Production of Nature in Car Ads

Shawndel N. Fraser, Environmental Psychology
Faculty Advisor: Cindi Katz and Joan Greenbaum
Project Website: Production of Nature in Car Ads

Production of Nature in Car Ads

This is an archival study which visually analyzes the depictions of nature found within car advertisements in National Geographic Magazine (NGM) 1946 – 2008. This project has a couple of parts: the Omeka database, the dipity timeline which is hosted externally and is intermittently down, and the project website and blog.

The heart of the project is the archive of car ads that I created in Omeka; Omeka is a tool that i used to create exhibits of different types of ads, i created collections as well. It is a digital preservation and presentation tool that has quirks and strengths.

Abridged timeline of the Environmental Movement and Car Culture in America on Dipity.

The dipity timeline was a neat tool that I used to map notable moments in the American environmental movement alongside the development of car culture. Because it is a visual tool, it allowed me to visually assess any corresponding instances of notable environmental milestones and shifts in car ad iconography. However, as of December 2011, I’ve been experiencing intermittent and sometimes profound issues with this external free host, so I would not recommend it to other academic users. There are alternatives to dipity, some are visually stunning, however the potential cost of losing important data that is saved to an external server that uses proprietary software that you have no control over or direct access to, is a major risk. My timeline and user profile disappears at times, which makes the entire situation very distressing. Let my experience be your guide, choose a timeline software that you control yourself, even if it means sacrificing some of the flashier functionality of pre-packaged, free options like dipity.

Lastly, I built a project website which serves as a homepage for the component parts of this project. The timeline and the database are both explained in more detail on the website.


The National Geographic website notes its mission of “inspiring people to care about the planet” through means of “natural and cultural conservation”. Few would disagree with the idea that National Geographic Magazine promotes agenda specific ideas of nature, culture and conservation, but not much research has explored the content of commercial advertisements that appear within the magazine.

Their membership base and extensive monthly circulation is comprised of educated, highly employed middle-class subscribers. NGM sells advertising space with the promise of the trusted National Geographic brand lending a high level of credibility to the ads. This then begs the question, what persuasive ideas of nature, culture, conservation and consumption can be found within NGM car advertisements? Specifically: