1958 Edsel Ad, Favorite Car Ads: 1958 Edsel
1958 Edsel Ad

The Edsel was no worse, nor much better, than other American cars of its day. The brand’s failure has been attributed to a number of factors, but as an armchair historian, I blame three things: a shock-and-awe launch, confusing marketing, and false hope, that latter point relates to the ad seen here.

More Favorite Car Ads

Favorite Car Ads: 1958 Edsel

There was, of course, the recession of 1958, which is an external factor not be overlooked. But the economy was just part of Edsel’s problem.

As for the launch, Edsel went from nothing to a major, full-blown car brand in almost no time. A little perspective: It has taken Tesla more than a decade to sell half a million cars annually in the U.S. Ford executives planned for Edsel to better that volume in its first year out. This when the total market for new cars was just a third what it is today.

Too Big

The brand launched with 18 models across four trim levels available in an advertised 90 color combinations and multiple body styles—nearly as much product as was available from Ford and Chevrolet—from a start-up company with no clear brand identity. Not only was the Edsel launch a logistical nightmare, the massive rollout was far too much for consumers to wrap their heads around. Which brings us to my second point…

Dead-Brand Madness! 10 Classic Edsel Ads

Too Confusing

1958 Edsel Ad
1958 Edsel Ad

What was Edsel? We know that Ford had meant for the Edsel brand to compete with Pontiac and Dodge, both midlevel marques which had enjoyed considerable popularity throughout the Fifties. Ford’s Mercury brand, positioned closer to the maker’s Lincoln Brand than it was to the Ford division, was positioned out of reach of mainstream shoppers looking for something more than a Ford or Chevy, but still reasonably priced.

To that end, Edsel launch advertising was heavily focused on positioning the product in terms of price relative to the “low-cost three” (Ford, Chevy, Plymouth.) There were a couple of problems with this messaging. First, it was confusing, and wasted good ad copy on a rather unglamorous aspect of the car. And, secondly, the Edsel lineup came in a little pricier than the public probably expected, with a number of models priced more like Mercury products than Pontiac or Dodge.

Taboo at the time, calling out the competition by name—Dodge, Pontiac—and making direct comparisons would have likely helped position Edsel better in the eyes of consumers. Instead, too many ads focused on price. But, about this ad…

Happy Talk That Didn’t Move the Metal

1958 Edsel Ad
1958 Edsel Ad

Too Ugly (False Hope)

I believe this was the first national print ad for Edsel; it appeared for the first time in August of 1957. It’s a teaser, and says little, but does promise something special. It suggests the Edsel would be good looking. Per the anonymous truck driver quoted in the ad, “Man, would I like to have one of these.”

Man, would I like to own one of these. Ultimately, the public was less enthusiastic about Edsel styling than was our truck-driver friend. The general response to the 1958 Edsel look ranged from “meh,” to ugly, with only a small population of critics and would-be buyers actually excited about the design.

In a convenient nutshell, this ad summarizes the over-reaching hubris that was Edsel. A brand launched from nowhere and expected to be nearly as big as Ford or Chevy its first year out. Why do I love this ad? I love it because as long as those cars remained covered, Edsel could have been anything. Instead, it became a metaphor, challenged only by “Titanic,” as shorthand for failure.

You know the rest of the story. The short-lived brand survived only three model years before being retired. Sadly, there’s no word as to whether or not the truck driver ever got his hands on one.

Listen to the Consumer Guide Car Stuff Podcast

Follow Tom on Twitter

Favorite Car Ads: 1958 Edsel

(Click below for enlarged images)

Favorite Car Ads: 1958 Edsel

Photo Feature: 1960 Edsel Ranger

Favorite Car Ads: 1958 Edsel

Car Stuff Podcast

Share this: