Three Ways Steam-Powered Automobiles Changed Advertising (My Life in Advertising: Chapters 10 and 11)

This is the 10th part in a series covering the current PRL book selection, My Life in Advertising.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Over 100 years ago, steam-powered automobiles were a novelty to many and a luxury to the few who could afford them. With time, the technology improved and the cost dropped.

We’re in a similar situation with Tesla and other high-end vehicles. And their ad methods haven’t changed much in those 100+ years.

Chapter 10, Steam-Powered Automobiles! Hopkins writes ads for over 20 different car models, starting in 1899.

In one campaign for the Chalmers Company, Hopkins features the head engineer to inject personality into the campaign. “Naming an expert in an advertising campaign indicates a man of unique ability and prominence… He soon becomes famous, better than a coined name and far better than a trademark.” When an authority puts their name and reputation on the line, they stand behind their product. Tweet This

We still see this ad approach today, with BMW Engineers on television commercials, for example.

Another point is the advantage of being specific. Saying “Best in the world” or “cheapest in the long run” are mere exaggerations. When we give exact figures, we’re stating a truthExact truths are persuasive.

“Every ad should tell a complete story.” Because people only read an ad once, fill it with every convincing fact.

An ad should tell a complete story. Image "Berkshire Motor car Chalmers car ad" by AlbanyGroup Archive, Flickr, CC-By-2.0
An ad should tell a complete story. Image “Berkshire Motor car Chalmers car ad” by AlbanyGroup Archive, Flickr, CC-By-2.0

The most effective thing he’s found, Hopkins tells us, is the power of the crowdSocial Proof. “People are like sheep,” Hopkins tells us. They follow trends and don’t think for themselves. Give customers proof that others like your product.

Hopkins finishes the chapter warning against fine writing and style. Style suggests an effort to sell, which puts people on guard.

The only way to sell is to offer superior service. It may be offered in a crude way, but it needs to strike a chord with human nature.

Tire Advertising, Chapter 11. In a market without differentiation, Hopkins tells Goodyear to advertise their new tire No-Rim-Cut tire. Goodyear didn’t understand why.

Hopkins transformed the tire market from a commodity to a branded market. Photo "Changing a Tire" by Don O'Brien, Flick, CC-By-2.0
Hopkins transformed the tire market from a commodity to a branded market. Photo “Changing a Tire” by Don O’Brien, Flick, CC-By-2.0

Goodyear was blind to their customer, Hopkins says. The interests of the manufacturer blind us to the interests of the customer.

The manufacturer talks of his accomplishments and the size of the operation.

But the customer wants to know how this product will help her.

“No-Rim-Cut Tires, 10% Oversized” was Goodyear’s headline with exact figures, until every manufacturer made no-rim-cut tires. Later ads show graphs of Goodyear’s growth, enticing people to follow the social proof.

Later, Hopkins pulls a similar campaign for Miller tires, highlighting the professional driver’s preference for Miller. Hopkins reminds us that few people have the ability to analyze a situation, and that people tend to follow the wisdom of an authority and the age-old wisdom of the crowds (social proof).

What ads do you see today that utilize an authority, or exact data and figures, or a complete story?