plastics are standard GM fare. But I think the ad may have done a good job of teasing in new customers out of their cars. Good ad.
I had the Oldies but Goodies matchbox cars from that ad. My grandmother bought them for me as a birthday gift when I was a teenager. I wish I still knew where they were. They got lost in a move somewhere
Oh how I miss reading through magazines and seeing these detailed car ads. Much like physical brochures, there was something more special about looking at high quality images and the details of a car on paper before the days when Internet was prevalent (fyi, we didn’t get it in my house until 2001). And there still really is, even though online offers so much more information and so many more images in seconds.
I can remember actually tearing out car ads, especially the fold-out ones, and hanging them on my bedroom was like posters. Those were the days!
When I was growing up in the 80’s and early 90’s, I was a subscriber to Hot Rod Magazine, and they would occasionally do centerfolds a la Playboy, but of featured cars instead of women. I had a row of those Hot Rod foldouts around the upper edge of 3 of the 4 walls of my room. I also had a poster of a Dodge Stealth R/T that came from a pullout ad, either in Hot Rod or Road & Track.
I have a binder full of older Land Rover ads like the one above from back in the day. Most were culled from my father’s copies of The Economist. They were brilliantly done with a refreshing sense of humor.
For some reason, I really disliked those Saab ads. I realize that I wasn’t the target demographic anyway, but even so, I found them really grating (I wasn’t the target demographic for Land Rover or Lexus ads either, but they didn’t bother me much).
My aversion to those ads likely stemmed from being frustrated by the new 900. When the “real” 900 was made, Saab ads focused on the car itself and on its engineering and driving attributes. Saab in the 1980s & early 90s had simple but effective ad campaigns that (even if not terribly memorable) effectively sold the car based on its strengths.
But this ad campaign with abstract pseudo-paintings was trying to sell only an image, and likely to people who couldn’t care less about cars. Of course, Saab was hardly alone in trying to sell an image, but in Saab’s case, I’m pretty sure it didn’t work. My guess is that the traditional Saab buyers melted away in this era, and the wine-and-cheese crowd being coveted by Saab by these ads either ignored the brand, or maybe never took a deep liking to it.
Sorry for the negativity here — just felt compelled to rant about something that’s been bugging me for two decades…
I will join in your rant, but to a different ad. The ad for the pink and white Crown Victoria model irritated me to no end when it was running. I have no idea why, except that I was so sick of “50s cliche” cars even then. As bad as the basic model was, the bad rendition of Ford’s “Tropical Rose” paint and the obligatory continental kit on the back just had me grinding my teeth as I turned the page.
That Crown Vic looks extremely chintzy. I always loved looking at the detailed models offered by various “mints.”
The most grating ad for me from this period had this. Most punchable face ever.
Saab used to run an animated version of those ads on the local PBS station, and I always thought they were beautifully done. But, you’re right, they were selling the sizzle because they didn’t have much steak.
Those Yukon and Tahoe ads remind me of what a nice job GM did with those vehicles (along with the Suburban). Those Suburbans were the first GM vehicles in eons that really appealed to me. My Club Wagon was more practical, but in my weaker moments I would admit to a bit of lust for one of those soft, leather-covered seats surrounded by 6,000 pounds of 4×4. In my part of the country, these became the official family vehicle of anyone who could afford them.
One thing I never owned was a radar detector. I preferred to watch the dashboards of the people who passed me and fall in behind those who were so equipped.
We used to watch for CB radio antennas, until my father bought my mother one for her Oldsmobile. But we never had a radar detector. At least with a CB radio you could say that you bought it because you liked listening to the conversations, which were entertaining back in the day.
CBs were awesome back right before the dawn of the cell phone age. Most of my friends had them and we’d spend our nights playing cat-and-mouse games communicating by CB. Or we’d just cruise up and down the main drag with the CBs on.
I had a few radar detectors too. But instant-on-radar rendered them essentially useless.
My tactic was to latch on to a fast car, trailing behind it at the same speed and often in an adjacent lane. When the instant-on radar was aimed at the car in front, some of the beam would miss the intended car, continue past it, and be picked up by my detector. I slow down, the car in front (if it doesn’t have a detector of its own) wouldn’t, and I’d be safe. Sometimes we both saw the cop and both slowed down, which also worked.
I really liked that generation of Tahoe … until I drove one. Roomy and durable yes, nice power train, but even by SUV standards of the time (and I owned a body-on-frame SUV when I drove the Tahoe, and had previously had two pickups) it was a lifeless boat to drive, surrounded by acres of plastic.
Automobile used to run stories where two reviewers took a particular vehicle on a road trip, and the story spent almost as much time talking about the food at various restaurants long the way as it did about the vehicle. (Someone once dubbed the magazine Food and Fender.) That may have been why Jack Daniels had a prominent ad in the magazine.
The Oldsmobile Aurora ad is sad, knowing how that saga ultimately ended. I liked the first-generation Aurora. Too bad that the quality and reliability weren’t there.
Even in the photo, that Fairfield Mint 1955 Ford Crown Victoria looks cheaper and less detailed than a Franklin or Danbury Mint model. But I guess that’s what you received for $29.95 in those days.
I must respectfully disagree. I happened to pick up a near-new 1995 Buick Riviera earlier this year… remember that Aurora and Rivi were the first fwd g body cars. Bought about 42k and now 52k – this is my daily driver. Just also FYI is an E90 330I with a six speed manual. I loved those Rivi and Aurora then, and I love them now- remember looking through an Aurora on showroom floor back then, but I was 17 yrs old and had no ability to purchase. Anyway- I can honestly say now that GM nailed these cars. My 21-+ year old car doesn’t rattle or creak any more than the (2006) bimmer who sits next to her in the garage. I love both cars (different reasons obviously) but please let it not be said that GM forgot how to build a good car. I have one, and I don’t baby it. Keep her clean and in plenty of premium fuel and synthetic oil, we can talk about it later. 🙂
$30 versus $135, definitely a “get what you pay for” situation. Fairfield Mint was definitely trying to trade on the “Mint” name cachet while offering a much lower-level product.
There seems to have been price deflation work in the higher end of the die-cast model industry between then and now. Not sure what Franklin Mint models cost these days (if they’re even still around) but AutoArt makes some extremely nice 1:18 models that go for between $80 and $150. Considering inflation, a bargain compared to $135 in 1997 dollars, especially at the lower end of the range.
Guns. 4Wheelin’ and Whiskey. It’s a treat that can’t be beat. I got’s to get me one of them there YEEEHA shiftin’ knobs like they put in that there yuppie car.
“Whiskey”?! Get out of here, you liberal! Everyone knows one drinks pure rubbing alcohol with their guns and four-wheelers! 😉
As a longtime British car fan, I take exception to your comments on Land Rovers. They’re just as likely to be found stalled on the side of the road or inoperable in an owner’s garage as in the service bays, thank you very much.
Love that Rover ad; would that be one driver and 6 Rover mechanics? 🙂
I’m probably in the minority here, perhaps a minority of one, but the car I’d like now is the Sidekick. With the 16V engine and clean styling, it appealed to me then and perhaps even more now. Ditch the body cladding, put on a 1″ or 2″ lift and some real offroad tires, and it would be a great exploration rig.
I always liked the looks of those Sidekick Sports. The tightening up of the angles and especially the boldly flared fenders gave some life to a design that had already been around in basic format for quite a while.
I have a personal connection to the Motor Week ad… The cameraman for that show used to live down the street from where I grew up. Since those guys got to take home the cars they were testing, he always had something different in the driveway. Some of the more interesting ‘temporary take-home cars’ included cars from Lamborghini, Porsche, and Lotus to name a few. He took me for a ride in a then new Mustang GT (SN95 platform) when they first got the “New Edge” styling, say 1999 or 2000. This was the perfect job for him, as he was always a car guy from the time he was a little kid. My parents still live over there, but he moved away. I’m not sure if he’s still with the show or not.
The Neon ads of that period reminded me of some of the classic VW Beetle ads. Heck, if they could have built them better, I could have seen them becoming a modern Beetle. Certainly much closer in spirit to the original than the larded up Golf body kit that came out from VW.
One of the upsides of living in MD at the time is that MotorWeek aired every week on Maryland Public Television. BTW, in case you haven’t seen it, check out their YouTube page for tons of contemporaneous Curbside Classic type cars. Unfortunately, their VHS (Beta?) to digital converter died, so the digitization process is on hold.
Really makes you wonder why Ford didn’t demise Mercury earlier.
And too bad Pontiac didn’t survive Buick, GM could use a performance division rather than two near luxury.
Chevy is GM’s “performance division”. Since they didn’t make Pontiac engines anymore, why bother?
IT ALWAYS DROVE ME NUTS how the Intrepid was depicted with body-color pillars. First of all, how could they have not been edited out. Secondly, the black pillars were a major design asset.
I remember seeing the Mitsubishi ad around that time, and never noticed until now that the Diamante shown is the Japanese market model with drastically shortened bumpers.
Apparently their ad departments weren’t as polished as they seemed.
Wow so many ads! Was there actually any editorial content left?
Old Pirelli ads were neat. I actually bought a set of the P6000’s shown above, and they were the worst set of tires I’ve yet to own, sadly. Scary as hell, and unpredictable when they weren’t dry or warm. That said, no Pirelli ad will ever top this classic:
In the above, I noted Mercury, Oldsmobile, SAAB, Isuzu and VCR tapes as gone.
Mitsubishi, Mazda and VW are basket cases pushed to the background by the Koreans and Dodge has scaled back it passenger cars to slim pickings.
A lot can change in 20 years.
Very true, and sadly you may have to put that BMW manual transmission ad on the list in a few years. Manuals are becoming more and more of a rarity, it seems. I’ll bet BMW keeps theirs until last, but they’re getting hard to find with other companies.
Limousine of Utility Vehicles indeed. All I see at LAX today are GMC Yukon limos.
Interesting that this article was reposted today as I’m at this moment in the midst of a pretty serious purge (occasioned by the first time in 20 years interior painting) and was just thinking about what to do with my 5+ years’ worth of Automobile magazines.
I was such a fan of advertising from this period (and earlier, I just don’t personally have the magazines from then). That Pathfinder ad (Tanzania)…I really loved that stuff. This also takes me back to a time when I would anticipate each month’s issue and then immediately devour it. There was just something different about media consumption then…as you had to wait for things to show up before consuming them; versus now when anything and everything is available at your beck and call. Somehow it makes everything (media-wise) seem less special. (insert meme of Old Man Yells at Clouds here)
And now maybe I’ll flip through a few of these issues…and keep them. They don’t take up that much space.
Magazine purging is a painful ritual. I will make an initial determination of which are going, then return to the pile and see if I’ve changed my mind on any. It’s hard to get rid of old magazines, nobody seems to want them. Most thrift stores don’t, but it still hurts to toss them in the recycling. I’ve still got a few from the late ’60s and ’70’s but the number shrinks every year. I rarely buy any new car mags. I had a multi year run with Jaguar World and Octane but now am very selective about buying anything.
This is very meta. Reading the article, I didn’t remember reading it before (the ads were familiar, but I assumed from their original run). I legitimately thought, “Geez, no Valentine One idiot.” And then, there’s my 6 year old comment about him, including his still-punchable face.
The ads and magazine are a time capsule, and now our reactions to the post from 2016 are, too. Neat.