Digital History - Histoire Numérique

Car Advertisements in Windsor Ontario 1928-1958


This collection analyzes car advertisements from Windsor, Ontario from 1928-1958 every ten years. I analyze the advertisements through brand, material, depiction, selling point, and value. I chose these specific advertisements because of the use of gendered language and expectation on the reader. The primary sources offer an insight into the different societal expectations of men and women within a different context. This context is not so far removed from contemporary society, and it is important to understand the evolution of gender expectations and stereotypies. 

In order to extrapolate the most elements of the advertisements, I am ultimately tracking the change over time of the advertisements and if these advertisements are becoming more gender specific. Analyzing history within a gendered lens is useful in order to gain a deeper understanding of societal context in a time when gendered expectations were much more prominent, clear, and distinct. By focusing on the depiction of women through the advertisements, I can gain some insight into how the producer engineered their advertisements towards men and women. There are of course limitations to my sources as they only portray depictions of gender expectations from the producer’s perspective and not the consumer.

Initially, I started out with the years 1928-1968, but I then changed the years from 1928/1929, 1938/1939, 1948/1949, 1959/1960. I begin in 1928 because that is the earliest date that the microfilm begins, and going consecutively every ten years  up until 1948/1949 bypasses global events that may have taken precedent over other advertisements such as the depression and Second World War. Up until 1948/1959 I analyze microfilm from the Library and Archives Canada. After that year, I used Google Archives as it was easier to use but only begins in 1959 as opposed to 1958. That is the reason why I end with 1959/1960, but no major event happened between 1958 and 1959 and the 1959/1960 ads are still relevant and worth examining.

For value, only the ones in 1928 and 1938 actually say the price of the car, so past those years I don’t have the prices for the cars. Function describes the ad and how its selling itself, whether it be on safety features, middle class affordability, aesthetics, comfort, dependability, or modernity.

I define ‘modernity’ as ‘the next-best-thing’. Many advertisements who use this kind of jargon emphasize the latest technology, the newness of the car, and the advanced features. Similar to ‘luxury’ in that it may promote the envy of others, ‘modernity’ is associated with newness and  distinctly ‘modern’.

There were some cars in the later years which emphasized ‘Middle class affordability’. This mentality described how affordable the car was to almost everyone, and so the ease of accessibility and the first waves of mass consumption post-war can be associated with the raising incomes. The ‘material’ emphasis how the ad describes the car. Most of them are based on quality-price value which I define as ‘getting more for your dollar’, some of them are aesthetics of the car and engine models, and a small minority are nationalistic.

The initial phases of my research found that most ads were fairly gender neutral. I define ‘gender neutral’ from a male lens since the target and expected audience would be the men unless clearly a woman is clearly depicted or “speaking” in the advertisement. 1948/9-1959/60 tend to favour ‘quality-price-value’ and ‘safety’ as their selling points. While the description of the car goes from one of luxury to one of accessibility for all, the distinctions made between genders becomes increasingly prominent by the 1959/60 advertisements. 





By: Nicole Taylor