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ŠKODA – Advertising Through the Ages

ŠKODA is a Traditional Brand with an Eventful History

The L&K factory in Mladá Boleslav

Over the past 121 years, the movers and shakers have time and again proven their creativity and innovative spirit – with bicycles, motorcycles and cars, as well as in breaking long-distance-driving records. The history of advertising impressively illustrates the brand’s adventurous journey – from the first advertisements in 1900 and the Planned Economy to modern online marketing.

Advertising is not a solely modern phenomenon; archaeologists have discovered 4,000-year-old adverts in Egypt. Of course, the Pharaohs didn’t laugh at TV commercials or see billboards with prominent celebrities touting exquisite fragrances. But market criers from Alexandria to Thebes were vehemently and eloquently promoting their treasures; Semitic merchants were chiselling product lists in stone tablets two thousand years ago. With the invention of the printing press, and later radio, TV and the Internet, advertising took on an entirely new dynamic, reaching millions of people around the world at the touch of a button. Just as in the past, advertising is still a matter of taste, reflecting society in its respective era, but with a single goal: promoting sales.

Václav Klement and Václav Laurin

Václav Klement and Václav Laurin recognized the importance of advertising very early on. In 1895, when they laid the foundation for one of the world’s oldest manufacturing companies, they first advertised their innovative bicycles, then motorcycles. This was the beginning of several exciting developments from the pioneering period, through two world wars, the colourful 1920s and the Planned Economy and TV spots, up to modern viral clips on Internet. The company always knew how to capture the zeitgeist perfectly. That gives us a good reason to travel once again through the colourful history of ŠKODA advertising.

Smart Print Advertising: From the Pioneering Era to Playboy Covers

Weighing in on the zeitgeist: Václav Klement was actually a bookseller, but a bicycle purchase and a chance meeting with the mechanic Václav Laurin in Mladá Boleslav led to the founding of Laurin & Klement – L&K – in 1895. The two had not only a first name in common, but also a mutual understanding that made them ideal business partners. From then on, they built bicycles together in Mladá Boleslav under the brand name ‘Slavia’, and advertised them as state-of-the-art – as seen here in this poster from 1898. Obviously, pretty ladies were seen as a good sales argument even in those days.

What appears to be the schematic of an electric bike is actually one of the first printed advertisements for motorcycles of the Mladá-Boleslav brand – published on 1 January 1900 in the sports supplement of a Prague daily newspaper. From 1899, the focus of the L&K start-up slowly but surely shifted in the direction of the motorized two-wheeler. Even here, the pioneers had their finger on the pulse of the time.

Václav Klement proved himself not only as an advertising strategist but as a true spindoctor in 1904. Following a motorcycle race in France in which two factory drivers had ridden L&K machines, he immediately put out an advertisement which read ‘Two at the start, two over the finish line: A two-wheel record. One hundred percent reliability at the highest speed.’ The fact that František Toman and Václav Vondřich only took second and fourth place was subtly ignored.

The gallant gentleman gives the striking lady a helping hand: The leap to automobile production was made. In 1912, L&K spent some 90,000 Czech crowns on advertising, which would be today’s equivalent of around €330,000. This ad is the cover of a 1925 quarterly report, possibly the last one to bear the name Laurin & Klement before the merger with the Pilsen-based industrial group which was then the largest in the country. This gave rise to the ŠKODA brand.

The automobile as evoking elite status: This picture from May 1926 shows the first President of Czechoslovakia Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk standing proudly in front of his brand-new ŠKODA Hispano-Suiza at Lány Castle. As appropriate to his standing, he drove a model from the local Mladá Boleslav brand, albeit with special additions, such as a glass partition between the cockpit and the passenger compartment in the rear.

Despite the difficult environment in the years between the two world wars, ŠKODA’s innovative spirit was particularly evident. In addition to the advertisement with the President, the company focused on headlines about long-distance tours. Advertising and journeys testing reliability were sensationally promoted on flyers, posters and brochures, as well as notice boards.

Fire and steel in the midst of the dreary post-war years: Released in the spring of 1952, the ŠKODA 1200 was the first car with an all-steel body. The advertising messages varied according to the sales region. Whether purchased in the sporty version, as an estate car or even as a reliable ambulance, the 1200 was a true all-rounder.

The pride of Czech mechanical engineers is captured in this picture from 1961. The fourseater L 200, an aircraft bearing the Morava brand name, poses here for the camera with an updated ŠKODA FELICIA. In their day, both were strong ambassadors of their country. At that time, the carmaker from Mladá Boleslav exported high-quality vehicles even to Western Europe, Australia and South America. Sales were also promoted in these regions with textually and graphically compelling advertising.

The ŠKODA models were real classics even in the Planned Economy. The models 105, 120, and 130 were updated continuously over a period of one and a half decades, thus bridging the period between 1975 and 1990. The advertisement was appropriately pragmatic and technocratic, reflecting the spirit of the day. The aesthetics of the images were as minimalist as the text. Similarly, ŠKODA’s engines were also efficient and ahead of their time compared to the competition.

As the Warsaw Pact slipped quickly into history, the company was reprivatized in April 1991: The fact that the sale to Volkswagen AG was not purely a marriage of convenience, but rather a love match, was illustrated in campaigns like ‘IQ + ♥ = ŠKODA’ by British agency Sedley Place Design and the agency GGK. Here, the advertising experts brought their know how and passion for the automotive industry into a coherent and globally comprehensible equation. But it was not only the advertising that was progressively changing: at the turn of the new century, one of the most modern automotive plants in Europe of that time was built in Mladá Boleslav. The ŠKODA OCTAVIA rolled off the production line here from 1996.

The FELICIA as fantasy car: The FELICIA was the first ŠKODA model ever to appear on the cover of the Czech edition of Playboy magazine. Through the coming years, the vehicle would also impress the public that its beauty was more than just skin-deep.

Video Slides: As a British Dessert or a Real Adventure: ŠKODA - Impressive in Every Way

ŠKODA FELICIA – 1994

In 1994, the ŠKODA FELICIA not only adorned the cover of the Czech edition of Playboy magazine, but was also suspended quite casually on ropes. In James-Bond style, the advert features a scene with the car in the air. As the first new model following the merger, it combined the traditional history of ŠKODA with the new Volkswagen era.

ŠKODA FABIA – 2007

A very British ŠKODA advert: In 2007, a team of confectioners baked a life-size ŠKODA FABIA cake to the tune of Mary Poppins classic ‘My favourite things’. While the most British of all nannies sings ‘schnitzel with noodles’, a piece of culinary artwork is created in the background – of course quite like the model itself, with only the finest ingredients.

ŠKODA FABIA – 2008

In 2008, the ŠKODA FABIA won the golden steering wheel: A good reason for the advertising experts to entertain the audience with a wink and some very different testimonials. In their various German dialects, several people explain what they find most appealing about the winner of the competition. Despite all the gibberish, the clip ends by concluding that “Success is a language that everyone understands.”

ŠKODA FABIA RS – 2012

With the arrival of the second generation of the sporty ŠKODA FABIA RS, the related TV commercial got a bit edgier too. The advert opens with a shot of a television screen playing the original and well-known “Cake bakers” ad. As the story unfolds, however, the bakers soon surrender to a much tougher, darker and more technologically enhanced production team that is creating a “bolder” FABIA RS. Components of treacle and jam make way for a body of bone, a snake-powered engine and unorthodox finishing techniques.

ŠKODA YETI – 2014

One ŠKODA YETI driver’s highly unusual weekend was the topic of this English-language ad from 2013. While the protagonist describes adventure after adventure, his colleagues look sheepishly into their cups.

ŠKODA OCTAVIA RS – 2014

A real eye-catcher in 2014: the ŠKODA OCTAVIA RS. The sporty version of this all-rounder turns heads. Even alongside a jumbo-sized baby pram or a Monster trike, a passing ŠKODA OCTAVIA RS causes quite a stir. Clearly, that’s because it ‘exceeds all expectations’.

ŠKODA MADE FOR SWITZERLAND – 2016

This clip for Switzerland is an absolute highlight, demonstrating how advertising can still be targeted to a market even in times of globalization. It plays affectionately with all the stereotypical Swiss clichés and turns them on their head. The marketing experts characterize the Swiss as versatile, cheerful and innovative – just like the new ŠKODA models. The logical conclusion: Switzerland and ŠKODA are simply a perfect match.