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Willys Makes Sense Campaign

• CATEGORIES: Advertising & Brochures, Features

UPDATE II: Here are two more Willys Make Sense ad that were featured in Sunday newspapers (seller indicates both were from 1951):

This one is currently on eBay for $20:

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This one is currently on eBay for $20:

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Originally posted May 29, 2019:  Here’s another Willys Makes Sense ad from the February 13, 1951, issue of the Evening Star newspaper that differed from the others.

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Original Post: May 21, 2019:

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In 1950, Willys-Overland launched a Willys Makes Sense advertising campaign. Unlike past campaigns, such as the 1948 City and City ads, which were about encouraging the sales of wagons and positioning the wagon as a luxury vehicle, the Willys Makes Sense appears to have been organized to re-imagine how the public should view the brand.

Before I get too deeply into this, I’d like to note that the way I’d prefer to write this article is to document specific reasons behind Willys-Overland’s decision to make such a big change. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to enough financial material as I’d like (especially annual reports). So, conjecture and theory will have to do for now.

BACKGROUND: After WWII, pent up demand meant lots of sales for automakers. That could explain, in part, why post-war sales were pretty good for Willys-Overland. For example, sales increased from almost 79,000 jeeps in 1946 to 159,000 jeeps in 1948. But, in 1949, sales plunged to almost half, coming in at 86,000. I don’t have details into why sales dropped so much, but likely parts or material shortages or labor disputes could have had an impact. Certainly, the recession of late 1948 – late 1949 didn’t help sales at all!

Future sales might not have looked too good for 1950 and beyond either. As of 1950 the US produced 76% of automobiles, but given the post-war rebuilding/resurging of industry world-wide, I expect automakers must have realized that international competition would return soon (by 1955 US market share would drop to 67%). This may have stimulated management to clean up their branding as soon as possible to protect against increasing competition (remember that Willys-Overland had expected to sell 25% of their autos internationally, based on the 1946 Fortunate Magazine article).

Another issue Willys-Overland was facing was that going into 1950 the company still didn’t have a registered trademark for the term JEEP (wouldn’t get it until June of 1950). Added to that, the company was not only producing 4WD 1/4 ton jeeps, trucks, and wagons, but also 2WD trucks, wagons, Jeepsters, and an upcoming automobile. Such a portfolio of non-4WD vehicles must have concerned management that it wasn’t just a “jeep” company; so the challenge of how the company should represent itself to dealers and consumers had to have become an issue.

Finally, in a similar vein, up until 1950, the company had been positioning itself as the ‘Jeep’ company, with ads that emphasized the Universal ‘Jeep’, the ‘Jeep’ Truck and the ‘Jeep’ Wagon. Perhaps with the introduction of the Jeepster (note that the company did not call it the ‘Jeep’ Jeepster nor was there any ‘Jeep’ branding on the introductory brochure), the branding issue must have really came to a head. Because of the entrenched nature of Willys-Overland’s efforts to become ‘Jeep’, management may have felt that a company-wide retooling of the  company’s branding was in order.

Perhaps one, two, or all of these issues resulted in the 1950 rebrand of the company as a WILLYS manufacturer with a wide range of 2WD and 4WD vehicles for sale. (For a look back at 1952, see Derek’s post “When the CJ-3B Was New“).

NON-JEEP BRANDED ADS: 

Willys-Overland began 1950 with an ad that felt similar to past ads, but excluded the ‘Jeep’ brand. For example, in January of 1950 Willys published this ad in the Saturday Evening Post. Note the reference to ‘Jeep’ has been replaced with a small ‘Jeep’ badge.

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January 07, 1950, ad in the Saturday Evening Post

As did Colliers Magazine on January 21, 1950:

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