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An enchanting new ad celebrates a little-known hero of the automotive industry: Bertha Benz, the wife and business partner of engineer Karl Benz.

It was Bertha Benz who first took her husband’s invention – the horseless carriage – out for a spin in 1886, launching a new industry.

“Bertha’s First Trip” was created by ad agency R/GA, using classic tools of storytelling: a real human being, a tale of triumph over adversity, and emotion.

But the ad also takes advantage of shifting values at a time when companies are waking up to the untapped potential of women’s stories and female representation.

Companies have long known that women control the household finances and make valuable customers. But now smart corporate branders recognize the rise of women power as a tremendous business opportunity.

This is particularly true in the auto industry. If you haven’t already, check out these stirring new female-centered car ads:

Before her marriage, Bertha Ringer used part of her substantial dowry to invest in Karl Benz’s failing iron construction company. After they married in 1872, he moved on to a new manufacturing venture, Benz & Cie, and relied on her dowry for financial support to grow the business.

His Model I was the original Patent Motor-Motorwagen and the world’s first automobile. But it was the Model III that Bertha took for a historic spin.

On August 5, 1888 – without telling her husband – Bertha took off in the auto with two sons, following wagon tracks all the way from Mannheim to Pforzheim, a trip of about 66 miles.

Despite numerous breakdowns and snafus, she reached her destination after dusk, notifying her husband of her successful trip by telegram.

Bertha’s goal was to call attention to the newfangled contraption. She believed her husband hadn’t put enough effort into promoting his invention, so her trip was part publicity stunt.

Clearly a gifted marketer, Bertha succeeded beyond her dreams, bringing the Benz Model III worldwide attention and winning the company its first sales.

“Bertha’s First Trip” tells an inspiring story. But it also proves that ads that overturn gender stereotypes and spotlight women’s achievements are connecting with audiences – and with an uplifting cultural moment.

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