Vintage Car Ads

How Real Mad Men Used Women to Sell Cars

How Real Mad Men Used Women to Sell Cars

Move over, Jaguar — Don Draper is trading in the British luxury car for the all-American Chevy. On this week's episode of Mad Men, Don and Roger hit the road — or the friendly skies — for Detroit to pitch Chevy for the car of the future. Don wins the account, after teaming up with rival Teddy Chaough. The two decide to merge their ad agencies so they can compete with the big boys. And it's a good thing Don doesn't come back to NY empty-handed, since earlier in the episode he fired the agency's previous car client, Jaguar.

Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (or whatever it will be called now) managed to win the Chevy account with less sketchy tactics than it used to win Jaguar. As we saw last season, throughout the process of vying for Jaguar, it's clear that the show's ad men have little respect for women. The creative team uses a mistress as its muse for the slogan — "Jaguar. At last. Something beautiful you can truly own" — comparing a woman to a car. Only the car is better than a woman because you can own it. And of course, the SCDP partners pull a more shocking move, conspiring to prostitute out their colleague Joan Harris to a higher-up at Jaguar to secure the account. Joan's sexual objectification provides a literal reference to how women were used to sell cars. The real 1960s Jaguar slogan, "A cat of a different breed," alluded to women, and subsequent taglines included, "Domesticated. Not Declawed." Or, "Nobody's Pussycat." The British carmaker wasn't alone. Copy on a '60s-era Ford ad, featuring a seductive-looking young woman in the passenger's seat, reads, "So luxurious inside, watch 'em overguess the price." Are they talking about the car or the woman?

Based on the glimpse of the Chevy pitch we see this week — a teaser campaign that draws on innocent anticipation of the unknown — Don might be taking a more wholesome approach. But looking at real Chevy ads from the era, women are still deployed as attention-grabbing accessories. Check out some 1960s car ads featuring women. I'd love to say we've come a long way, but just flip on the TV and you'll see that car ads featuring sexualized women aren't getting kicked to the curb any time soon.