Advertising the Model T
"If you really have a good thing, it will advertise itself." - Henry Ford
Introduced in the fall of 1908, Ford Motor Company's Model T was the right car for a newly developing market. It was affordable, efficient and reliable. Almost immediately the Ford Model T became the standard by which other reasonably priced cars were judged. By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model Ts. By the time that the company finally ended the model's production in 1927, more than 15 million Model Ts had been produced.
The very endurance of this single model offers an intriguing look at how the Model T was advertised over the nearly 20 years it was in production. Model T advertisements show the changes in print ads in general and the Ford Company's marketing policies in particular. These advertisements also reflect the company's response to changing market conditions.
This quarter-page advertisement, featuring the logo of a winged pyramid, was typical of Ford Motor Company advertisements from 1911 through 1915. Consisting entirely of text, it emphasized price: by making only one type of car, the company kept the product affordable. With its bold border and use of empty space around the text, this ad stands out from the others on the page. It ran on June 12, 1912, in the Horseless Age magazine.
Henry Ford had a strong belief that paid advertising was a waste of money. During the 19 years that his Ford Motor Company produced its highly successful Model T automobile, the company routinely discontinued national advertisements when the demand for the popular car outstripped the company's production capacity. Although Ford Motor Company did not advertise from 1917 until 1923, Ford dealers did—at an annual cost of three million dollars. Ford Motor Company supplied the dealers with the Ford logo, and sometimes illustrations and copy. The dealers chose whether to use advertising material from the company, and when and where to place the ads, with most in local newspapers.
While continuing to use the slogan, "Ford, the Universal Car," this full-page advertisement touts the changes made to the Model T. Most of the car's updates were in appearance—an attempt to maintain Model T sales as competitors' cars were gaining market share. The image of the car is minimal and the text rational. This ad probably appeared early in 1923 and was the first in a multi-year advertising campaign in national magazines.
As Model T sales began to decline in the 1920s, Ford Motor Company revitalized their national advertising department under the direction of Henry Ford's son Edsel. Ads from this period often featured color illustrations and appealed to customers' desire for fashionable goods and social standing. The Model T was presented, not just as a practical choice, but as a stylish, quality product. The text of this advertisement appealed to the desire to be seen as a fashionable trend-setter: "Among those women who are recognized in their communities as arbiters in matters of taste, the Ford Four-door Sedan enjoys unusually high favor." Ford published this ad in national magazines in January 1924.
Flanked by striking illustrations of Ford Motor Company's mighty Highland Park Plant, the text of this ad positioned the company rather than directly selling the Model T car. It emphasized the role that Ford Motor Company played in providing the American public with low-cost transportation. The ad appeared in the Saturday Evening Post on July 12, 1924.
This colorful ad, right, showing children playing in the sand and a woman driver, touches on a traditional Ford Motor Company Model T advertising theme: the Model T as affordable, efficient, and dependable transportation.
Here the Model T is also portrayed as providing a "key" to the healthful charms of the outdoors for women and children. This ad appeared in the July 1925 issue of the Ladies Home Journal.
By Cynthia Read Miller, former Curator of Photographs and Prints at The Henry Ford. This post first appeared as a Pic of the Month in January 2008.
archives, advertising, by Cynthia Read Miller, Ford Motor Company, Model Ts, cars