• Oct 27th 2010 at 4:30PM
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When it comes to launching a new marketing strategy and ad campaign for Chevrolet, the gorillas in the room are Chevy's once illustrious advertising past: namely the Heartbeat of America campaign that ran from 1987 to 1994, and the "Like A Rock campaign that ran from 1991 to 2004.

"Every brand we have is important, but it starts with Chevy."
Those two iconic, Hall-of-Fame caliber, indelible campaigns have made any attempt at solving Chevy's advertising problem a nightmare for every bright-eyed, ambitious advertising or marketing manager that has taken their turn at the Chevy wheel, and the ad agency that held the account until a few months ago.

A few things have changed, though, in the last 12 months at Chevrolet and parent company General Motors. And GM chief marketing officer Joel Ewanick and his hand-picked ad agency, San Francisco ad shop Goodby, Silverstein and Partners, are trying to stage a new era for Chevy starting tonight on the MLB World Series. The effort also precedes GM's initial public offering of stock in the new company in a few weeks. And the company is cognizant that many an investor will be watching the World Series.

To position Chevy for the future, GM and Goodby are not bashful about trying to tap the past. A 60-second so-called "Anthem" TV spot, voiced by Michigan-bred actor Tim (Home Improvement) Allen, draws on black-and-white footage of GM workers from the 1940s assembling vehicles, houses being built in the 1950s, a young couple in the 1960s full of hope and promise driving... then a cut to modern Chevrolets like Malibu, Cruze and Volt. The first line of the ad starts, "100 years ago..." A new theme line for Chevy, though Ewanick says it is not a "tagline," is "Chevy Runs Deep."

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In all the TV spots that will break this week, including some 30-second ads meant to stir the emotional juices, Chevy is positioned as a brand that is part of the American fabric in song, culture and in most of our pasts in one way or another.

Chevrolet: Anthem

"We aren't going to be wrapping ourselves in the flag," says Ewanick, who arrived at GM last Spring after several years running Hyundai's advertising and a brief six-week stint at Nissan before accepting the post at GM. "No question we are out to make people feel the depth of the Chevy brand in cars, especially cars, and trucks and its role in America."

The additional ads use an approach we have seen before to convey a car company's heritage and the importance of the automobile in American life – snapshots. Two ads use snapshots of young people with their first cars, Chevys, going back to the '50s and culminating with a present day teen next to a Camaro. In another ad we see heartstring-tugging snapshots going back to the '50s and culminating with the present of people bringing their babies home in Chevys. And in another simple ad, perhaps the best of this first effort by Goodby, we see an ad that is a series of vignettes about dogs in Chevy pickup trucks all set to Hank Williams singing "Move It On Over."

Chevrolet: Dogs and Pickups

If "Chevy Runs Deep" doesn't conjure up Hall-of-Fame copywriting like "Heartbeat of America," Goodby asks that we be patient. "Taglines have to live in a context, and we are going to be doing some things in the coming months that you have never seen before, and the line will really come alive," he says.

Goodby, to make his point, said that when his partner told him about the tagline that Goodby is perhaps best known for today, "Got Milk?," he was a skeptic. Since then, it has become part of the fabric of American culture and the lexicon. "Even [Nike's] 'Just Do It,' took time," says Goodby.

Ewanick says that he is not calling "Chevy Runs Deep," a tagline, but a theme, because the tagline, he says, "will be the Chevy Bowtie." He is referring to the Chevy logo, which gets a lot of screen-time in the new ads. Indeed, the Chevy logo gets the last screen shot on all the ads, and is reminiscent of the way Ford has often closed ads with the Ford blue oval being polished.

First Car

Chevy advertising, until Ewanick tapped Goodby last May, had been handled by Campbell-Ewald of Warren, Michigan since Warren Harding was in the White House. No kidding. The agency had created "Heartbeat...", "Like A Rock," and way before either of those lines, "See The U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet." That last line, still so memorable for many, was created when Harry Truman was President.

But like GM, Campbell-Ewald had hit the wall in 2009. The agency had weak leadership at the top, and couldn't respond to GM's trials as it went through bankruptcy and out again. The agency's creative and strategic work suffered from the same inertia that gripped GM. And all the executives that had long protected the agency politically were either retired or rendered toothless in the company's reorganization.

Campbell-Ewald had created "An American Revolution," themed ads that ran from 2003 to 2009, as well as "Our Country. My Truck" for Chevy trucks that ran in 2006 and 2007. Earlier this year, Chevy ran ads with the tagline/slogan, "Excellence for All," a line Ewanick hated even before he arrived at GM.

Chevrolet: Coming Home

Ewanick, who had used Goodby as his agency at Hyundai, reversed a five-month-old decision to hire Publicis, NY as Chevy's new agency after several months of screening replacement ad shops, and hired Goodby without the typical formal review two weeks after his arrival.

This is not Goodby's first turn with GM. It created Saturn advertising from 2002 to 2007, and did not bathe itself in glory. But to be fair, Saturn had no idea where it was going with product or image, so the agency could hardly be blamed for not getting it right.

This time around, both Ewanick and Goodby believe reminding people of Chevy's past is almost as important as informing them of its present and future. Chevy is 70 percent of GM's sales. Advertising is important to slaving GM's woes. The company, says Ewanick, will in 2011 have a bit more ad dollars to support its four brands than it had in 2008 to support eight brands. It is not a reach to say, "So goes Chevy, so goes the new GM."

Chevrolet Volt: Anthem

The World Series debut of Goodby's first ads is a strong start whether you like the actual slogan or not. Listening to Ewanick and Goodby talk about where they are going with the brand – position Chevy with a "tech" story about fuel economy, design, the Chevy Volt, but in a way that tugs at hearts and memories, and justifies an investment in Chevy today – feels like a sensible strategy. Even more sensible is Ewanick's commitment to stay the course, and not let some bright young ad manager change the whole strategy nine months from now as a means of clawing his or her way up the GM ladder.

Ewanick is a big fan of big media venues like the Super Bowl, World Series, MTV Awards and Olympics. Chevy is getting his Super Bowl ad buys. "Every brand we have is important, but it starts with Chevy," says Ewanick.


David Kiley, an award winning journalist, covers the auto industry from Ann Arbor, MI. He has followed the industry for 25 years, and held posts including Detroit Bureau Chief for USA Today and senior correspondent for BusinessWeek. He is also the author of two books on the industry: Getting The Bugs Out: The Rise, Fall and Comeback of Volkswagen in America [John Wiley and Sons 2001], and Driven: Inside BMW, The Most Admired Car Company in the World [Wiley, 2004].

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      Very Hyundai-ish commercials, you can really tell Ewanick has his prints all over these. Hopefully they work out well for Chevrolet and GM.

      Still, I wouldn't mind if they brought back Heartbeat of America and Like a Rock instead. A slogan that so good and fitting that people still buy Chevy merchandise that features it.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Except for the trucks, anyone else notice an odd lack of 80's and 90's GM vehicles from the commercials? They covered nearly every other decade.....
      • 4 Years Ago
      Chevy Runs Deep -> GM -> GMC -> GMC Jimmy.... My Jimmy Runs Deep, So Deep Put her A** to Sleep...

      End result Today was a good day.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Wow, that article was deep!
      • 4 Years Ago
      I LOVE all the keyboard Mom's basement marketing expertise here. All hail the internet where any idiot has an audience.

      I wish just one of you clowns could actually hold down a job at an agency or manufacturer. Oh wait that's harder than greeting people at WalMart and regurgatating Glen Beck. .

      • 4 Years Ago
      Ah, GM. Perpetually stuck in the past while other carmakers move to the future.

      I suppose this ad will resonate with the teabagger crowd and their romanticized version of America from the 1950s. Too bad the kids will just laugh.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Gosh so many negative people here on Autoblog. Apparently most people here have no clue whatsoever as to how marketing, branding and ads work.

      Now that I've seen the ads, I can see where it's going and the consistent, simple theme is going to make Chevy an enduring brand. Appealing to people's emotions is a very effective way to sell your products. You can see it from the Apple Facetime ads, less about the product and more about people.

      The success of this ad campaign will be gauged by whether if it's going to sell more Chevies than the previous last few years of awful ads. I willing to bet that it will.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Years ago they had a radio commercial that stated that Americans love baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet. They should do an updated version of that.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Judging by the other comments and the state of politics these days, it would be more about what Americans *hate*.
      • 4 Years Ago
      As others have said, all I can think of is Ice Cube rapping "...and my d**k runs deep, so deep, so deep I put her a** to sleep"
      • 4 Years Ago
      Great point given with the example of "Got Milk?". It does sound silly on it's own, but with the images built around it with the ads, billboards, etc. -- it has become absolutely iconic.

      I see a lot of potential in this "runs deep" line, if it is built right.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I'm not yet convinced. Autoblog's description of the ad does little to make me think it's not just advertising my father's Oldsmobile.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The 'Like a Rock' commercials stuck in peoples' minds. The 'Heartbeat of America' was great for the 90's. Even 'An American Revolution' was pretty catchy.

      'Chevy Runs Deep' is awful, and this is coming from a huge GM fan. It seems that while GM can walk the walk, it can't talk the talk.

      If they added something between Chevy and Runs, it would maybe be better? "Chevy Passion Runs Deep" (attach it to the Corvette commercials). "Chevy Style Runs Deep" (attach it to the Cruze commercials). "Chevy Power Runs Deep" (Duramax diesel trucks). At least give the damn statement some direction instead of being an incoherent sentence fragment.


      At least Cadillac went back to being 'The New Standard of the World'.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Hmmm... "Goodby asks that we be patient. "Taglines have to live in a context, and we are going to be doing some things in the coming months that you have never seen before, and the line will really come alive," he says."

        COTD for UCJR; You just might have decoded the entire ad campaign with this single post!

        If so, I'll be the first with an "attaboy".

        • 4 Years Ago
        that would be a good idea for their individual vehicle campaigns, and then tie up the commercial with Chevy Runs Deep with the logo finishing the ad. But i agree, they lightly touched upon deep history, deep roots, design and tech and green, but I don't feel the "theme" wrapped up the commercial... at all
        • 4 Years Ago
        My biggest problem with it is that it doesn't really capture what Chevy is. I'm not a huge GM fan, but they've had quite a comeback recently, and I think it's time to put some pride into that. "Heartbeat of America" and "An American Revolution" were good taglines because Chevy, to me, is the single brand that most exemplifies American car companies, for better or for worse. And since American car companies have been putting out some pretty decent stuff lately, the tagline needs to reflect that. The more I think about it, the more "An American Revolution" works, and the less I think they should have changed it.

        If it had to be changed, it should stick with the American theme.

        Also, what happened to "Excellence for Everyone" and dropping the use of "Chevy"? They just announced those this year...
        • 4 Years Ago
        "Standard to the world"...Cadillac sold about 20 models this year in UK. It's almost like baseball "World Series" where only American teams get an invite to participate.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I have a feeling the minds behind this were also behind the Chevy Volt song.
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