These Car Commercials Should be Illegal

Beyond the debate over which mode of marketing is more effective, image marketing or direct response (though I will briefly address that subject, too)…


Why are there no cigarette commercials on TV?


One answer is: It causes lung cancer and it’ll eventually kill you. Okay, score one for our benevolent social mores and representative government.


Of course, smoking also costs health and life insurance companies a fortune – forcing them to pay out billions in claims and benefits.


So, no doubt, they made sure our representative government heard of their powerful and influential displeasure.


These are the same reasons there are no gun commercials on TV. Nor are there any TV commercials selling hard alcohol, though the distinction between hard alcohol and beer and wine escapes me. But it probably has to do, once again, with powerful and influential forces roaming the halls of Congress.


This also might explain why certain car commercials are permitted.


If you’ve noticed…


There are two types of car commercials on TV


You have the dealers, practicing for the most part, though not always, direct response advertising – offering time limited deals while clowning around on the screen like used-car salesman.


And, you have the car manufactures who practice, exclusively, image advertising.


Other than for those small, budget-priced or hybrid cars, the image the manufacturers are selling is sex and speed – in the hope of driving you into the outreached arms of the nearest local dealer.


Personally, I’ve got no problem with sexual innuendos, or even overt expressions. It doesn’t hurt anyone. It doesn’t cause anyone to rape and pillage, or even practice unsafe sex.


If the car manufacturers want to imply that you will look or feel sexier, and attract the opposite sex, by owning one of their sleek and polished models – so be it.


Speed, on the other hand, kills


Which makes you wonder, who has a stronger PAC, the car manufacturers or the insurance companies? What makes the answer to that question even more interesting, and elusive – both industries, to varying degrees, were bailed out by our representative government.


Anyway, when you see on TV a Cadillac SUV for example, speeding down a winding, rain-slicked mountain road in the dead of night, splashing through puddles and spraying jets of water in it’s wake – does that not encourage drivers to do the same?


After all, that looks like so much fun!


Or, how about Jaguars racing each other on urban dark streets, spinning out, breaking, accelerating, burning rubber? Don’t you want to jump off the couch and go out and do that, too – even if you’re only headed to the nearest 7-11 in a 20-year old VW bug?


Or, how about cars smashing through barricades or shushing down snow-covered alpine mountains, or racing fighter jets in the desert and performing multiple 360’s and spraying dust and sand in every direction?


Do you get the point I’m making?


These TV commercials encourage speeding – often reckless speeding – which kills!


So why are they allowed, why is there no public uproar – not to mention from car insurers? Is it collision collusion among certain national players? I don’t know.


I guess I should point out that the same argument can be made against gratuitous violence in the media and in the gaming industry.


No quick answers obviously, but I find it annoying and perplexing nonetheless.



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Barry A. Densa is a freelance marketing and sales copywriter. You can view samples of his work at Writing With Personality. To receive free blog post updates sign up here.


  1. Sean says:


    Great point. I agree with the strangeness of allowing Beer but not wine and liquor. Just like a grocery store in East TN can sell beer but not wine or the “hard stuff.”

    But on the cars, I’m not so sure that speed is as big a killer as we might think – although it is clearly illegal to speed.

    My guess is there simply isn’t enough overwhelming proof for a lobbyist to hang their hat on to stop these kinds of ads.

    And of course speed sells. And if cars get sold, jobs get created – manufacturing jobs which both sides of the aisle love to bring to their state.

    Anyway, here’s a article I found on speed:

    Thanks for the critical thinking lesson.


  2. Aunt Alice says:

    It always surprises me how people can think that advertising is so effective if it’s selling one thing, yet has no effect on behavior if it’s selling another.

    I agree with you about the danger of selling high speed driving. But using sex to sell everything from cars to toothpaste is far from harmless. It has encouraged (if not created) many harmful attitudes about sex in our culture, including the ideas that women are primarily sexual objects (dehumanizing them), that sex itself should be the highest goal/priority in anyone’s life, that if you’re not constantly having wild, passionate sex then something is very wrong with you – but all you need to fix that problem is to buy a certain car or use a certain shampoo. (And if that doesn’t work then something is REALLY wrong with you and you should get professional help or give up on life altogether).

    It encourages discontent among relationships, as no true life woman can compete with the stunningly gorgeous, passionate and inviting image that is presented in these ads, because what is presented and promised there is as far from reality as the ability to speed along a dark, wet and winding road without hurting someone.

    Many, many people have been hurt because men and women alike have believed the images they have seen over and over again and either ended up in depression because they couldn’t live up to the “ideal” they saw on TV, or broke up what could have been satisfying relationships in the search for the “more fun” these ads promise.

  3. I think the new Nissan truck commercials ( are a great example of car companies selling image to the exclusion of anything else – including any actual information about their product/ vehicle. How does a CGI-fest showing a truck doing “awesome” things that it cannot actually do help me as a consumer? I think the rationale that they’re going for is “Now you know there is such a thing as a Nissan truck”, but why should I buy it? What does it do for me that a Ford or Chevy truck doesn’t? Why is it the best choice for me?

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