Ode to ads

Look at any publication that’s been around 40 years, and you’ll see its advertising change to reflect the changing concerns and appetites of readers. The four-decade history of Overdrive is no different.

The magazine’s ads in the early 1960s tended to be small, black and white, and straightforward. By the late 1960s, sexy women and color were common.

The magazine’s September 1961 debut issue had advertisements for only a few products but lots of independent truck stops. One of those was the Tucson Truck Terminal in Arizona, which is still in business today.

Frank Jakubik, president of the Triple T, started working at the truck stop almost 25 years ago. Cleanliness and personal attention were always the most important things to emphasize in ads, Jakubik recalls, so Triple T ads featured smiling young men pumping fuel, cleaning windows and bumping the tires of every truck that pulled up. “People have to make the difference,” Jakubik says. “If they don’t make the difference, truckers will fuel and eat up the road.”

By the late 1960s, Overdrive contained full-page color ads of trucks, chain truck stops and fleets trying to lure drivers, many times with scantily clad women, even cartoon women.

On the covers of Overdrive, as well as in the ads, more women wearing less showed up in the 1970s. The advertiser that has made the most of teaming good-looking women with good-looking trucks is Peterbilt, whose “Class” campaign is still in place today. While other advertisers used women in suggestive dress and poses, Peterbilt’s sophisticated models donned cocktail dresses and refrained from provocative stances. “Class. You either have it or you don’t,” say the Pete ads from the mid-1970s. Some other catchphrases of the campaign were “Class. Never outdated” and “Class. Some people have it. So do some trucks. But not very many.” In recent months, the phrase has been “Class pays.”

Tim Vrklan, 38, of Los Angeles, frequently looks for old issues of Overdrive on ebay.com, the online auction site. He remembers Peterbilt ads from the late ’70s, especially those from a particular dealership. “I would look more forward to the Consolidated Peterbilt ads than I would the Tractor of the Month,” Vrklan says. The Consolidated ads were usually two-page spreads that featured a trucker and the truck he bought there. “At that time, there weren’t a lot of showy, custom trucks,” says Vrklan. “It’s funny to look back at them now. They were cutting edge, but they are just plain cabovers.”

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Sexy women were often used in Overdrive ads in the 1960s and ’70s, even cartoon women.

More recruiting ads showed up in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Most used pretty trucks instead of women to draw the calls from owner-operators. Some fleets just used good, old-fashioned promises. An April 1971 Bekins Van Lines ad says, “Bekins keeps your winters green.” In July 1979, Bekins promised owner-operators 55 percent of line haul or $40,000 guaranteed gross annual revenue. One late ’60s Bekins ad shows a new Freightliner cabover and says, “You can’t buy rigs like this with hollow promises.”

When Randall Publishing Co. bought Overdrive from founder Mike Parkhurst in 1986, its new editors focused the articles at a reader more concerned with making a profit than with looking at pretty women or tangling with the government. Ads from Peterbilt and others mirrored that evolution. “There is a powerful combination for maximizing your profit picture – a Peterbilt truck plus an operator who knows how to drive it the way it is designed to be driven,” says a November 1989 ad.

As the 1990s brought new technology and new levels of luxury to owner-operators, advertising for products such as trucking software, fuel additives, truck polishes and synthetic oils told owner-operators how they could make more money and look good doing it. Ads appealed to a smarter owner-operator who cared about his bottom line.

In the December 1974 ad above, Alcoa spoke directly to truckers.

In late 1989, Alcoa ran an ad that claimed eight reasons for buying its wheels, including more tire miles and longer brake life. “Alcoa forged wheels look as good on your books as they do on the road.”

Truck stop ads, though mostly for nationwide chains, still focus on smiling service and personal attention. Whereas truck stop ads filled the first issues of Overdrive, today most of the advertising comes from fleets touting still higher pay, more miles, more family time and fewer hassles. Some just rely on their reputation. A Bekins ad from this past year says, “We were the first, and we are here to stay.”

Advertising in the new millennium assumes readers care more about business and technical issues: websites, GPS, satellite radio, Web-enabled cell phones, CD-ROM maps, PrePass systems and more.

Not all readers have the need – or the cash – for new technologies. But all advertisers understand that a trucker’s equipment no longer means just a rig and that smart owner-operators learn from many sources, including ads, which products, services and fleet information can help them prosper.