Selling a tiger: advertising the 1966 GTO Pontiac

Written by Michelle Toft| February 5th, 2016

Don’t let the stylish exterior fool you, the 1966 GTO Pontiac is a 389 cubic inch four barrel V8 with dual exhaust producing 335 horsepower. This car would have certainly turned heads. Pontiac’s advertising team dubbed the GTO the ‘tiger’, encouraging potential buyers to associate the car with freedom and power: “for the man who wouldn’t mind riding a tiger if someone’s only put wheels on it”. GTOs were displayed with fake tiger heads, tiger print seats, tigers in the hood and even with a tail hanging out the boot. The Museum’s current Pole Position display is a 1966 GTO Pontiac, complete with tiger tail, so make sure you visit the Museum to check it out!

Based on the car’s specs, appearance and the time period in which it was released the GTO could be considered a ‘man’s car’. The 1966 GTO television commercial, however, makes it difficult to determine who the target consumer was. Take a look at the clip for yourself here.

Every aspect of a television commercial is carefully planned to elicit a certain response from the viewer, and generally car commercials aim to appeal to a specific audience.

Keeping this in mind, I feel that some interesting choices were made in this commercial.

Why did Pontiac deliberately use two women?

The 1960s were a period of major social change in the United States. Women were dissatisfied with their role in society and had begun expressing their desire to be treated equally with men. Perhaps this commercial is actually targeted at women, intentionally supporting what is now known as the Second Wave feminist movement. The commercial may present an ideal that the women of that time aspired to. The two women enjoying the Pontiac appear to be independent and are able to handle such a powerful car, symbolising success, wealth and freedom. Does this commercial demonstrate that a woman can be more than a housewife?

On the other hand, and more likely, two attractive women driving a V8 convertible could be aimed at male viewers. It may be attempting to convince men that if they purchase the GTO they will attract the opposite sex. Car equals women seems to be an advertising technique as old as the hills. The voiceover lists the features of the car almost seductively, as the commercial switches back and forth from the car to the smiling women, as if it is suggesting that if you can handle the GTO, you can handle women like this.

What do you think?

Is this an advertisement convincing men that they would look attractive enjoying the freedom of a GTO? Or could it be ahead of its time, reflecting the beginnings of the social change of the  1960s?


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