Automotive Ads as a child of the 1980’s

Every month I aim to give you all, the advice and experience that I have gained over the past (ahem) 20+ years in the design and marketing industry specifically the Automotive sector. Also, prepare yourselves for some waffling on about current and past marketing campaigns that have either made me recoil in horror or at the other end of the spectrum ‘blew my little cotton socks off’.

Shall we start?

As a child of the 80’s (yes, yes I know I don’t look it lol!) I was always heavily influenced by television advertising, billboards and printed publications. Well, these were really the only channels to the consumer back then before the tinterbobbins came along. I have decided to share some examples that stood out to me as a super influential sponge of a child.


It’s the late 80’s. Shoulder pads were beginning to reduce in volume and Parachute Pants stay firmly in this decade thanks to MC Hammer. The UK’s consumers by this point are being exposed to 2000 commercial messages a day.

In order to appeal to a more ‘sophisticated’ palate, Volkswagen commissioned a series of involving and humorous creative adverts. The adverts were confident, refined and subtle. They were to set a tone in-keeping with VW’s brand image. Whilst by no means being Volkswagen’s first TV commercials, they were certainly some of the best. Artfully shot and staged, they featured incisive dialogue and, of course, beautifully shot footage of the cars themselves. One of the most commonly recalled campaigns of that era is the commercial below.


The outdoor market consisted primarily of wood-framed 48 and 96 sheet paper poster sites displaying ads. Now forgive me it may not be an out-and-out automotive advert but featured cars very cleverly. This time I doth my cap to the team behind the campaign for the wonder of the sticky stuff Araldite.


For this we are looking at BMW six-cylinder engines. Matter of fact peppered with a hint of cheek.

Robin Wight (advertising legend) asked a BMW engineer the difference between a four-cylinder and a six-cylinder engine, the latter favoured by BMW for 2-litre engines at the time.

“He picked up a glass of water,” Wight said recently. “He said he could put it on the engine block of a four-cylinder two-litre engine, as in a Mercedes – the water would bounce up and down. If he took the glass and put it on a six-cylinder two-litre BMW engine, the water wouldn’t move because the engine was smooth and perfectly balanced.”

Wight returned to London, procured a Mercedes and a BMW side by side, proved to himself that this was true and this is the awesome result.

The other point that I like about this ad is that Robin Wright borrowed the slogan ‘The Ultimate Driving Machine’ from the BMW campaign in America.

“Sometimes it’s good to use the genius of others, rather than just rely on your own skill.”

If there is a subject you would like me to talk about for the next edition contact me [email protected]

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