Chevy Hits a Little Red Home Run

Here’s a simple question. Why do a “brand ad?” You know, the kind with very little copy, no call to action, no URL…just sort of a “this is us” statement.

The obvious answers, of course, are “to build awareness,” or “to support the other integrated efforts with frequency or broader reach.”

But what happens when that “brand ad” doesn’t hardly mention the brand, and only a certain segment of the population will even understand the headline?

Such was the case recently when this ad appeared the day after the news of Prince’s passing broke.

prince-tribute-chevy-hed-2016

To borrow a phrase, this ad is insanely great. It’s smart. It’s sexy. It was perfectly timed. There’s no waste there. It appeared as a full page in multiple newspapers, including USA Today and The New York Times.

But there are people that might ask: why bother? It won’t sell any more Corvettes, and not everybody will “get it.”

That’s exactly the point. It’s not meant for everybody. It’s aimed entirely (and only) at people who do get it – in order to say something very purely and very simply.

A couple of things to note about this ad:

1 – It’s brilliantly executed.  The derivative use of the lyric from the song is so perfect, and gives this ad a strong emotional overtone.  (It also alerts people in the know that Chevy, too, is in the know.  Wink, wink.)  The 1958 – 2016 tells you it’s a tribute.  And have a good look at the art direction – all that black space creates not only a sexy mood, but also an appropriately somber one.  Note how the curvaceous rear view of the car creates a gorgeous and vivid topography to anchor the otherwise colorless page.

2 – It’s not self-serving.  There’s no logo here.  No URL.  No Twitter handle.  Sure, there’s a Corvette nameplate in the lower right corner, but it’s not retouched or enlarged so you’ll notice it.  Neither Chevrolet nor GM used this as a platform to say “hey, look at us!  We loved Prince too! Now go buy our shit.”  You’ll also note that Chevy used a 1963 body type, with the identifiable split rear window, and NOT the 2016 body type.  Instead, they used the space (and the money it cost) to make a genuine statement and to quietly share in the collective sadness along with all the other fans.  Too many other brands used this as an opportunity to call attention to themselves, and in some cases, it backfired pretty badly.

My compliments to CMO Tim Mahoney for having the guts to do this ad, and of course, the folks at Commonwealth/McCann for coming up with it.

These days, we place so much emphasis on goal-meeting, sales benchmarks, quarterly returns, and year-on-year improvements. (Especially in the auto industry!) Add to that the relentless testing and measurement protocols now afforded via digital, and we’ve exact-ified ourselves into a dark marketing corner.

And here comes Chevy, the pride of behemoth General Motors, with a small statement that has nothing to do with sales goals, or a dealer group, or a competing nameplate. A simple, elegant statement to honor the passing of a musical legend.

Stop scratching your head. I can see you there, reading this, saying to yourself “yeah, but WHY do an ad that won’t sell any more cars today than yesterday?” Your left brain hurts. You want accountability, returns. You want it to DO something.

But that’s just the thing about brand building. This IS doing something. It’s furthering a sense of alignment. An orientation around the coolness of Prince, and around the collective grief we all share when an icon like this passes away.

If you got your hands on the Corvette brand book, I’d bet the word “cool” appears in there more than a dozen times. Remember, a brand is simply a stand-in for a promise of value. Corvette is about the promise of cool. The promise of sexy. The promise of fast. The promise of classic American indulgence. [Listen to the lyrics of Little Red Corvette, and you’ll see those same themes. Heck, Prince was all those things!]  This ad, very simply, synthesizes all those same themes into one elegant execution. And I would argue that this one ad does more to build the brand essence than the last decade of stuff combined.

When “Little Red Corvette” came out in 1982, it probably didn’t sell any cars, either. But it sure built awareness! So, Chevrolet is simply repaying a small favor that was done some 34 years ago.

Good on ya, Chevy.

Super Bowl Advertising on AUTO-Pilot?


For the most part, the super bowl spots this year were, well, less than super. No really big ideas. No breaking of any molds. No we’ll-be-talking-about-this-in-20-years executions. It’s not that they were bad. They just weren’t memorable. And in the world of advertising, if you can’t do memorable, you can’t do anything.

Let’s spare the knocks and gaffes. We all know what those were. (A kid peeing in a pool for a free online tax service? Really?) Instead, I’ll focus on the few standouts in the automotive category and see if we can highlight some themes to remember if and when you ever have the chance to put your brand on the grandest stage of all.

For my money, GM wins the night with their “2012” post-apocalyptic survival spot for Silverado. A Silverado pulls out of the gray rubble of the aftermath with every cliché in tow: a rugged middle-aged man, his trusty dog and, of course, Barry Manilow crooning “Looks Like We Made It.” Even the Transformers (yup, that’s Bumblebee’s head laying on the side of the road,) and the alien ships couldn’t outwit the Mayan foreshadowing. But Silverado did.

And in the gutsiest move of the night, GM takes on the competition by name. The main character meets up with three other Silverado drivers and asks, “Where’s Dave?” A saddened friend reports the dreary news: “Dave didn’t drive the longest-lasting, most dependable truck on the road…Dave drove a Ford.” Home run. Say goodnight Gracie. That’s all she wrote. Best spot of Super Bowl R2D2. Take on the competition by name, and kick ‘em in the ding-ding. Then share a Twinkie.  Wow.

In general, cars made the best showing as a category, but also seemed to demonstrate the weirdest strategies. Audi (with agency Venables + Bell) spent $7 million on the 2-minute “Vampire Party,” which is a neat little spot that goes a LONG way to make a point about their LED headlights, which apparently recreate daylight so well they fry vampires. I love advertising that’s singular and focused and creatively makes a point about a particular feature. So points for telling us SOMETHING about the car. (More than others can say.) But on the Super Bowl? Let’s keep it brand-ey, okay?

Fiat: fantasy about a gorgeous Italian woman with all the soft-porn of latte foam. Chevy: “stunt drivers” thing was kind of done already by Nissan earlier this year. Cadillac: let’s take on BMW on the positioning they’ve owned for more than 25 years. We know the creatives came out to play, but where was the CMO in all of these executions?

Clint Eastwood enlisted to do a tug-at-your-heartstrings-but-watch-out-cuz-I-can-also-kick-your-ass sendup for Chrysler. Okay, this is exactly the kind of thing Americans who are feeling patriotic and puffed up want to hear. And the spot is well done, and turns last year’s coming-out party into an extended affair. All good. But I think we’ve all come to expect more from Wieden + Kennedy than a reboot of the 1984 Hal Riney “Morning in America” classic.

VW also took the let’s-build-on-last-year strategy with “Dog Strikes Back,” a touching anthropomorphic vignette of a dog who’s lost his mojo. The dog can hardly chase a car anymore because he’s gotten too complacent. So he embarks on a disciplined workout regimen, resists the temptation of mom’s table scraps and gets back into fighting shape so he can hustle out the door and chase that flashy new VW Beetle down the road. Really good work from Deutsch. Nice little tag on the end to connect the dots to last year’s “Vader” spot for Passat. Another winner for 2012.

One thumb up to Hyundai for a number of reasons. They’re feeling their oats these days (and they should – their sales are killing,) so they decide to invest in some Super Bowl branding. The “cheetah” spot and the “think fast” spot (both from Innocean) weren’t feats of advertising genius, but they were solid entries into a pretty crowded field of automotive advertising. Compared to Toyota and Lexus, they were smarter. Not as funny as Honda’s “Ferris Bueller” or “Seinfeld,” but probably did more to educate viewers about the brand. And by the way, where was Ford, the company that bragged all year about not needing a bailout?

This article first appeared on Technorati.