Posters of automotive history.

From the business referral to the modern advertising poster. These advertising posters tell the company history in impressive form, from the first automobile advertisement to the modern large-scale graphic arts poster, and today embody the contemporary history and its era as unique works of art.

This poster from 1921 (Ottofranz Kutscher) shows the Mercedes 28/95 HP Phaeton.

Bold invention and innate fears.

“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” This famous quotation by French writer Victor Hugo has often proven well-founded. A degree of scepticism towards innovations nevertheless remains part of human nature.

Back in the 1880s, barely anyone believed that the newly invented automobile had a future – apart from such visionaries as Gottlieb Daimler, his chief designer Wilhelm Maybach and Carl Benz.

Business recommendations.

“In those days, nobody believed that anyone would countenance the idea of giving up the elegant horse and carriage for such an unreliable, squalid, puffing and rattling iron vehicle,” notes Benz. He and the other pioneers opened up a new horizon with the invention of the automobile. The difficult early years were marked by a fear of breakdowns, a lack of understanding for the new technology and resultant sluggish demand, however. First and foremost, people had to be convinced that this new means of conveyance was safe. Benz was no great friend of advertising, however – for which the more genteel term “business recommendation” was used at the time. He held the view that the quality of a product must speak for itself. He nevertheless published the world’s first automobile advertisement for the patented motor car in 1888.

The emphasis was now persistently on “goodwill advertising” as a trust-building exercise. The initial literature included claims such as “Absolutely safe”, “No special operating skills required” or “Always ready for service”.

The world’s first automobile advertisement from 1888 shows the patented motor car (detail).

Ludwig Hohlwein, the most famous German poster artist, designed a poster for the 37/90 hp chain-driven car (detail).

Laying claim to the roads.

The first automobiles would not have arisen in 1886 without the drastic economic and social changes which took place in the 19th century. The automobile’s rise to ascendancy on the roads nevertheless proved a slow and arduous process in which social, economic and political factors all played a role. Germany’s population grew by almost 150 percent in the space of a century, for example, to 56 million. Rural flight and urban squalor were accompanied by poor incomes and low purchasing power. Movement of the population and industrialisation nevertheless rendered mechanical drives and transport ever more important – mobility became essential to earning a living. The democratisation of mobility did not begin in Germany until after the Second World War, while in the USA Henry Ford had heralded the start of mass motorisation almost 50 years earlier.

Safe and highly practical.

Press coverage focused first and foremost on publicising the “horseless carriage” and featuring its creator, thereby establishing a brand. Safety, reliability and suitability for daily use were also highlighted.

In addition to press coverage, the Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft also used the titles of national and international exhibitions to advertise its product offerings. Of even greater importance were car races, which offered vast publicity value and brought the brand international renown.

The focus was on style and the conventions of “fine society”. Slogans such as “Mercedes-Benz shines resplendent”, “Refinement ... free of pomp and whims of fashion” or “The last word” demonstrate a persuasive style of language that gave the brand a clear profile.

Gearing up for future triumphs.

The Daimler and Benz companies amalgamated in 1926 “… in order to offer passenger cars and commercial vehicles of superior quality at reasonable prices.” The three-pointed Mercedes star and Benz’s laurel wreath now formed the new trademark, and the advertisement announcing the amalgamation exuded confidence about the new company’s future success. This confident message was one of the leitmotifs of the advertising campaign, together with the battle to secure recognition and to assert the company’s credo in the face of the prevailing competition. Some advertisements merely unassumingly stated the company’s name, while others were headed by claims such as the “peak of perfection”. Some advertisements presented orthodox graphics and conventional motifs while others were altogether more bold and experimental. Advertising by Mercedes-Benz was generally serious in character, however.

Reaching for the stars.

In the second half of the 1950s Daimler-Benz employed the services of an advertising agency, giving rise to advertising that was more systematic, clearer and more modern in character. The automobile increasingly came to predominate the advertisements as an object of desire. The motifs targeted aspirations, wishes and projections.

Certain types of vehicle were also placed in the spotlight. The automobile was stylised as a status symbol and prestige item. Female figures also began to play an increasingly dominant role, breaking down into two stereotypes: the suggestive, erotic woman and the fiendishly sporty female racing driver.

This draft advertisement from 1929 (Peag) takes up elements of constructivism and is absolutely unique in the world of advertising from Mercedes-Benz.

The “Roaring Twenties”.

The 1920s saw female drivers taking to the wheel as a demonstration of women’s new, more assertive role in society. The female advertising icon of these times was sporty, self-confident, romantic and refined. She was seen as having a good sense of judgement and influence over men – and she was portrayed as craving for a car from her man. She was “attended upon” by archaic gentlemen sporting leather caps and racing goggles. The advertisements’ artists attached great importance to ensuring that the depicted vehicle was recognisable. A growing consciousness of tradition arose at the beginning of the 1930s. Daimler-Benz overcame the global economic crisis which began in October 1929 with an advertising strategy based on the traditional classes of vehicle

From victory to victory.

In 1931 the pressures of the global crisis forced the company to end its involvement in sport. Advertisements nevertheless appeared in the style of racing victory posters in 1938/39. The prototype 300 SL for motor racing finally arrived in the spring of 1952, reviving the topic in earnest. Artistically painted racing victory posters from all over the world glorified the heroes at the wheel while also highlighting the technical superiority of the sports cars concerned. The 300 SL racing sports car demonstrated its strengths on the international racing circuits with engineering originating in part from contemporary series-production passenger cars from Mercedes-Benz.

The racing successes invested the brand with added glamour, and the elaborate racing victory posters communicated a new self-confidence.

“That must have been a Mercedes-Benz...!” This advertisement from around 1936 highlights the fact that dream cars were a rare spectacle (detail).

“That must have been a Mercedes-Benz!”

In the 1950s and 1960s it became common to depict women in communications. Often as smiling front passengers accompanying their well-travelled husbands on excursions – but also as self-confident drivers in their own right. While male customers were assumed to be conversant with the technical aspects of motoring, the ladies were increasingly steered towards the topics of safety, comfort and economy. Advertising slogans such as “A new Mercedes means a new car has arrived” and “Relaxed motoring” indicate a new road which the brand is about to take.