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How Carmakers Have Finally Figured Out How To Sell Safety

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"Aren't all cars pretty much as safe as others?" If that's the question running through your mind right now, then you're wondering why automakers try to sell safety at all. The fact is, after crash testing, that some cars are safer than others. The feeling is that selling safety will tug at your heartstrings. And after seeing the way safety is sold today, that feeling turns into fact.

Safety as a selling point has come in waves throughout the auto industry. Few automakers have constantly promoted it. But for a certain part of car buyers, especially the ones who always buy new cars, it's a really important point. Subaru has built a reputation of immensely practical cars (sometimes insanely turbocharged) that are among the safest in class. It's resonated with their market and the sales figures are proof.


There's a new ad for the Outback out really has to hit home for the people who buy Outbacks: families with kids.

It's called "They Lived," and that probably makes the ad even harder to watch. But it's so blatantly truthful. It's simple, yet compelling. That's such a rare thing in car ads these days.


It took the better part of 60 years, but selling safety isn't about a "wow" factor. It's just a brutal truth.

I'm a staunch defender of Volkswagen's "Safe Happens" series from the mid-'00s. You can't get much more blatant than these ads.

All of these are big steps forward from Ford's 1956 push on safety. It's about science, and science was a really interesting thing in the '50s. The bad thing is that it feels like a science lecture, and that isn't sexy in the slightest.

You'd think Volvo factors into this discussion, and you'd be right. They've been selling their safety and sturdiness for years.

Except for the Volvo 140 of the 1960s, it was more of a stunt to sex up the physics. It's cool that you can stack six 140s on top of each other, but I don't think that was the impression that was supposed to come away from that.

It took a few more years. Chrysler took a brave step forward in the early 1990s by actively marketing their widespread availability of airbags. They even take a big jab at their rivals.

There's a lot of "Safe Happens" happening in the Chrysler ad that's 15 years older, largely because it's a generally more VW-ish kind of ad. But then look at Subaru, which isn't flashy at all – just brutally honest.


Safety isn't an automotive feature that makes our lives easier, it saves lives. Why it took so long for advertisers to figure out how to sell it right is kind of a mystery. But fortunately there are now great examples of how to do it.