Vehicular Lust

December 8, 2015

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By Matt Wolfe

Ned Jordan founded the Jordan Motor Car Company in 1916. Believing cars of the era were “too dull and drab”, he set out to appeal to the market where cars were objects of desire, rather than tools of necessity. Jordan was not a gifted engineer, a production genius, or a skilled racer. He was an absolutely brilliant marketer who was able to sell his cars using sex appeal rather than a spec sheet. Jordan christened his automobiles with evocative names like Sport Marine, Silhouette and Playboy, and made them available in colors like Apache Red, Ocean Sand Gray, Venetian Green, Egyptian Bronze and Chinese Blue.

Jordan was one of the first to market his vehicles directly to women, running full-page color ads in many women’s magazines and not only showing women driving his cars, but making them the focus of the advertisement. His most famous ad, titled “Somewhere West of Laramie”, was actually inspired by a young woman riding a horse alongside a train to Wyoming that he was riding on. As the woman smiled and waved at the passengers, Jordan began to hatch an idea for a new ad. What he produced was one of the earliest examples of selling a product through an image. The ad was so successful that Advertising Age selected it as one of the 100 most influential advertising campaigns of the last century.

Jordan’s ads were not always universally acclaimed; one of his advertisements landed him in hot water with the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (an organization that could only have existed during the prohibition era). The ad in question was titled “In the Middle of the Night”, and presented a Jordan Victoria parked at the end of a snowy street. The copy that accompanied the imagery implied that the occupants inside the vehicle were doing a little more than keeping each other warm. Jordan wrote a formal letter of apology which, intentional or not, garnered even more publicity than the ad itself for Jordan’s cars.

Though Jordan automobiles were well-built and marketed, the company did not last through the depression. The economic downturn took many carmakers down with it, including Jordan. The cars may be forgotten by many, but the tactics used to advertise them have been used successfully by numerous other businesses, proving that Jordan was truly among the greatest marketers of his time.

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