When did gray become the color of fast and powerful

Last night walking in Atlanta I saw three muscle cars that were gray.  Actually, I think one was a Jaguar doing an impersonation of a muscle car.  Low, sleek and noisy.  

So two muscles and a Jag.  

I noticed because of the ad now circulating that shows a gray Mustang prowling urban streets.

It’s an effective piece of advertising.  (The Ford triumph continues.)  I found myself thinking,” this isn’t selling Mustangs, it’s selling grey Mustangs.”  Dealers are going to be swamped by requests for “the grey one” and they will have to talk buyers into a red or a green.  Good luck.  This ad makes gray the necessary color.  

But I had it wrong.  This was a case of life imitating art.  Team Detroit was drawing from existing practice, not creating it. 

Which raises the question: when did gaey become the color of fast and powerful?  The follow up question: why?  What is it about gray that makes it the necessarily choice.  What is there in the cultural significance of gray (past and present) that makes it the compelling choice?  

Start your engines.  This is an official Minerva contest.  Usual terms apply.  Fewer than 1000 words, crisp, high concept, well written. Guessing, especially really good guessing, is perfectly ok.  But if you actually know something about car culture and color culture, please do share.  

If you are on the creative team of the Mustang ad, I would like to put you on the judging panel. Would Team Detroit’s Toby Barlow, Eric McClellan, Adam Hull, Nick Flora, Ron Schlessinger, Arty Tan and/or Bob Rashid, please contact me at grant27ATgmail.com.

More details

The sound track comes from Band of Skulls.  Please tell us what this music does for the ad. 

The production players


Client: Ford Mustang

Title: _PG

Length: 60-seconds

Airdate: 4/28 TV; 4/30 cinemas

Agency: Team Detroit, Inc.

EVP, Chief Creative Officer: Toby Barlow

EVP, Group Creative Director: Eric McClellan

Creatives: Adam Hull, Nick Flora, Ron Schlessinger, Arty Tan

Producer: Bob Rashid

Production Company: Stardust / Santa Monica, CA

Director: Jake Banks

Executive Producer: Paul Abatemarco

Head of Production: Josh Libitsky

Line Producer: Paul Ure

Director of Photography: Max Malkin

Design & Animation Company: Stardust / Santa Monica, CA

Post / Editorial Producer: Alex More

Designers: Neil Tsai, Gretchen Nash, Bill Bak, Ling Feng, Juliette Park, Angela Ko

Compositors: Alan Latteri, Chris Howard

Animators: Jason Lowe, Giancarlo Rondani, Joseph Andrade, Kevin Ta, James Yi

Type/Element shoot: Stokes-Kohne Associates Inc.

Editorial Company: Cut + Run

Editor: Frank Effron

Post / Editorial Producer: Alex More

Telecine: New Hat

Colorist: Beau Leon

Music Search Company: Agoraphone

Music Supervisor: Dawn Sutter-Madell & Jasmine Flott

Song: Band of Skulls "Light Of The Morning"

Sound Design & Mix: 740 Sound Design

Executive Producer: Scott Ganary

Sound Designer : Andrew Tracy

Sound Designer : Eddie Kim

Mixer : Mike Franklin

Vehicle Drivers: Brent Fletcher, Kelly Hine


Wilkening, Matthew.  2010.  2011 Ford Mustang Commercial – What’s that song?  AOL Radio Blog.  May 10.  here.

See the ad here.

7 thoughts on “When did gray become the color of fast and powerful

  1. Troy Vanderhule

    Hi Grant,

    I was struck by your observation, and also by the fact that no one put in any responses. I was waiting to hear a few ideas bounced around. So I’ll put something out there.

    I’ll posit the gray movement began sometime in the fall of 2009, about a year after the 2008 meltdowns, when we began to get a gist of the subsequent cultural fallout.

    So I suggest the most obvious reason gray is the new demarcation de rigueur, is that in these “troubled” economic times, gray allows for some indulgences to be passed off as less ostentatious. Driving a red Mustang, a yellow Corvette, or an emerald Lexus may flag someone as culturally insensitive, a “let them eat cake” type of person. As a culture we are currently on the look out for those who are profiting by our loss. Because people are profiting from it. The last series of market meltdowns and environmental crisis have begun to disrupt our notion of American egalitarianism.

    The perception is that the upper crust is not just staying afloat during these times, but are actually unaffected and prospering. The bazillion dollar bailouts, the casino capitalism of Goldman Sachs, the Ponzi schemes are leading to the conclusion that the fix is in. And even though it’s been unmasked and exposed, the fix is still in. The gold shower curtains of the uber-wealthy used to smack of garishness because we wouldn’t do that with our money. But that’s when the rich and famous used to function as icons for our own personal transformation. It’s possible these same icons now highlight the fact that such a transformation is no longer possible. In the same papers we read that Fannie and Freddie are foreclosing houses every ninety seconds, the oil spill continues, and unemployment rises, while Tony Heyward goes yachting, Obama vacations, and Limbaugh has million dollar wedding singers. It’s suspicious that their reality hasn’t been troubled in the same way ours has; maybe their reality isn’t the same.

    Americans are very sensitive about their perceived equality. We let people lord over us only because we believe that some day we may be lords ourselves. But at this present time that notion has become very fragile. We still believe it, but it with qualifiers. You can have your spoils but you’d better not overly enjoy them, or let them be seen as overt dominance. The new gray is a reflection of that sensitivity. Gray cannot be mistaken for gilded, whimsy, or flash. Gray seeks to acknowledge power without dominance.

    But at the end of the day, gray is the marketing to the upper middle class. The aspiring wealthy. The truly wealthy don’t care or know about the mass milieu. It the upper middle class who want all the trappings of wealth without the traps, who want to be confused for the wealthy. Because they fill the buffer zone between the wealthy and rest, they are more keenly aware of these backlash stirrings. And should it ever be time to eat the rich, they don’t want to be that confused for them. Gray accoutrements may help one be overlooked for more colorful fare.

    A second theory, which may stand alone or contribute to the first, has to do with our cultural post-modernism. Color selection as personality projection, bright or not, doesn’t pass the cultural irony test. It’s too self-aware, like wearing a Donkey Kong t-shirt or getting red Corvette during a mid-life-crisis. Post-modernism claimed to let me decode the culture by curating it’s obvious artifacts, whether actual (Rubic’s Cubes) or mememic (“Where’s the beef?”). Thus, demonstrating that I was aware of them but able to transcend them. But now these touches of whimsy are less hip and more gouache. We’re not sure we decoded or transcended anything. This is the emerging post-post-modernism where personality projection is in flux. Gray is the new irony?

    As the owner of a gray BMW, I hope to find out soon. I may be in the market for a yellow VW Bug.

  2. Pingback: Gray is the New Irony? | Credo

  3. CarlenLea

    You’ll also find that it’s somewhat the in power color in the fashion world right now. I’ve seen heavy use of everything from dark grays to lighter “dove” gray.

    I also notice it’s your color of choice for this website. Coincidence?

  4. Mary Walker

    Yeah, grey is a big power color right now, design-wise. Not sure why. I’ve seen the color description “gunmetal (ie darkish grey)” in a lot of contexts…hard to find a stronger a power word association than “gun”.

    Per cars: gunmetal grey cars are IMO the more masculine alternative to “champagne” or taupe-colored cars (those off white/beige or tan-pearl colored cars). “Champagne” is a pretty color but (as my husband said) codes in the US as feminine.

    There’s a lot of women’s fashion jewelry that’s gunmetal grey these days — a darkish grey like tarnished silver (sometimes with a dark shine to it, sometimes matte).

    Perhaps because black has been so overdone in fashion for such a long time…black will never go away but it doesn’t seem fresh right now. Dark greys give you a lot of tonal variations to play with.

    Also black cars specifically have strong connotations in US: the black SUVs of Secret Service; black sports cars which seem too 70s/ too holly-wood (Silvester Stallone-ish etc). Dark grey feels like a more sophisticated color, it has power & masculine connotations, but doesn’t have an over-the-top feeling.

  5. Edward Zuber

    To the motor-head, grey is literally the color of a muscle car, painted in primer. It has a dangerously large and powerful motor and an after-market RPM gauge. It has questionably legal exhaust to make it rumble and crack loudly. There is pride in the brand of the frame and body, but it’s really about the power and speed. Historically, it’s perhaps a frankenstein, large and menacing; the modern version is the slimmer, faster, more agile super-zombie. The finishing paint can come later when there is time, but for now, their handywork on this experimental test rocket is protected by the primer.

    Moving beyond the literal to the associative, it’s also the color of storm clouds, which produce lightning and thunder. It’s the color of other kinds of prototypes, created by the expert enthusiasts. It’s the color of the street. It’s a neutral color, where the owner adds the color to finish the picture. It’s the color of the secret agent or modern-day superhero who doesn’t need color for flash; they are the flash who needs to keep their identity a secret in a nondescript, yet super-powered vehicle.

    For the muscle car, grey signals to the enthusiast that it’s a car for power and performance, where either fashion doesn’t matter, or the driver supplies the fashion.

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