Grasslands as far as the eye can see; on the horizon, snow-covered mountains shining in the light of the setting sun. In the foreground, a cowboy leans casually against his pick-up-truck while proudly watching his horses on the prairie. This is not a scene taken from a Western, but a typical American car advertisement from the 1980s. At that time, car advertising in Germany looked different; there, the engineer played the main role. Functionality, progress and economy counted most. But where do these differences in advertising come from; why do American car companies appeal to their customers’ emotions while German ones address their brains?
General Motors Hy-wire hydrogen car
Dr. Bettina Temath from the American Studies program at TU Dortmund University tries to answer these questions by analyzing 762 car advertisements published in popular German and American news magazines during 1980/1981 and 2005/2006. Most importantly, she argues that globalization plays a major role in advertising.
Temath’s research focuses on how car ads reconstruct German and American cultural discourses and values. “American ads reproduce concepts of automobility that are in many respects related to a mythologized frontier experience, the time during which settlement expanded from the East to the West. American ads often emphasize size, power and cross-country mobility and present the car in the midst of untouched nature. The car driver becomes a pioneer and a conqueror”, explains Temath.
According to Temath, this is different in German ads. Here, even off-road vehicles are always depicted on the streets. Also, in Germany the car’s technology is put first, which is vividly illustrated by the names of German and American car models. While American models are named after wild animals, Native-Americans or explorers – “Eagle,” “Pontiac,” or “De Soto,” most German car names consist of alphanumerical sequences, which express sobriety and rationality: “Audi A8 3.2 FSI quattro.” The car, often photographed against sterile studio backgrounds or in the midst of asphalt surfaces, is presented as a technological attraction per se to be coolly controlled by the driver.
While both “advertising worlds” were clearly separated at the beginning of the 1980s, with German sobriety on the one hand and American emotionality on the other, Temath documents an increasing similarity of advertising style. She claims that, “Dominance, aggression and patriotism still play a much more important role in American ads. However, the aesthetics of automotive design, freedom, excitement and individuality are among the most frequently used appeals in both German and American ads from 2005/2006.”
On both sides of the Atlantic, more recent ads are dominated by the visual. Compared to advertisements of the 1980s, there is very little verbal information. The driver is rarely depicted – the product is the hero. Visualization, emotionalization and a clear focus on the product are most important characteristics. Furthermore, German and American ads agree more in content, that is, the kinds of appeals used.
In conclusion, Temath argues that “the results of the comparison indicate that a more 'global' advertising style is developing – one that mainly communicates visually and gives special emphasis to emotional experience. All in all, cultural differences have become less significant, but do not cease to exist.”
Source: Technische Universitaet Dortmund