So it was hugely uplifting to review these gems from Vauxhall and realise just how influential they were in redefining not only car advertising, but in setting a standard for all categories. They are a fantastic demonstration of what can be achieved by brilliant creative talent liberated by a brave client.
So first to 1989, and "building site - La Bamba" (1). This ad for the "hot" version of the Nova is groundbreaking in that it features a young woman behaving in a pretty "laddish" fashion. She is smart, sassy, in control and even chooses that bastion of male chauvinism, the building site, to show off her prowess. In 1989, she predated girl power, today she'd probably get an asbo.
A very different kind of girl power is evident in
"supermodels" (2). Made in 1993 to launch the new Corsa, it was unlike any car ad before it in scale and epic quality. With overtones of Gotham City, it was voluptuous, brooding and gothic. Frankly, the sight of Naomi Campbell in full dominatrix mode was enough to make any bloke check that his gear-stick was still in one piece. The twist of course is that the car is much more appealing than the supermodels. So it works at both the simple level of association with style icons, and for the "catwalk averse" consumer, by making the car the style hero. On launch day, the ad made such an impact that The Sun replaced its usual page-three picture with Naomi in leather.
Next up is "aborigine" for the Calibra (3). This was the mass-produced coupe that defined a segment. Its world-beating drag co-efficient (that's slippery shape, not cross-dressing tendencies) made it eerily quiet at speed. This ad is a stunning audio-visual expression of the product benefit; coupled with imagery that evokes freedom, purity of design and land- speed records.
In 1996, we come to one of my all-time favourites, "babies" for the Astra (4). How do you tell young parents that your car is just right for their family without resorting to the hackneyed images of safety seats and anxious parents? Taking the Orwellian 1984 idea but turning Big Brother into Little Brother, transposed into a beautifully observed world of babies, was sheer brilliance. The attention to detail, pace and performances are outstanding.
The "adult" product benefits are clearly communicated with charm and yet there is no spoken dialogue or intrusive voiceover to spoil the viewer's involvement.
Vauxhall's Frontera was the first mass-market "off-roader" in the UK (5). In 1998, "new world" was the ad that launched the updated version to compete with Land Rover's new Freelander. Looking back, this ad now seems a bit predictable; wide-open spaces, foreign adventure and driving through water. But at the time it hit the mood precisely with promises of escapism and lots of techie information.
Finally, we come to a celebration of the fun of small cars, an idea that also underpinned the first ad here (6). In 2002, "hide and seek" made the Corsa cheeky and accessible. Set in the vibrant world of young urbanites, it catches the mood of the car perfectly.
Running through these ads, I am struck by the sense of scale, quality and boldness of the ideas. They tell a compelling story and exploit the medium to its fullest. In fact, they would still look good if screened today.
1. VAUXHALL NOVA Title: Building site - La Bamba Agency: Lowe Howard-Spink Year: 1989 2. VAUXHALL CORSA Title: Supermodels Agency: Lowe Howard-Spink Year: 1993 3. VAUXHALL CALIBRA COUPE Title: Aborigine Agency: Lowe Howard-Spink Year: 1994 4. VAUXHALL ASTRA Title: Babies Agency: Lowe Howard-Spink Year: 1996 5. VAUXHALL FRONTERA Title: New world Agency: Lowe Howard-Spink Year: 1998 6. VAUXHALL CORSA Title: Hide and seek Agency: Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners Year: 2002