If you look at the evolution of automotive advertisements over the past several decades, it will quickly become clear that they have drastically increased in size, scope and artistry since their earliest days. Now, it’s common for important campaigns to have budgets that stretch into the range of millions that are devoted towards lavish CGI effects and high-profile guest appearances.
That’s why Saturn’s 2003 ad, “Sheet Metal,” is so incredible. It explicitly rejects these characteristics, as well as many of the other classic conventions of automotive advertising, such as the conventional wisdom that the advertisement takes the time to actually show the product being sold.
“Sheet Metal” showcases various people going about their daily business, performing car-like actions. For example, the ad shows a man reversing out of his driveway and a young mother picking up several children in the morning, with the important caveat that they’re all on foot.
These bizarre scenes are tied together by a simple voice over that softly explains that, at Saturn, “When we design our cars, we don’t see sheet metal. We see the people who may one day drive them.”
Only on the closing title card are Saturn’s three newest models finally revealed, and even then, they’re unveiled as something of an afterthought to the overall brand message.
Upon its debut, the ad was immediately lauded for its inventive approach and it’s creator, agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, was rewarded with the prestigious Golden Lion at France’s Cannes International Advertising Festival.
Although this ad met with incredible amounts of success and was highly recognized upon its initial debut, it’s quite possible that it could have been even more successful had it been debuted today, assuming an alternate universe in which Saturn was still alive and kicking.
Recent advertisements have seen brands increasingly turn to messages of consumer connection, particularly when attempting to reach millennials, a generation that has thus far been quite reluctant to purchase cars at the rate of their predecessors.
The strongly personal and human aspect of the ad, standing in such stark contrast to the sleek, hyper-machined theme and aesthetic of the majority of modern automotive ads, is emblematic of the ad strategy that has seen the most success with millennials. With that in mind, it’s quite possible that this ad, had it been aired today, could have saved Saturn.
“Throwback Thursday” (#TBT) is Tier10lab’s look back at some of our favorite automotive advertising campaigns. #TBT runs the last Thursday of each month.