Feb 27 2012: Cover Designs From Three Issues Of The Vauxhall Motorist Magazine (1956 – 1957)

The integration of product branding and lifestyle is sometimes thought of a fairly recent phenomenon, but it goes much further back than we tend to think: this example – a magazine produced for Vauxhall owners, crammed with advertising and features on the many and varied things that might catch the fancy of an implicitly discerning motorist – is from the 1950s, an era that listening to some people’s ‘golden age’ ramblings, not least in our current media, you’d imagine to have been entirely free of such shenanigans. Not that Vauxhall were pioneers. Their approach is a recognisable knock off of the kind of thing Shell were doing with their UK touring guides and posters during the 1920s and 30s, and Shell, in their turn, by commissioning artists and writers of the day to design posters and contribute to guides (Paul Nash, John Betjeman, Geoffrey Grigson and John Piper were key figures) were merely following the lead of companies like Pears in the Victorian era, who famously bought out the copyright in John Everett Millais’ A Child’s World (1885) and retitled it Bubbles in order to press its sentimental appeal into the service of selling soap. In this sense, The Vauxhall Motorist follows in a long tradition of using a potential customer’s aspirations to discernment as levers designed to break down resistance to products that might otherwise be seen as contrary to the things their clients value. What, after all, has helped obliterate the distinction between urban and rural – the rural that here is sold as the liberating destination of the Vauxhall motorist – to the same degree as motoring itself?  Of course, the articles on church stonework, rural customs and British shorelines jostle with pieces on urban traffic control systems and consumer guides, but all seem subservient, in the end, to the real function of the magazine, and its biggest profit engine, the provision of space for advertising directed at a self-selecting market of Vauxhall drivers. Some of this advertising material will appear here tomorrow.

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