Hagley Museum looks at how advertising drives car buying decisions

Americans are obsessed with cars, there are over 250 million on American roads, but did you buy the car you wanted or the one you were sold?

Hagley Museum looks at that question through a new exhibit of automobile advertising from the late 19th century up to today.

“Everything in this exhibition is part of Hagley’s collection, a very specific one. The Z. Taylor Vincent collection of automobilia,” Director of Museum Services at Hagley Museum and Library Joan Hoge-North said.

It is an impressive exhibit, spanning print advertising and old television commercials.

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“The collection is largely print based. Advertisements that are clipped from magazines, automotive catalogs that came from dealerships and manufacturers and so on,” Curator of Published Collections at Hagley Museum and Library Max Moeller said.

Cars don’t sell themselves, and it was the job of these early marketers to get people in a showroom and part with their money.

The exhibit focuses on six primary advertising themes that advertisers use to tug at both the heart and wallet. The exhibit looks at those themes: luxury, economy, safety, patriotism, and style.

It’s fascinating to see the progression of advertisements “selling” safety. Buckling a seatbelt is something taken for granted today, it’s important to be safe. Today consumers wouldn’t even think about buying a car if they weren’t safe getting into it. But there was a time when safety wasn’t a marketed feature.

“It’s really quite amazing to realize just how many advertisements there are over the years and we don’t even think about them”, Moeller says.

There is so much to see in the exhibit it may take two visits just to go over it all.

The goal of the exhibit is to have visitors walk away thinking – and maybe never looking at an ad the same way again.

“We want them to walk away asking questions about decisions they’ve made, but really recognizing the impact that marketing has on the decisions that we make,” Hoge-North said.


You can get more information on Hagley’s Driving Desire exhibit on their website.

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