All Creatures Great and Small:
Live Animals in Advertising
Written by Matthew Hocker
For the Love of Animals….In the world of marketing, animals and advertising are seemingly inseparable. Simply put, people love animals. Tons of vehicles have been named after animals, and countless critters have appeared in automotive sales literature and televised ads. Of these, ads featuring live animals are especially interesting because they are among the most tangible.
Over 8 million species are known to exist on this planet. Of those, the two most common animals to appear in sales literature have been dogs and horses. Dogs are an obvious choice because of their popularity as family pets. This is why they are most often used in ads marketing vehicles as family friendly, such as station wagons and SUVs.
When horses appear in automotive ads, they usually do for one of three reasons. One of these is the association of cars with horsepower. In truck literature, it is typically to convey the rugged dependability associated with the romanticized image of the West. The final and most obvious reason is to advertise vehicles named after horses. When Ford marketed the 1971 Pinto as its new subcompact, it did so with the help of a little pony.
Going Against the Grain:
The Elephant in the Opel:
Other makes preferred utilizing animals in a big way, as General Motors did in its attempt to sell the American public on the imported Opel Kadett. From 1968 through 1970, advertising featured elephants alongside the “Mini Brutes,” the new nickname bestowed upon the Kadett lineup. Elephants had a reputation for strength and longevity, traits that GM wanted people to associate with the Kadett.
The ads that resulted were among some of the most whimsical in the industry. For example, the 1969 catalog featured elephants alongside cars in unusual situations. A Rallye Kadett was parked in the center of a speedway, whilst elephants ran around the track. In another scene, a Kadett could be seen driving from a toll booth. Meanwhile, the elephant trailing behind the car carried a giant quarter in its trunk, fully prepared to pay its way through. There was even a page featuring examples of exterior colors shaped like elephants!
Earlier Mini Brute literature also included a chimpanzee with attitude. One of the more comical scenes from the 1968 catalog, consisted of an elephant and chimp washing an LS Sport Coupe. A 1969 TV commercial expanded the menagerie to include an orangutan, toucan, bear, and even a skunk. In the ad, this colorful cast of creatures was driven around in a Kadett wagon, chauffeured by the Skipper from hit TV show, “Gilligan’s Island.”
Eye of the Tiger:
A more well-known example of critters in GM advertising was the 1965-1966 Pontiac GTO tiger campaign, in which live tigers appeared alongside the car in literature, magazine ads and TV commercials. Pontiac utilized these big cats to evoke imagery of strength, youth and success. One print ad featured a tiger skin draped over the hood with the slogan, “There’s a live one under the hood.” Meanwhile, a TV spot famously delivered on this promise by having a tiger emerging from under the hood. (The film crew used 40 lbs of meat to coax the cat to jump inside.)
When the GTO was introduced for 1964, initial advertising lacked the mighty tiger. References to the ferocious feline had been used in advertising the 1963 Tempest, albeit without any actual tigers. With the GTO, Pontiac’s pursuit of the striped big cat was inspired by U.S. Royal Redline’s Tiger Paw tires, which were standard equipment. After all, a car with tiger paws may as well be called a tiger! Pontiac ran wild with the theme, with dealers going so far as to offer a tiger tail attachment as an accessory.
The campaign was encouraged by then-Pontiac General Manager, John DeLorean. DeLorean encouraged aggressive marketing and was viewed as being “hip” to what the youth culture desired. Under his leadership, the GTO thrived. According to the Standard Catalog of American Cars, 1964 model year production totaled 32,450. Two years later, the number of GTOs manufactured had nearly tripled with over 96,000 rolling off the assembly line!
By 1967, the GTO tiger was driven to extinction. Pressure to terminate the tiger came from DeLorean’s superiors, including GM Chairman James Roche, amidst concerns that the tiger imagery was promoting aggressive driving. Automotive safety was big news back then, thanks in part to Ralph Nader’s book, Unsafe at Any Speed (1965). Nader’s book received wide publicity, influenced government policy toward the industry, and was heavily critical of GM. The last thing GM execs wanted was another PR nightmare on their hands.
While these advertising campaigns have come and gone, the appeal of animals in car ads has remained strong. If you have a chance to browse the AACA Library & Research Center’s sales literature collection, you will find countless other occurrences of animals alongside vehicles. Are you interested in seeing more examples from these advertising campaigns? Do you have a favorite critter car ad? If so, be sure to visit the library or give us a call. We’d love to hear from you!