Cadillac Ad Still Fresh After 100 Years

Matthew Hallock is the president and creative director of The Voice, based outside New York City in Fairfield, CT. Hallock started the firm over 15 years ago after a dual career as a NYC ad agency creative director and university professor, focused mostly on the history of advertising. As a regular contributor to The Tribune, Hallock explores the history of advertising from every angle, and relates his insights and observations to connect the industry’s inspiring past with current advertising challenges. 

by Matthew Hallock , The Voice

This ad is perhaps the greatest 2-minute lesson on branding ever written: 

As a student of the history of advertising and a practicing creative director, I often make this compelling comment in seminars: Everything great has already been done. This doesn’t mean there aren’t new thoughts out there — every day I see wonderful ideas that somebody came up with that make me think “I wish I’d done that ad.” We all know the feeling.

But the world of advertising did not start with most recent funny Old Spice ad. We stand on the shoulders of extremely talented people who practiced the craft before us. Expose yourself to their work, and prepare yourself for a fountain of ideas and inspiration.

For instance, Ted MacManus wrote this famous "The Penalty of Leadership" ad for Cadillac in 1915. It was dismissed as corny fluff when it first ran. But then sales boomed; thousands of copies were sent out on request; salesmen hung it up on their walls, and it was repurposed for sales manuals, direct marketing and other ad campaigns. Thrity years later, it was voted the greatest ad of all time (remember, this was before 1950).

Note the absence of features and functions — or even a product shot. Today, it’s considered one of the cornerstones of the “impressionistic” school of advertising, as opposed to “reason why” advertising — which gives readers reasons to buy the product (features and functions).

What lessons can you derive from "The Penalty of Leadership" ad that apply to modern advertising? Perhaps something you’ve been trying to say to your client, ad agency or co-workers? This example is just the beginning, too — there is a treasure trove of inspired ideas and executions that you can apply to current assignments in meaningful ways. Sometimes the road to the future requires a look at the past.