Transportation, Film and Advertising



Grade Level & Subject: 9-12, Social Studies, History.

Length: 1-2 class periods


After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Theorize about the role advertising plays in the film industry
  • Conceptualize the link between capitalism and media
  • Explain the issues related to building a brand name

National Standards Addressed:[1]

This lesson addresses the following National Standards for History from the National Center for History in the Schools:

As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop understanding of:

As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop understanding of:

  • Understands economic, social, and cultural developments in contemporary United States

This lesson addresses the following National Standards for Art Education from the Consortium of National Arts Education Associations:

As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop understanding of:

  • Students describe the function and explore the meaning of specific art objects within varied cultures, times, and places

Materials Needed:

  • Computer and screen projection equipment.
  • Reproducible #1: 3 Magazine Advertisements
  • Reproducible #2: 11 Magazine Advertisements By Year
  • Reproducible #3: 11 Magazine Ads Answer Sheet in Years
  • Reproducible #4: Is Digital Revolution Driving Decline in U.S. Car Culture?
  • Reproducible #5: Nate Silver: The End of Car Culture

Students will be assessed through the following activities:

  • Participation in class discussion
  • Clip and ad matching activity
  • Writing an essay



Relevant Vocabulary:

  • Product Placement: the inclusion of a product in a television program or film as a form of paid advertisement.[2]
  • Audience Duplication: The number or percent of households or individuals reached by one program (or station) that are also reached by another program (or station).[3]
  • Market Potential: The estimated maximum total sales revenue of all suppliers of a product in a market during a certain period.[4]

Background Information:

In film, the automobile’s use as a symbol is as varied as the different models that have graced the silver screen. We’ve seen the car represent freedom, escape, man fighting against nature and the inevitable etc. However, when viewed in conjunction with advertising, the automobile in film takes on a whole new meaning. It is no secret that advertisements aim to dig into our collective unconscious. Some ad campaigns involve catchy jingles, others try to influence by evoking fear. Cars are embedded deeply within the American psyche, and have been imbued with a kind of intangible aura that makes them appear to have always been, as the saying goes, super cool. It hasn’t always been this way though. The mystique of the automobile in America has been carefully constructed. Consider the term, “Car Culture.” That is how much of the rest of the world views American’s, as obsessed with cars. Where did this obsession come from: the wide open spaces of the West, the ever-expanding suburbs, the status associated with owning a luxury or muscle car? Whatever the origin, it is clear that this obsession is quite a boon for the auto industry. It follows then, that they would allocate significant resources towards the perpetuation of this culture, this obsession; the more car culture is firmly ingrained in the American psyche, the better. And what better place to perpetuate a trend than in Hollywood…  


  • Original Car Ads –Ad Classix



Warm-up: Product Placement

  1. Ask your students how often they go to the movies, and what type of films they enjoy. Are they familiar with the concept of product placement? Answers may vary, however give simple examples of characters drinking a particular brand of soda, or eating a specific brand of cereal in a film. Lead a short discussion about the typical characteristics and advantages of product placement:
  2. Are product placement items typically expensive? No, they’re usually items that are small, inexpensive and commonly used such as food, shoes or toiletries.
  3. How do they work? By showing images of “valued characters” using products, Hollywood assumes that the public will want to use these products as well.
  4. Can the class recall any specific instances of blatant product placement?  Answers may vary.
  5. Show “Wayne’s World – Selling Out” clip.[5] End the warm-up by asking students if they can think of a product that doesn’t fit the usual product placement mold, but that is used in nearly every film, and by nearly everyone in this country, nearly everyday. The answer, of course, is the automobile.

Activity One: Auto Ads & Films: a History

  1. This activity will take students through a brief history of automobile advertisements and ask them to pair them up with their film counterparts, while thinking critically about the link between the two. Begin by handing out reproducible #1. These depict what auto advertising was like just as the film industry was beginning to blossom. Typically, magazines were the only outlet where automakers could show images of their cars to large audiences. However, with the boom of the film industry this all changed.
  2. Show “1940 Chevrolet” clip.[6]
  3. Ask students their reaction to this clip; what differences they notice in this advertisement from the 40’s. There are many differences, but one of the most striking is the lack of flash and mystique that is prevalent in contemporary car commercials They may say the ad is boring – and they are correct.. These cars were marketed as comfortable and safe, a far cry from the aura of today’s cars, but that was all soon to change.
  4. Show the rest of the film clips in chronological order, and ask student to pay attention to the changes in how cars were portrayed in these films. As the years progressed how did the cars change: their look, people’s attitudes towards them? Are the cars status symbols, symbols of rebellion?
  5. Rebel Without a Cause.”[7]  1955.
  6. Bullit.”[8] 1968.
  7. Easy Rider.”[9] 1969.
  8. American Graffiti.”[10] 1973.
  9. Smokey and the Bandit[11]  1977.
  10. Back to the Future.”[12]  1985.
  11. Ronin.”[13] 1998.
  12. Fast and Furious.”[14]  2001.
  13. “Italian Job.”[15]  2003.
  14. Transformers.”[16]  2011.
  1. After the clips have all been shown, hand out reproducibles #   , and ask students if they can match the magazine advertisements up with the appropriate film era (some of the ads represent the advertising trend from before and after the film, i.e. how the film changed the advertising).
  2. For homework and assessment, consider breaking the class into groups according to decade. Assign each student a short essay, in which they detail how auto advertising and films from their decade grew and influenced each other. Was it a chicken or the egg type of scenario? Was there a large cultural event that changed both at once? The essay should be a critical look at why history happened the way it did. will be a useful resource in locating old magazine ads.

Wrap Up: The Future

  1. End this lesson with a discussion in which the class ponders the future relationship of the auto and advertising industries. Will cars continue to be as popular in the future? Will the internet and the increased prevalence of targeted advertising change how automobiles are marketed?  Distribute copies of Reproducibles #4 & 5  for students to read and discuss their reactions to the article.  How did the ideas in this article compare and contrast with what they discovered in class?.
  2. Consider the futuristic film clips you saw in class: has the future turned out as depicted in “Back to the Future”? Will cars move in the direction of “Transformers,” at least in their ability to be intelligent and multitask?

Extension Activity: What is the Real Effect?

  1. Assign students different iconic cars that were used in popular films.  Ask students to research the sales of these cars over time.  Did sales increase after a movie featuring this car hit the box office?



In this lesson, students learned about the importance of advertising in American society. They examined how advertisements for cars have changed over time and analyzed what this says about cars as symbols in American culture. They were able to draw parallels between car advertisements and the use of cars in films. Finally, students were able to hypothesize about the roles cars play in shaping American culture, and thus how the way they are advertised will change in the future. 



Josh Volinsky – Author

            Green Schools Coordinator, Earth Day Network

[2]“Product Placement Entry.”  Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved July 11, 2011 from

[3]“Audience Duplication Entry.”  Neilson Media Glossary of Terms.  Retrieved July 11, 2011 from

[4]“Market Potential Entry.”  Business Online Dictionary.  Retrieved Jully 11, 2011 from

[5]"Wayne's World - Selling Out." Web. 13 Jul 2011.

[6]"The Trip, 1940's chevrolet car commercial vivid Technicolour." Web. 13 July 2011.

[7]“The Chicken Game.” Web. 13 July 2011.

[8]“Bullitt Trailer (1968).” Web. 13 July 2011.

[9]“Easy Rider -1969 – Original Trailer.” Web. 13 July 2011.

[10]“American Graffiti Trailer.” Web. 13 July 2011.

[11]“Smokey and the Bandit Original Film Trailer.” Web. 13 July 2011.

[12]“Back To The Future Part I Original Theatrical Trailer.” Web. 13 July 2011.

[13]“Ronin – Trailer – HQ.” Web. 13 July 2011.

[14]“Fast and the Furious Trailer.” Web. 13 July 2011.

[15]“The Italian Job (2003) Trailer.” Web. 13 July 2011.

[16]“Transformers 3 Dark Of The Moon Trailer # 3 EastwoodClinton Movie Updates.” Web. 13 July 2011.