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The green car: Television automobile advertising and the environmental attitudes of television viewers

Will Hughes, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Television contributes to social learning. Most people believe in supporting the environment yet high-polluting, gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks are the most popular vehicles purchased by Americans. The literature supports the view entertainment television talks very little about the environment and the causes or solutions to pollution. Television informational programming rarely reports on environmental issues and may actually vilify the environment by emphasizing natural disasters, storms, etc. Some informational programs trivialize nature. Into this milieu, ubiquitous ads trumpet the automobile as a means to access and dominate nature. Mobility and the status of owning an automobile are lifestyle values advanced by the Dominant Social Paradigm and its cultural arm, television. The automobile is the most advertised product in history. Manufacturers have made automobiles an integral part of the American lifestyle by placing automobiles prominently in cultural products such as movies, songs and television shows and supporting the products with billions of dollars in advertising. For over 100 years, ads portrayed the automobile as a means to access and dominate nature, a form of status and an integral component of the American Dream. This project documents the role of automobiles and mobility in popular culture through a cultural history of the automobile. A content analysis of 200 automobile commercials was conducted to investigate natural images in television ads. Finally, focus group research was used to hear discourses about automobiles, the environment and automobile advertising. Americans privilege mobility. The role of the automobile in American society and culture is quite salient. Although people articulate concern for the environment in the abstract, the root causes of these problems do not seem apparent to most people. Immediate action or action by individuals to address environmental problems is not critical. There is considerable faith that technology, industry or the government will solve environmental problems before they impact lifestyle. Industry causes pollution, not people or the consumerist lifestyle.

Subject Area

Mass media|Marketing|Environmental science

Recommended Citation

Hughes, Will, "The green car: Television automobile advertising and the environmental attitudes of television viewers" (2005). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3179887.