With a name like Oldsmobile, it’s hard to shake the air of stodginess. By 1989, GM was more than aware. By that point, though, it was hard to make a splash with new technology like front-wheel-drive. Everyone had seen that. But they hadn’t met most celebrities’ kids. And so that’s what Oldsmobile gave them.
The Campaign was called “The New Generation of Oldsmobile,” and the idea was to convince buyers that what the brand was selling these days was nothing like the boats the brand used to push, that “Olds” could stand for youth, somehow.
So how did Oldsmobile shoot their shot? They called up big celebrities and asked if their kids felt like doing a car ad or two. Okay, so the campaign didn’t really come together that way (it was actually the work of big Chicago ad firm Leo Burnett), but it’s exactly what the result was.
And truthfully, they got a lot of celebrities’ kids on board to make these ads Ringo Starr’s daughter is in one, Harry Belafonte’s son and daughter sing a duet about the Toronado Trofeo in another, Indy driver Gary Bettenhausen takes his son’s Cutlass Supreme to the track too. So many names feature that it’s hard to list them all.
All that star power turned out to be worthwhile for Oldsmobile. In fact, an L.A. Times article from back then says that celebrities were calling up asking to be featured in the campaign. It was that successful.
Though the whole idea that these ads would be able to change the public image of the brand that sold the Ninety-Eight in your grandfather’s driveway seems a little far-fetched, there was some substance to the idea that Oldsmobile had turned a corner. In the late ‘80s, GM used the geriatric-ally named brand as a kind of testbed for driver-focused technologies that would eventually trickle into vehicles designed and built around the world. In 1988, Oldsmobile built Cutlass Supreme pace cars for the Indy 500 that featured the world’s first heads-up display, for example, and the late ‘89 Toronado Trofeo got a goddamn touchscreen. In 1989. That’s more than thirty years ago.
Sure, those features are nothing compared to the revolution in American car design the first Toronado brought about, but you could tell GM was really trying to walk the walk too. Whether it was enough to make the Toronado Trofeo a Bond Car, or even a Bond’s Daughter Car is up in the air though.
As someone who wouldn’t be born for nearly four more years after these ads aired, I’m not terribly convinced that I would be swayed to consider a 1989 Cutlass, Eighty-Eight or Toronado by these. It seems that while this campaign was somewhat successful amongst the people who are old enough to have seen it back then, though, even if the band would only be around for another fifteen years. That’s a shame, but at least Oldsmobile’s comeback campaign didn’t have people failing to recognize the cars, unlike a certain other GM brand.