Shortly after the Chevy campaign from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners broke during the World Series, Internet bloggers began making fun of the spot’s tagline, “Chevy runs deep”—some even called it the worst of all time. Of course, the line gave them plenty to work with. Such wanton use of the d-word conjures up, among other things, Deep Thoughts, Jack Handey’s parody of introspection and self-help that ran on Saturday Night Live in the ’90s—not to mention Deep Throat. And how about deep do-do?
But what I find more shocking is that Chevy left two agencies (one after 91 years!), made the impulsive move of hiring Goodby without a review and ended up with this campaign. It’s a bad sign when the boldness goes into the choice of agencies and not the work.
I find the TV spots ridiculously derivative and bland. Why go with something this timid and backward looking? What was in that brief? “We’re looking for warmed-over Campbell-Ewald with a bit of Wieden’s ‘we-make-stuff’ for Dodge. If you’re stuck, go back to the Saturn work you did 10 years ago, but make it less imaginative. And in selling the Volt, make sure it doesn’t seem as if we’re crazy environmentalists. And keep reminding consumers we’ve been around since Warren G. Harding was in the White House and it’s their job to keep us here, damn it”? (Watch the spots here.)
Where, in all of this nostalgia, is the pay-off for the modern buyer? There’s almost nothing here about the joy of driving or car ownership. Instead, it’s a derriere-covering campaign that only a CMO could love.
Let’s start with “Anthem.” I will admit that I hate anthems. Make them for feel-good corporate meetings and the Web site, but please save the money and don’t run them on TV. They all have that same rip-o-matic feel of old-timey advertising. No one loves brands that much.
This one, however, is nicely crafted. I love watching a guy from the 1920s use a giant wrench and lower a radiator. There’s something magnetically Ken Burns-ian about it. But inevitably in using this great old footage, the present looks less interesting.
The announcer, Tim Allen, is a bit of a retread. He’s best known as Tim Taylor on Home Improvement, which ran during the ’90s. (But he’s also the voice of Buzz Lightyear, so he has legs—and wings.)
The script, because it’s an anthem, attempts to match the images with elevated rhetorical flourishes, which to the modern ear sound awkward and stilted. There’s one line about “making our vehicles amongst the safest on earth.” I’ll have to think about that whilst I put some thistle in my tea.
“Dogs and Pickups,” however, is delightfully uncomplicated—just pictures of pooches and vehicles, backed by the always fun “Move It On Over” by Hank Williams. It’s a highly entertaining 20 seconds or so, but seems unfinished. (Especially since the Campbell-Ewald work on Chevy trucks was always so strong. Like a rock, in fact.) Obviously, dogs also love Ford trucks and Nissan already did “Dogs Love Trucks.” This just kind of lays it out there in a generic way, with Allen providing the line, “A dog and a Chevy, what else do you need?” (What a setup! How about a job? A house? A strategy?)
The spot that shows newborn babies coming home from the hospital in Chevies also feels unfinished. I’m a sucker for any advertising involving cute babies, especially if there’s a payoff. Snapshots of the various families at the various times in history are fake, but interesting, and I was moved by the image of the African-American couple. The banjo twang in the music (“You Are My Sunshine” by Mississippi John Hurt) gives me a pang in the heart every time, but the spot ends with the line, “As long as there are babies, there’ll be Chevies to bring them home.” What? Truly, there’s a lapse in logic. Even worse, it sounds vaguely like a threat—no babies, no Chevies for you!
In terms of selling product, the best is the spot showing young’uns with their first cars. But it’s weirdly jumpy and off-putting, even if it shows the youngsters that the Jonas Brothers have no lock on awkward teen hair.
The act of matching old pictures with nostalgic music is the kind of dance that agencies tend to do when there’s no product to show.
Given that the Volt is a unique Chevy product, its spot is even more disappointing than the others. The line, “More car than electric,” plays down the environmental correctness. What’s played up is an attempt at rugged individualism and rebellion. “This is America, man!” Allen says, where we’re known for “spontaneous acts of freedom.” There’s talk of “nomads” and “wayfarers”—quirky, poetic words, so too bad the meaning of wayfarers is a traveler who’s usually on foot. Never mind, the message comes through loud and clear: Despite the electric cord, this car is for men who can’t be tied down. Ladies, go off and get into your little Priuses.
I’m really disappointed in this lackluster work. But the IPO is coming up and GM execs are back to using their private planes. It’s business as usual. Once again, I don’t get why nostalgia for the days when Chevrolet was a powerful company translates to why I should buy a car. “Remember that first Chevy?” Allen asks in the “First Car” spot. “Yeah, it gets under your skin.” Uh-oh. Hope it doesn’t go too deep.
Meanwhile, I’ll continue scratching my head.