Automotive history

Ad Break: The SEAT Ibiza Knew That (Safe) Sex Sells

by Antony Ingram
8 July 2024 2 min read
Ad Break: The SEAT Ibiza Knew That (Safe) Sex Sells

The Simpsons, especially in its early years, is a truly relentless onslaught of brilliantly thought-out jokes, so much so that you can return to episodes years later and spot gags that you never saw the first time (or two, or three).

Some stick in the mind though, and one is the episode in which Homer helps Bart run for class president, creating an eye-catching campaign sign that reads “SEX” in large red letters. Below, in smaller blue letters, it continues: “Now that I’ve got your attention, vote for Bart!”

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Well, this SEAT Ibiza GTi advertisement from 1993 takes a similar tactic. Sure, the bright red Ibiza on three-spoke wheels, set against a yellow background, grabs plenty of attention on its own, but SEAT’s marketing agency knew exactly what it was doing by writing “SAFE SEX” in letters taller than the car down the side of the page. Attention gained, your eyes are on the ad, and if you don’t feel duped by such an underhanded tactic, you may choose to read the rest of the ad copy and see what all the fuss is about.

The answer is more slightly cheesy ‘your eyes meet across a crowded bar’ type stuff, and a reference to the Mediterranean spirit that SEAT was pushing like crazy in the early ’90s. The thing is, it worked – throughout that decade and the next, Ibizas and eventually Leons and Arosas were like catnip for younger buyers, giving the Spanish brand one of the most youthful customer bases in the industry.

SEAT Ibiza ad

Like Czech counterpart Skoda, SEAT also leant on the “we’re part of the VW Group now so our cars aren’t crap anymore” angle, reassuring buyers in this ad that while the Ibiza is a bit of a looker, it’s also going to protect you in a bump. Engines too were VW-sourced, including in the pictured GTi’s case, a 2-litre, eight-valve four-cylinder plucked from the contemporary Golf GTI.

Only in the Ibiza the 115bhp unit was carrying around a little less weight, so its official 0–62mph time of 9.3 seconds was eight-tenths ahead of the Golf. That too set a bit of a trend for SEAT, whose hot hatches would typically give you a bit more performance for a bit less money than the equivalent VW. It was a fun handler as well, something the larger Golf was already starting to lose as it packed on the middle-aged spread.

There’s a boldness to the ad, and to the car, that’s quite appealing – perhaps also because it’s difficult to imagine a car manufacturer in the 2020s so clearly targeting younger buyers and backing it up with a product that’s both exciting and affordable. The price of an Ibiza GTi was £11,850 in 1993, or about £23K inflation adjusted to 2024. Only the Suzuki Swift Sport is anywhere close to that, and Suzuki’s just pulled it from sale.

SEAT has since squandered its young and attractive audience, started painting everything matte grey, and attempted to move upmarket. It’s also announced the SEAT brand will slowly be phased out, replaced by Cupra, which was originally a sporty trim line on cars like the Ibiza. All good things have to come to an end, we guess – The Simpsons isn’t as funny as it used to be, either.

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