Chevy Runs Deep—Maybe Too Deep

By Charles Krome

While I’m not sure how many people realize this, the FOX network will be hosting a double dose of history in the making tonight: Not only are the Texas Rangers slated to play their very first World Series game, but Chevrolet is debuting its first significant TV spots since Joel Ewanick enlisted with the General as its vice president for U.S. marketing.

The World Series is, of course, an ideal launching pad for Chevy’s new pitch to reach customers, as baseball—along with hotdogs and apple pie—has a strong association with Chevrolet. Well, at least in the minds of folks who were alive in the 1970s to remember that classic bit of marketing. The thing is, many of the division’s potential customers weren’t, and therein lies a possible problem for Chevrolet’s new “Chevy Runs Deep” campaign.

Although the party line from Goodby Silverstein (the agency behind the campaign) is that it wanted to move away from a focus on Chevy’s past, the majority of the spots I’ve seen are heavily focused on just that. Much of what’s on the screen during the ads is home-movie-style footage and stills from the 1950s-1970s, and they’re often accompanied by a decidedly retro soundtrack. And philosophically speaking, the metaphysical space in which Chevy “runs deep” is, after all, the nation’s collective past memory.

Yet for a fair number of today’s consumers—e.g., those who spent their childhoods being driven around in a Chevrolet Citation—the memories involved likely have to do with shoddy build quality and poor reliability. Consider this quote from a commenter at “The Truth About Cars”: “To my generation (mid-20s, early 30s), Chevy runs deep with Cavalier and Lumina DNA. Not a good thing.”

That being said, the commercial for the Chevrolet Volt shows the problem may not be with the concept so much as with the execution. The Volt spot does away with explicit references to old cars and trucks; instead, it seeks to activate memories of what being an American driver is all about: “This is America, man. Home of the highway, last-minute detours and spontaneous acts of freedom.” Then, the commercial shows how a fresh Chevy product—the Volt—puts a new spin on those old traits.

With much of the division’s future riding on new breakthrough products like the Volt and Chevrolet Cruze, and based on Ewanick’s reputation as a marketing expert par excellence, I was expecting a much more innovative approach from this batch of commercials, and I have to admit I’m underwhelmed so far. Adding to my uneasiness is this much-reported comment from Jeff Goodby, co-chairman and creative director for the agency involved here: “All things being equal, Americans want to buy Chevys.”

Even if this were true, the first thing Chevrolet would have to do to capitalize on this would be to prove to customers that today’s Chevys are, in fact, (at least) equal to the competition. Which is something the majority of the new commercials don’t even attempt to do.

Author: Charles Krome

Charles Krome is a long-time automotive journalist who spent more than 10 years on the inside at General Motors and Ford, and also has corporate communications experience with Audi, Porsche and BASF Automotive Refinish. As a big motorsports fan growing up in the Detroit area, Krome was lucky enough to be able to attend numerous NASCAR, Indy car, F1 and SCCA events while still in his formative years. This, combined with a childhood that included significant (passenger) seat time in cars from Lotus and Jensen Healey, made him a car guy at an earlier age. Today, he lives in metro Detroit with his car wife, raising car kids.

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1 Comment

  1. So much for doing away with “Chevy” for strictly “Chevrolet.”

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