Chevrolet's "An American Revolution" ad campaign began ... Chevrolet's "An American Revolution" ad campaign began in 2005 (GM).

"Just Do It." "Snap. Crackle. Pop." "Great Taste...Less Filling." "Built Ford Tough". The wonderful world of taglines.

Recently, Chevrolet opted out of the tagline business. They had been using "An American Revolution" since 2003.

You may remember that it was launched on Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve program with a spot produced by Hollywood director Michael Bay featuring the song "Magic Carpet Ride" by Steppenwolf and showing a covered car carrier moving through the country. As the Director of Marketing and Communications at DaimlerChrysler at the time, I remember it really well because it was, well...really good.

It was good for a lot of reasons. The music was classic rock, there was a build-up of anticipation to know what was under the covers, and the tagline was catchy. It was memorable and arguably ownable because of Chevy's deep correlation with "all-American" (American as Chevrolet and apple pie). It also had some attitude and conjured up a sense of pride, even though I was trying to beat them. And for the next 7 years, they used it consistently -- though not always with the same quality of execution.

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Just last week I learned that they decided to drop it without a replacement. Instead they will just use the brand names as the tagline. "There's not really an all-new theme," Chevy General Manager Jim Campbell told Automotive News. "It's really communications focused at those target customers."

Do Taglines Matter?

So, the big question is whether taglines really matter or not.

I would argue that they do. When you read the first four taglines at the beginning of this entry, I would guess that every single one of you thought of the brands they represented (OK, so maybe the Ford Tough was a bit obvious, but you get my point).

Not only that, I will venture that each evoked an immediate sense of the brand: good, bad, ugly, tasty, whatever. Good taglines do that.

I have had quite a bit of experience with taglines in my career, particularly automotive. When I was at Ford working on the initial Focus campaign, we had a great time with slogans for outdoor postings. We were trying to be a bit edgy and definitely youthful so the postings were pieces of artwork done in a very graffiti-like fashion with large print on them. They said things like "Power without Focus is just Wasted Energy" or "Sound without Focus is just Noise".

The lawyers HATED this because of course we were using the brand name as a noun that could be construed as something other than the car itself, making it hard to defend the brand name. But I tell this story, even though it is not about a tagline, only because it helps give a glimpse into the extraordinary difficulty of finding a line that passes muster internally -- much less passes the tests of a good tagline.

Some key traits of a solid tagline include memorability, unaided recall (closely linked to memorability), simplicity (the fewer words the better), longevity (relevant for decades to come), ownable (you can't put a competitors brand name in there and have it work as well), benefit (shows some trait of the brand), and attitude/spirit of the brand (enough said).

I can think of very few lines that do ALL of these things but there are those that come pretty close. There was a survey done a few years back that ranked the hits and misses of automotive taglines of the time. It is kind of sad to look at it now: most of those taglines are no longer around.

Hits. They reinforce the core brand, so they're tops:
  • BMW - "The Ultimate Driving Machine"
  • Chevrolet - "Like A Rock"
  • Mini - "Let's Motor"
  • Volvo - "For Life"
  • GMC - "Professional Grade"
  • Dodge - "Ram Tough"/"Grab Life by the Horns"

Misses. They may be cute, but say little about brand identity or reputation:
  • Nissan - "Dogs Love Trucks"
  • Nissan - "Shift 2.0"
  • VW - "Make Friends with Your Fast" followed immediately by "Safe Happens"
  • Buick - "Beyond Precision"
  • Oldsmobile - "Not Your Father's Oldsmobile"
Source: Stokefire Consulting Group, 2007

I was a little surprised that "Zoom Zoom Zoom" did not make it but I was really psyched to read that Dodge made the "Hits" list because I was responsible for that one. It was my third month at DaimlerChrysler and we were about to reposition the Dodge brand (the previous tagline was "Dodge. Different.") and launch the new Ram.

The Inside Story Of Dodge's "Grab Life By The Horns" Tagline

The agency, BBDO, and I were on a super tight deadline and we were down to the wire. They came into the conference room with a stack of flash cards and each had a tagline written on them.

They started to flip through them one by one just like my parents used to do with me when I was learning my multiplication back in grade school. When they came to "Grab Life by the Horns", I read it and just knew it was the one.

It had a visceral effect. I just knew it was right. It was relatively short, memorable (in that it was a phrase used already by people), it conveyed attitude and best of all, it was ownable in that our logo for the brand that was stamped on every single vehicle had a Ram's head with the horns on it. Testing three years later showed us that our unaided recall put this tagline 2nd in the auto category only behind "Built Ford Tough" which had been around for decades. I contend that this tagline, combined of course, with the new product, the energized advertising, improved company efficiency, design and engineering, and inspired dealer body helped us get to profitability over the next two years.

Would we have gotten there without a tagline? Probably.

But each element of our efforts reinforced the next and that is why I think that leaving out any element that can help to give the consumer a sense of what you stand for, or how THEY can expect to feel when they own your brand, is a missed opportunity.

At the same time, playing the game of revolving taglines can be more harmful than helpful. Saturn had three different taglines in four years. On the other hand, BMW has more or less stuck with "The Utlimate Driving Machine" since around 1975. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that the longer you stick with a line, the better chance it has of helping your message break through the clutter, particularly if it is a good one. If you look at the lines I opened with, you know what I mean.

Not only is it good for customers, it is also good for dealers. Never underestimate the power of having your dealer body behind your marketing efforts. Nothing can ruin your plans like having dealers feel as though they were not included or considered in the development of a new tagline. A disenfranchised dealer will choose to not only NOT use your tagline or ads, but also to create their own. Nothing can cause more brand confusion than an OEM and its dealer body who are simultaneously broadcasting messages across all the mediums that are not in sync or worse, conveying conflicting messages to customers.

From even a cursory search of the websites of various Chevy dealers around the country, it's clear that the dealer body is still using "American Revolution" in their messaging. It will likely be months -- if not years -- before we'll see all Chevy dealers give up the tagline as the corporation has.

Will Chevrolet lose sales over dropping the tagline? That will remain to be seen. Without new cars that really grab people's attention and reinforce the idea, a tagline doesn't do much good anyway. But I had hoped that they would have continued with it because, in fact, GM and Chevrolet really DO represent today's automotive American Revolution. I hope they win this war.

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