Chevrolet Will Find Out if It 'Runs Deep' Enough

By Dale Buss October 29, 2010

Chevrolet Cruze at LA Auto Show - 300.JPG

Chevrolet has unveiled its new marketing campaign, under the tagline "Chevy Runs Deep," and its brand stewards have fully explained their thinking behind the effort that began in earnest with TV spots during World Series telecasts and that will crescendo with Chevy's reappearance in Super Bowl advertising on February 6.

But will the new approach, Chevy's execution, and its reservoir of goodwill among American consumers actually run deep enough for the campaign to become successful in rebranding Chevrolet? Will it end up bolstering Chevy like a rock - or sink like a stone?

"We wanted to do [the campaign] in a way that represents Chevy as the best and brightest of what America has to offer," Chris Perry, Chevrolet's new chief, explained in an interview with AutoObserver.com. "There's no ambiguity about Chevy; we're an authentic, iconic, Americana brand.

"The only question was: How do we leverage that? We really felt we couldn't do it just by wrapping ourselves in the American flag and say, 'You're an American; we're an American brand. Now, purchase us.'"

An American Tapestry

Instead, "Chevy Runs Deep" blends past associations with new products in a tapestry approach that reminds consumers about Chevrolet's increasingly solid product lineup while attempting to tap the brand's deep heritage in American life and culture.

"In the car business, you have to have an emotional bond as well as a rational belief in the vehicle," Perry said. "As we evolve this campaign, you'll see spots very much more about the brand, as we launched [this week], as well as very much more about specific vehicles."

It is the first effort for Chevy as agency of record by Goodby Silverstein & Partners, the San Francisco-based shop that opened an office in Detroit to accommodate its huge new client. The most famous association of the agency - now owned by Omnicom Group - with GM was its stewardship of Saturn's marketing campaigns for several years before the brand's demise earlier this year.

Chevy Runs Deep Commercial

What they came out with first are 60-second "anthem" spots that use archival footage of Chevrolet vehicles being built and driven, evoking pride not only in American cars but also in the American spirit. Chevy's new oral persona, Michigan-born actor and car nut Tim Allen, does the voice-overs.

The spots all finish with strong presentations of new Chevy products including Silverado, the new Cruze subcompact, and the soon-to-be-launched Volt extended-range hybrid.

Spotlight on Products

In employing a strong focus on Chevy's new lineup, Perry and GM's Chief Marketing Officer, Joel Ewanick -- former colleagues at Hyundai USA -- are betting that consumers will be as intrigued by glimpses of the brand's robust new vehicles as they are tugged by nostalgia.
"Cruze, for example," said Perry as he took a few minutes to talk, away from test-driving Cruze and its competitors at GM's Milford, Mich., proving grounds. "Head-to-head, we'll take on anybody."

And indeed, in a suite of TV ads released just a few weeks ago, a precursor to this broader campaign, Chevrolet Cruze called out Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic and Ford Focus by name, each in specific ads.

Chevy also is using the campaign to pre-stage the launch of Volt, which is getting strong reviews before its launch for strong practical performance in addition to the fact that it can be driven in all-electric mode for up to 40 miles or more without recharging.

"We are using Volt in these ads to show how Chevrolet is innovative, has superior engineering prowess, and will help define the industry going forward," Perry said.

Chevy's new ads already carry a hint of its plans to emphasize "range anxiety" in Volt's upcoming battle with the soon-to-be-introduced Nissan Leaf. While Volt has a gasoline engine on board to provide extra range and the reassurance that the driver won't get stranded for lack of an electrical charge, Leaf is all-electric.

"We purposely put Volt out in the middle of nowhere" in one of the ads, Perry said. "We shot that vehicle out in the hinterlands for that exact reason: to reinforce the fact that you can use this as a real vehicle, and go anywhere you want to, without worrying about it."

Early Skepticism

Not surprisingly, Chevrolet already has faced criticism of "Chevy Runs Deep" from automotive cognoscenti. The tag line "sounds a little like Chevrolet makes torpedoes," declared Fred Meier on his Drive On blog on the USA Today site. Jalopnik's Justin Hyde quips that the slogan "sounds less like a pitch and more like a diagnosis from a dermatologist."

More substantively, George Cook, a business professor at the University of Rochester and formerly a Detroit marketing hand, believes that "history doesn't sell well for a company that just came out of bankruptcy."

And Richard Laermer asserts that the "all-American" theme is unnecessary and ineffective with today's buying public in this country. "In the old days, you could use that to counter Toyota," said the CEO of RLM Public Relations, a New York-based firm that has counted Toyota, Ford and Chrysler among its clients.

That First Chevy Commercial

"But Toyota is so in the crapper right now that you wouldn't think [Chevy] would have to do that anymore. And Honda's new marketing campaign is bad."

But regardless of whether Chevy has chosen a productive new direction with this campaign, some new direction was imperative.

The brand created marketing magic over the decades with slogans and positioning including "See the U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet"; "An American Revolution"; "Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet"; Like a Rock" for Chevy trucks; and "Heartbeat of America."

Looking Ahead

Most of those efforts were created by Campbell-Ewald, whose exclusive 91-year position as the brand's agency of record ended this year. But along with former GM top marketers, the shop also was responsible for recent clunker slogans for Chevrolet including "Excellence for Everyone" and "May the Best Car Win."

"Quite honestly, if it were three to five years ago, I wouldn't have taken the job" with Chevrolet, said Perry, who became CMO of Hyundai USA after Ewanick left the company first, briefly, for Nissan, and then to become GM's top marketer last spring.

Both Ewanick and Perry have described the initial stages of Chevy's new marketing campaign as the beginning of a ramp-up over the next few months that will culminate in the brand's reappearance - the first by any GM brand in three years - in the telecast of Super Bowl XLV from Dallas.

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That advertising "will continue to build on the characteristics of the brand, and maybe bring in a little humor and more technology," Perry hinted. "We also have to reinforce the quality and value and performance of our vehicles.

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LEAVE A COMMENT

pushrod says: 9:10 AM, 10.29.10

I saw a "Chevy Runs Deep" commercial the other day, and it was actually a bit moving. On its own, the slogan sounds a bit "off", but when put in the context of the images of older Chevys, and the voiceover that accompanies the commercial, it actually worked pretty well. I guess that is part of the weakness of the slogan, is that it needs a lot behind it for it to resonate. The words alone aren't enough.

That said, what else can GM do? I'm not sure, among the auto cognoscenti, that GM can win, no matter what they pick. Go back in history and reuse (or update) a past gem, and they'll get beat up for not being original. Pick one that makes a bold claim, and get accused of being cocky or arrogant. "Chevy Runs Deep" is a bit vague without the explanation behind it, but it's not *that* bad. Besides, of the comments I've seen, I have yet to see meaningful suggestions for something better. If nothing else, it might get people to watch the commercials to see what's going on, and that might get people more interested in looking at Chevy again for their next purchase.

David Greene says: 10:09 AM, 10.29.10

I suspect many of us in the auto industry are too close to the news... I think the average consumer has a very short memory, and many may not even realize that GM and Chrysler are still owned in part by the government. For example, this past summer, my aunt (my own family *gasp*) asked me if something was wrong with Chrysler because she'd heard that they might file bankruptcy. She was only a year late on that. Seriously, more people vote on American Idol than for the American President.

thriftytechie says: 6:18 PM, 10.29.10

I agree with pushrod about "Chevy Runs Deep". On its own it sinks, but if they stick with it for a few years and flesh out the story, it will be fine. Strategically, it's solid too: the heritage of Chevy is truly a differentiator in the marketplace. Perhaps only one other brand (Ford) could claim a deeper bond with American culture.

Besides, it sure beats "Moving Forward" as a tagline while your cars are being recalled for moving forward.

1487 says: 12:05 PM, 11.01.10

i love that they survey a few bloggers for their opinions on the slogan as if they were going to say anything positive. What to shoppers and regular people think? That would be a more telling analysis. Anyone who follows the auto media knows that every GM ad campaign is criticized as ineffective even if there is never any basis for the criticism. I actually thought "May the best car win" was pretty simple and effective. The article here says the campaign was a dud. According to whom?

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