Home » Ambulance Marketing Is A Puzzle: Cold Start

Ambulance Marketing Is A Puzzle: Cold Start

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I’m always a little confused when I see old ads for things like ambulances, especially ads like these, which seem to be quite similar to general car advertising of the era. Were people who buy ambulances making their decisions based on what they see in ads? Are purchasing managers for entire municipalities being swayed by these stylized drawings? These pre-van-style ambulances, based on car chassis (in this case, a Chrysler New Yorker) always baffled me, too, because they seem so cramped for what the needs of an ambulance seem to be? Why weren’t these based on trucks or vans from the get-go? Also, what was “Economy-Chrysler?”

Cs Ambulance Chrysler

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

You know what else kind of alarms me? The strangely close relationship, in the past, between ambulances and hearses. In fact, look at the copy in that ambulance ad up there, in that paragraph on the right:

“Chrylser engineering – plus practical designing that foresees and precisely fills the exacting requirements of the funeral director’s profession.”

Wait, what? I thought this was an ambulance– why are we getting funeral directors involved here? Isn’t that jumping the gun, a bit? What if you’re just in there for, say, a broken shin or something? Can we all just take a minute to calm down here? Help! It’s not my time! I’m not ready! Get that funeral director out of here!

Cs Ambulance Caddy

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The “Economy-Chrysler” brand has a pretty basic ad, so it stands to reason that a higher-end brand like Cadillac would class up their ambulance ad – with Rockettes! Rockettes that, the small print reminds us, are courtesy Radio City Music Hall.

Is this how ambulances were sold? Was a hospital director ever asked why they went with the pricier Cadillac – sorry, Superior-Cadiallac ambulance instead of the relentlessly rational Economy-Chrysler, and did they respond that the line of Rockettes in the ad really made a compelling argument for the big, lovely, yellow Caddy ambulance, which zips through the night like a life-saving banana?

If that approach didn’t work, I’m sure they could just note that the Caddy ad at least didn’t mention funeral directors.

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ScottyB
ScottyB
1 month ago

I’m living for that GIF.

Robert Swartz
Robert Swartz
1 month ago

Reminds me that my 2nd favorite car print ad (after “It’s ugly, but it gets you there”) was a local Cadillac dealer ad that showed the back of a hearse with the door open and said, “Don’t let your first ride in a Cadillac be your last.”

Robert Swartz
Robert Swartz
1 month ago

Economy was a convertor out of Memphis who built Chrysler-based ambulances and hearses in the 1950s, as well as ones converted from Pontiacs, Chevrolets, and Dodges. And many if not most funeral homes also offered ambulance services, which were common in America until the rise of paramedics and van-based ambulances in the early 70s. Many smaller operators had combination hearse/ambulances, with removable side window curtains and emergency lights. Here’s the Economy page on coachbuilt.com: http://www.coachbuilt.com/bui/e/economy/economy.htm

James Carson
James Carson
1 month ago

Got stuck behind a funeral procession in a burb of London UK once. The here was a very fancy horse drawn carriage.

EricTheViking
EricTheViking
1 month ago
Reply to  James Carson

Must be those dreadful “Travellers” who favoured the horse-drawn carriages as hearse.

James Carson
James Carson
1 month ago
Reply to  EricTheViking

No, it was a real funeral. Saw a few ‘Travellers’ in my UK visits as well. Most of them seemed to be using more modern pull-behind RV trailers. I encountered one guy who had a sort of busker, one-man band thing going. Cam Cole is his name. Check him out, quite talented.

Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
1 month ago

Those Aston Martin DBX707 ambulances look pretty speedy
https://www.eurekar.co.uk/articles/2023-03-03/aston-dbx-becomes-super-ambulance

Chartreuse Bison
Chartreuse Bison
1 month ago

Boeing has commercials, as do lots of other companies that only sell million dollar+ things to companies
Yeah I don’t get it either

Chris D
Chris D
1 month ago

The Chrysler ambulance/hearse comes with linoleum flooring… now there’s a deal-closing feature!

Ranwhenparked
Ranwhenparked
1 month ago

Prior to the 1970s, the expected use of an ambulance was basically just to transport the patient to the hospital as quickly as possible, with nothing more than very basic first aid being performed. Starting in the 1960s and accelerating in the ’70s, the concept started to shift in favor of EMTs performing more significant emergency care on site and en route to improve survival chances, which required ambulances to carry more supplies and equipment than was the case previously. Car based ambulances faded away rapidly as a result of altering the mission from purely patient transport to more heavily oriented to on-board medical treatment. The downsizing of GM’s full-size cars in 1977 is often cited as a contributing factor, but the trend was already happening regardless. The last dedicated car-based ambulance was built in 1979, but the final hearse/ambulance combination car wasn’t finished until 1988 (though that one used a 1985 Buick and pieces of a scrapped 1981 Cadillac Superior combination car, so the last truly all-new combo hearse ambulance was probably built around 1981 or ’82)

There was a coachbuilder in the mid ’70s who did a really big box body on the back of a Cadillac Fleetwood commercial chassis, basically making a car based ambulance that could easily carry all the same equipment as the newer van and truck based ones, but the packaging was still not as efficient and it cost more, so there were few takers. Forget the name of that company, but it was the last attempt to keep car-based ones relevant.

Keeping in mid though, that the differences between car and truck construction used to be a lot more blurry in the days when the typical car was body on frame, RWD, V8, and with a solid rear axle on leaf springs

Last edited 1 month ago by Ranwhenparked
KevFC
KevFC
1 month ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Thank you for a rational explanation!

Chuck Brand
Chuck Brand
1 month ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

Also, as to the relationship between ambulances & hearses in that era; in a lot of small towns, the ambulance and hearse were the same vehicle. Dual purpose rigs were commonplace.

The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
The F--kshambolic Cretinoid Harvey Park
1 month ago
Reply to  Chuck Brand

An ambulance is just a hearse in a spider man costume.

UnseenCat
UnseenCat
1 month ago

There was a reason why they were nicknamed “meat wagons” back in the day.

JunkerDave
JunkerDave
1 month ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

I remember back in the ’60s when ambulance style was changing. Chicago’s ambulances were operated by the Fire Department, and Fire Commissioner Robert Quinn was opposed to switching from Cadillac ambulances to the newer boxy, modular EMT design. He was quoted as saying “a Chicagoan would rather die in style than be saved in the back of a panel truck.”

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
1 month ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

The NBC TV show “Emergency!” pretty much solidified the transition to EMT’s and panel van ambulances.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergency!

Matt Dieter
Matt Dieter
1 month ago
Reply to  Ranwhenparked

99 Percent Invisible has a fantastic episode about the creation of EMT services, as well as some of the ‘Hearse-as-medical-transport’ history:

https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/freedom-house-ambulance-service/

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
1 month ago

What, are ambulance salesmen supposed to visit every single hospital in the nation? That’s a huge undertaking. Remember, the internet didn’t exist in the 50s. Print reaches much farther than salesmen do. And, even when salesmen do visit, handing some advertising material like this to potential customers who are on the fence about it is a great way to keep your brand in their minds.

And yeah, ambulances and hearses had a close relationship because they often did both jobs. It used to be quite common for ambulances to double as hearses depending on whether patients survived or not, hence why an ambulance looking stylish or at least dignified would be a selling point. Especially in a small community where there isn’t much budget for both a hearse and an ambulance, having a vehicle that can do both jobs is valuable.

As for space concerns, I just have to assume there wasn’t as much they could do on the way to the hospital back then beyond first aid. Modern ambulances have to carry a ton of bulky medical equipment, hence their size, but if you’re not carrying that stuff with you because it doesn’t exist yet or isn’t yet portable, then ambulances can be much smaller (as much as you can call these things “small,” anyway).

Andy Farrell
Andy Farrell
1 month ago

Man, one ride in an ambulance and suddenly Jason is an expert? Lol!

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
1 month ago

The only real difference I can see between the Economy-Chrysler and the Superior-Cadillac is the Caddy has white sidewalls.

AlterId
AlterId
1 month ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

Even compared to subsequent decades, a lot of consumer preferences in the 1950s and 1960s were influenced by perceptions of status. All the houses in your new-construction tract may look the same, but the neighbors will be envious when Great-Aunt Clara is loaded into a Superior-Cadillac when her angina flares up over Thanksgiving dinner, and they’ll look down on your co-workers Bob, whose broken-hipped mother-in-law got stuffed into a cheap Economy-Chrysler instead. Which one is more likely to get that big promotion and the key to the executive men’s room?

FlyingMonstera
FlyingMonstera
1 month ago

In the U.K. vans (tend to be Hi-Aces or Vianos in black or dark grey) which carry bodies from place of death to funeral director are marked as Private Ambulances. It bemused me when I moved here why people who could afford to go private were deprived of windows until I was told they weren’t going TO hospital. I guess it’s an intermediate stage between Ambulance and Hearse.

Last edited 1 month ago by FlyingMonstera
Ham On Five
Ham On Five
1 month ago
Reply to  FlyingMonstera

If there were windows, it wouldn’t be private now would it? 😉

Flyingstitch
Flyingstitch
1 month ago

Interesting comments here. I’m just old enough to remember Cadillac ambulances but not old enough to remember a world before emergency rooms. Hospitals today all have main entrances with gleaming, corporate-looking reception areas, maybe a cafe and gift shop off to the side. I guess back in the day, every emergency case came staggering through the front door with all their associated gore. Weird to contemplate.

Also, both of those ambulance/hearses up there have suicide doors.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
1 month ago

Jason, you’re forgetting that emergency medical care was pretty much non-existent before 1970. Hospitals didn’t have emergency rooms; ambulances didn’t have EKGs or defibulators or anything beyond bandages and turnicuts. My parents told me that when they were young, there were no ambulances- the cops took you to the hospital.
The is why America was enthralled with the TV show “Emergency”, it was the first time these services were available. And it was a game-changer in terms of reducing mortality rates.
Probably including you yourself!

Larry B
Larry B
1 month ago

Um, not sure where your parents lived or how old they are but the Economy Chrysler is from 1953. I myself was taken in an ambulance to an emergency room in 1962. I still remember the look on my mother’s face when the emergency room physician lifted the bandages from my face so she could see.

Justin Carson
Justin Carson
1 month ago
Reply to  Larry B

Anecdotal evidence is great, but your experience was rare and not common: https://www.emra.org/about-emra/history/ems-history

Other commenters have pointed to the black paramedics in the late 60s and they and others helped modernize pre-hospital care as the hospitals themselves learned how to become trauma centers.

Glad it worked out for younger you, but it wasn’t a common experience.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
1 month ago
Reply to  Larry B

Both were born before 1931.

James Davidson
James Davidson
1 month ago

That’s off by at least a couple of decades. The world’s first specialized trauma care center was opened in 1911 in the United States at the University of Louisville Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. It was further developed in the 1930s by surgeon Arnold Griswold, who also equipped police and fire vehicles with medical supplies and trained officers to give emergency care while en route to the hospital.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergency_department

Justin Carson
Justin Carson
1 month ago
Reply to  James Davidson

The invention of something and its widespread usage and standardization are vastly different things.

Chris D
Chris D
1 month ago

“Emergency!” was where we all learned about the importance of Ringer’s Lactate.
No one knows what it is, but everyone who was visited by a paramedic back then got some.

James Carson
James Carson
1 month ago

I was taken to the hospital emergency ward by ambulance in Montreal in 65 when I injured myself at my aunts house. Injured myself again in 68 in Winnipeg, again, ambulence transit to emergency ward. Used to hang around the hospital some weekends when my father was on call. Used to get shooed out of the emergency ward regularly. For some reason I found it a an interesting place to hang out. I’m was a slightly accident prone kid. I can assure you that the wards do exist. Ambulences had oxygen and basic medical supplies.

Chronometric
Chronometric
1 month ago

Jason faced down the one-eyed stare of the modern ambulance and is uncowed. He reaches through the intense emotions of his primal fear to uncover the sinister history of the Ambulance / Hearse Corporate Conspiracy.

AlterId
AlterId
1 month ago
Reply to  Chronometric

Which was furthered by the media conglomerate founded by mogul William Randolph Hearse.

John Patson
John Patson
1 month ago

In France herses are vans with a table with rollers in the back for the coffin and flowers, some gilt around the table, and glossy dark paint.
Some people seek them out when they appear in listings, the theory being that they are driven slowly and respectfully at least half the time, (from the house / undertaker to church, then from church to cemetery, leading a procession), unlike other vans…

VanGuy
VanGuy
1 month ago

When I was a DJ and also a sound technician for my friends’ band, I had a period of interest in replacing my troublesome conversion van with a decommissioned ambulance. (A college roommate had a reselling business and had one for towing and hauling–solid white paint; side lights all still working…it had a certain appeal.)

My friends retrospectively refer to that period as “Ambulancegate.”

Andreas8088
Andreas8088
1 month ago
Reply to  VanGuy

Old ambulances are very practical vehicles, really, for a lot of utility purposes. If you can get past the whole “lots of people died in this” part. (And, I mean, a lot of people had their lives saved in them as well… hopefully more than died.)

VanGuy
VanGuy
1 month ago
Reply to  Andreas8088

That was one of the reasons my friends didn’t want me to get one.
Although my EMS friend tells me their supervisor says “Life does not begin or end in one of our ambulances.”

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 month ago
Reply to  VanGuy

This is 100% correct. Life does not begin or end in the back of my ambulance (EMT for 20+ years). Life ends when the doctor in the ER proclaims the patient dead, and only an unlucky EMT delivers a baby in the truck. Do it in the house, then you don’t have to clean that up…

Dale Mitchell
Dale Mitchell
1 month ago
Reply to  MATTinMKE

Oh! I took ‘life does not begin.. ‘ to mean, no hanky panky (if you knowwhatimean nudge nudge)

MATTinMKE
MATTinMKE
1 month ago
Reply to  Dale Mitchell

I’m smelling what you’re stepping in!

10001010
10001010
1 month ago

When I was 7 or 8 my parents started their own ambulance company, just transfer runs at first (hospital to hospital and hospital to home), emergency runs came later. Anyways, they started with 2 old 1976 Chevy Suburbans. One was already converted to being an ambulance but didn’t run and the other was basically spare parts. I think that Suburban had a 454 in it and it quickly gained a reputation as one of the faster ambulances in the region. They later bought a couple of 2nd hand van based ambulances that they added to the fleet. The first ambulance they ever bought new was a 1984 Dodge Caravan converted to ambulance duty. Minivans were a new thing back then and it was the first, and only, minivan ambulance I’ve ever seen. My dad loved it, it was his go to unit for every run he took. Later when they opened up to taking emergency calls as well it was popular because it could get into places the suburbans and vans couldn’t. Especially on top of a particularly tall and narrow bridge we had in the area https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow_Bridge_(Texas) My dad is still in love with minivans, he has an Odyssey now. My mom’s favorite ambulance though was the old 1976 suburban with the 454. I was too young and never got to drive any of them but these were basically our family cars back then, I remember being dropped off at school or going to the grocery stores in ambulances all the time.

Since most were bought 2nd hand no brochures were involved but I do remember some sort of booklet that came with the minivan. I’ll have to ask my dad.

Last edited 1 month ago by 10001010
StillNotATony
StillNotATony
1 month ago
Reply to  10001010

That is a really cool story! You gotta tell us, though. Did you ever get to blare the siren in the school drop off line? You would have been the king of the school, if you had.

10001010
10001010
1 month ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

I don’t recall running the sirens at school, we weren’t really allowed to touch those outside of the driveway, but I did play with all sorts of lights and sirens at home. We had a stock pile of them in the back of the garage and I’d hook them up to old car batteries.

Best story I’ve got that came out of the ambulance service is the time I had my leg amputated and got to ride in a Life Flight helicopter for a commercial. The scenario was a school bombing (couldn’t do this today, this was waaay before Columbine, even before Heathers) and my parents helped coordinate it. They had makeup artists come in and give everybody fake burns and cuts and since I was really limber as a kid I folded my leg up and they put a prosthetic on my knee that looked like my leg had been blown off. I then laid on the stretcher and pretended to be passed out while they wheeled me to the helicopter and it took off. It was a short flight that landed almost as soon as it took off but I was the coolest kid in school for half a second. Actually, not even that long, because the local Life Flight changed its name to Air Rescue and the damn commercial never aired so everyone I’d told about it claimed I was lying. Oh well, c’est la guerre.

Marlin May
Marlin May
1 month ago
Reply to  10001010

Best story I’ve got that came out of the ambulance service is the time I had my leg amputated and got to ride in a Life Flight helicopter for a commercial.

Whoa! That shows serious commitment to the craft of acting.
😀

MaximillianMeen
MaximillianMeen
1 month ago
Reply to  Marlin May

De Niro’s got nothing on this guy!

10001010
10001010
1 month ago
Reply to  10001010

Ok I finally heard back from my dad. He learned about the Minivambulances from ads in EMS magazines and the only other ones he knows of was a service in North Texas that used them for their entire fleet.

Chronometric
Chronometric
1 month ago
Reply to  10001010

Can you take an alternative route? I don’t think I want my ambulance to be crossing the Rainbow Bridge.

10001010
10001010
1 month ago
Reply to  Chronometric

That’s just it, the minivan could actually make a 3point turn at the top of the bridge and head back down! The suburbans and vans and mods (big box truck) ambulances all had to cross the bridge to the other side, turn around down there, and then cross back over it.

Ham On Five
Ham On Five
1 month ago
Reply to  10001010

Rover captivated the room every time he recounted the story of his near-death experience. “There I was, doing a 3-point on the Rainbow Bridge …”

Last edited 1 month ago by Ham On Five
Turbeaux
Turbeaux
1 month ago
Reply to  10001010

Really cool story. Also, F that bridge. I used to drive over it for work, and my first time on it was about 6 AM in heavy fog. I couldn’t see the top and had no idea if it would ever end. Nobody warned me ahead of time. It doesn’t help that I’m afraid of heights and semi-afraid of large bridges. My palms soaked the steering wheel.

10001010
10001010
1 month ago
Reply to  Turbeaux

They used to make us drive over it in drivers ed. I had one aunt that was afraid to drive over it and would park on the Bridge City side until one of us came to drive her car over. I’ve had my share of incidents on that bridge too.

Titillating Bustline
Titillating Bustline
1 month ago

Yep, meat wagons were operated by ambulance attendants. Their only function was to transport bodies and body parts to a hospital. No different than UPS might deliver a parcel today.

There was no CPR, starting IVs or even administering an Aspirin. That would be handled by the hospital.

For more context, please see: Mother Jugs and Speed

Trust Doesn't Rust
Trust Doesn't Rust
1 month ago

Sometimes the funeral homes were responsible for transporting patients. EMS as we know it is a relatively new thing. 99% Invisible has a great article and podcast episode about this topic:

Freedom House Ambulance Service
https://99percentinvisible.org/episode/freedom-house-ambulance-service/

Ecsta C3PO
Ecsta C3PO
1 month ago

I was about to comment summarizing that same thing

bomberoKevino
bomberoKevino
1 month ago

Just jumping in to say that the podcast above is a terrific listen! Great suggestions! And yes, these ads make a lot more sense when one realizes that ambulances and EMS as we know it weren’t really a thing in the US until suprisingly recently, and self-organized groups and funeral homes were major providers (the reason ambulances looked liked hearses is hearse were used as ambulances!) and that it wasn’t really the medical professions so much as the US Dept of Transportation that formalized the field. https://www.emra.org/about-emra/history/ems-history

Andreas8088
Andreas8088
1 month ago

That was an excellent episode. 99PI is a terrific podcast in general, as well. Highly recommended.

Mack505
Mack505
1 month ago

Economy and Superior were the outside companies that did the ambulance conversions on the Chrysler or Cadillac chassis. McCoy and Miller were two others, and you can still buy a Ford/McCoy-Miller ambulance today.

And as others have stated, there was little to no training or equipment involved. The primary qualification for an ambulance was the ability to carry a body supine, just like a hearse. Many small town ambulance services began with funeral homes because they had the equipment. (In some cases the ambulances were literally hearses with red lights temporarily installed.)

Health care may be royally screwed up, but EMS and ambulances have come a long way in the past half century. Even if they don’t look nearly as cool.

Tbird
Tbird
1 month ago
Reply to  Mack505

Was about to say Economy and Superior were the coachbuilders. Glad I scrolled.

StillNotATony
StillNotATony
1 month ago

IIRC, in many places, ambulances did double duty as hearses, particularly in smaller towns. So of course the economy minded having to do more with less would be interested in the Chrysler.

Those decadent big city folk with money to burn would go for the fancy-schmancy, single purpose Cadillac.

SirRaoulDuke
SirRaoulDuke
1 month ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

in the 1950s, ambulances were often ran by funeral homes. Also cab and towing companies. There was no training for the person driving the ambulance, and specialized hospital emergency departments were really not yet a thing. So to be honest, back in those days an ambulance might as have been a hearse as far as the passenger was concerned…emergency medicine has come a very long way since then.

Chris D
Chris D
1 month ago
Reply to  StillNotATony

What we are all thinking: The ambulance is what picks up the injured person, and the hearse is what it becomes if the patient expires before reaching the hospital, resulting in a sudden change of destination.

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