In this advertisement for the Dodge Challenger, George Washington is the image icon meant to stir up the viewer’s emotions. Outside of simply being the first president, George Washington is often referred to as the father of our country. He was a brave war hero depicted in many famous paintings for his acts, most notably crossing the Delaware. His bravery is often exalted to heroic levels and he is a perfect symbol of the spirit that our country was founded on. He is a symbol of freedom and just being “American” in general, which is obviously what Dodge is attempting to convey in this advertisement. To dislike George Washington is to be un-American, so this ad is certainly attempting to play on that idea of national pride. This advertisement is not necessarily “universal” in that not everybody wants their car to be American, but the idea of national pride is certainly universal, and that is what this ad is playing on. The car could be positioned with another famous war hero (in a relevant situation) and have just as strong of a message in another country, and the same idea would remain intact. However, most educated people in the world would understand the message in this particular ad regardless of their feelings toward America because they would understand what George Washington meant to the country.
The Dodge Challenger itself is strategically positioned in the middle of what looks to be a “painting” (since photographs were not around in the Revolutionary War) with George Washington standing proudly with his hand on it. This is almost as to suggest that George has a deep connection to this vehicle and that this car stands for everything that he stands for. Put the two together and the advertisement is trying to say that the Dodge Challenger is as American as the founder of our country, which is obviously seeking those potential consumers who take pride in their country.
Breaking down this advertisement in terms of semiotics, we can look at the two pieces as a signifier and signified. From Barthes point of view, the signifier in this advertisement is the Dodge Challenger and the signified is the concept of being a true American as discussed above. Put together this ad is trying to say that the Dodge Challenger is the car for a true American. The tagline, “This is the car you buy because you can’t buy a bald eagle,” further demonstrates this sign by bringing yet another sign of national pride into the pitch. From Peirce’s point of view this ad takes on all three forms of signs. As an iconic sign, the car is positioned within other soldiers to seem like a part of the militia; most likely as George Washington’s “horse.” The sign is the same as in Barthes’ model in that soldiers fight for freedom, so the Challenger is a sign of freedom, but it is iconic because it is intended to appear to be part of the army (despite obviously being misplaced in time). It could even be extended further if the car is intended to represent George Washington’s horse (by its positioning) in that it could be the car is a sign of hard work and strength (Cartwright & Marita, 31). From a symbolic standpoint, the fact that the car is the Dodge Challenger is something that would require a viewer to understand the English language. The tagline is probably the best demonstration of a symbolic sign because somebody would recognize an image of a bald eagle, but may not necessarily understand what it is or what it stands for by just seeing the word without knowledge of the language (Cartwright & Marita, 32). Finally, as an indexical sign, the idea that this ad is a photograph is attempting to create the idea that this moment actually happened in history. Obviously the car was not at this moment in history, but “photos never lie,” so one can see what the advertisers were attempting to do(Cartwright & Marita, 33).
Overall this advertisement for the Dodge Charger creates a very clever advertisement in an attempt to sell the car as a true American vehicle. The use of George Washington as a symbol of the American spirit was a good one, and the execution of the image itself was excellent. For me personally this advertisement is not very convincing simply because every auto maker is trying to take the “American car made in America” route, but most of them are made overseas. I think this is certainly the cleverest approach, and the TV commercials that accompany this ad campaign are quite entertaining, but it is nothing new for me. Granted, I am also not as swayed by “made in America” as some people are. I drive a Toyota, and I’m not sure if it came from one of their American factories or Japan, but I’m happy with it. I just want my car to work well; it doesn’t matter where it comes from. Even if it comes from America, I don’t know if I’m putting Americans to work or just machines, so it is really just not a good angle for me personally. As a marketing major, I would say it is an effective ad for transmitting the intended message, but as a consumer I would say it is nothing more than an amusing ad.
Cartwright, L., Marita, S. (2009). Practices of looking: An introduction to visual culture. (2nd ed., pp. 31- 33). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.