The Packard Motor Car Company was founded in 1899 in Warren, Ohio as the New York & Ohio Automobile Company. James Ward Packer founded the company after purchasing a Winton in 1898, with which he was extremely unsatisfied. When he brought the car back to Winton, they told him that if he was so smart he could build a car himself.
James Ward Packer built the first Packard car with his brother in their electric bell and lamp factory. They also had help from two men they poached from Winton. The first car was complete in November of 1899.
The first advertisement to use the slogan, “Ask the man who owns one,” came in October of 1901. By the time this ad came out, Packard already had a prestigious owner on its side in New York millionaire William D. Rockefeller. Mr. Rockefeller previously drove Winton cars.
An anecdote retelling the creation of Packard’s slogan is featured in many of the company’s histories, including, “Packard 1899-1945.” The following is the retelling that is used over and over again in Packard literature often with slight variation in the wording, but the gist always remains the same:
Time: 1902. Place: Office of J. W. Packard. His secretary speaks: “Here’s a letter from a man who wants information about the dependability of Packard cars.” Replies Mr. Packard: “Since we have no sales literature yet, tell him to just ‘ASK THE MAN WHO OWNS ONE.’” Thus was born the Packard slogan. This 43 year slogan expresses the confidence Packard has in its product.
This anecdote does date the slogan in 1902, but most other sources agree that it was first used in 1901. See Packard: a history of the motor car and the company, pg. 42 for a facsimile of the original advertisement featuring the slogan, which is dated October 1901.
In addition to the 1945 publication quoted above, the collection includes a later company history called “Story of a Living Legend.” This was published in 1955 is available in the Hagley Digital Archives or by clicking on the image to the left.
The company would become affiliated with Studebaker in 1955. The Packard name lasted through the 1958 models and it was then discontinued.
Several modern-day advertising campaigns emulate the “ask the man who owns one” mentality. For example, in July 2010, Hyundai launched the Hyundai ‘Uncensored’ campaign. The press release states,
Hyundai ‘Uncensored’ was born out of the insight that consumers are most influenced by other consumers, so we captured totally organic conversations from people inside our cars and packaged them into an integrated campaign.
The 30-second commercials are available by searching “uncensored” on Hyundai’s official YouTube channel.
In April 2011, Ford took its “Drive one” campaign to the next level with a series of commercials placing real Ford owners into faux press conferences. The premise clearly being that car companies are realizing that a consumer is perhaps more likely to listen to another consumer than to a celebrity spokesperson. Granted, it hardly seems that this will mean the end of celebrity endorsements, but I think it will be interesting to see if this trend continues to grow or expand into other industries.
To learn more about the Packard company and its “Ask the man who owns one” advertising campaigns, there are a number of books in the library’s collection. Among them are Packard: ask the man who owns one, by Otto A. Schroeder, and an 828-page comprehensive history called Packard: a history of the motor car and the company, edited by Beverly Rae Kimes. These books, and the others in Hagley’s collection, can be found by searching the Library Catalog. Also, there are more Packard items from the Vinson collection not mentioned here that have been scanned and are available in the Hagley Digital Archives.
Emily Cottle is the Project Archivist/Cataloger for the Z. Taylor Vinson Collection at Hagley Museum and Library.