Monday, January 12, 2009
Chevrolet was a division of the General Motors Corporation (GM), the largest car manufacturer in the United States. Long facing pressure from Japanese automakers such as Toyota, the company decided to revamp its vehicle lineup in 2004 by launching 10 new and redesigned models under a single campaign, ‘‘An American Revolution.’’ This marked Chevrolet’s first division-wide marketing push in more than a decade. The campaign was headed by Michigan-based ad agency Campbell-Ewald. Beginning with a television commercial on December 31, 2003, during Dick Clark’s Primetime New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, ‘‘An American Revolution’’ featured dozens of TV spots, each featuring a vehicle in the company’s fleet. Key spots promoted the sports-car model Corvette C6 and the SSR truck. Chevrolet reached out to many demographics, using ‘‘An American Revolution’’ as a flexible umbrella that encompassed many targeted mini-initiatives. This included a male-focused print campaign for the Silverado truck and a hip-hop themed radio and television campaign for the Impala and HHR. The campaign relied on exposure during key events, including New Year’s Eve, the Super Bowl, the Vibe Awards, and the 2004 Summer Olympics.
The campaign was mostly successful. Many models, such as the Corvette and the Impala, had strong sales numbers. Consumers responded favorably to the new commercials, which all fared well in USA Today’s Ad Track surveys, with 26 percent of respondents giving the campaign the highest score possible (against an industry average of 16 percent). At 98 percent, dealer participation was impressive. The company also generated significantly more traffic at its website and maintained its high public profile. Nevertheless, some individual lines, especially the SSR, did not sell well.
Chevrolet was founded in 1911 by Louis Chevrolet, a Swiss-born race-car driver, and William Durant, a former executive at General Motors. By producing cars such as the 1912 Classic Six, a five-passenger sedan, the company soon became successful enough for Durant to buy a majority of GM’s voting stock. Soon thereafter Chevrolet merged with GM and became a separate division of the older company. GM dominated vehicle sales in the United States throughout the twentieth century, with Chevrolet as its premier line. By 1963, in fact, 1 out of very 10 vehicles sold in the United States was a Chevrolet.
The brand featured a number of well-known vehicles over the years, including the 1957 Bel Air, which would later be known as the ‘‘‘57 Chevy,’’ and the most recognizable American sports car, the Corvette. The Corvette was introduced in the early 1950s and became the most famous vehicle in the entire Chevrolet line. Production on the car continued through the twenty-first century, making it Chevrolet’s most established vehicle. In the face of strong competition from such competitors as the Toyota Motor Corp., Chevy decided to update much of its fleet in a 20-month period beginning in January 2004. Ten of the vehicles would be launched in that period: the cars models Malibu Maxx, Aveo, Cobalt, Corvette C6, Uplander, and Impala; the trucks SSR and Colorado; and the sports utility vehicles (SUVs) Equinox and HHR.
As Chevrolet’s signature car, the Corvette was to be the centerpiece of the campaign. The SSR was also important to the launch. Based on Chevy’s midsize SUV, the Trailblazer, the SSR was a stylized, convertible truck that Chevrolet hoped would prove popular enough to boost the sales of its other trucks.
The target market for the campaign varied from vehicle to vehicle. The SSR and Colorado trucks were aimed at men, especially those in their 20s and 30s. At a price of more than $40,000 per vehicle, the SSR would have to find a lucrative audience of young professionals to be successful.
Chevrolet also used the ‘‘American Revolution’’ campaign to reach out to minority consumers, particularly African-Americans. The Impala and HHR were especially important to that outreach. The company also made a push for Latin-American consumers. The Accent Marketing agency of Miami was hired to run the parallel Spanish-language ‘‘Subte’’ (Join Us) campaign. The campaign featured television spots that aired on Spanishlanguage stations such as Telemundo and Univision as well as radio spots and print ads.
Chevrolet’s traditional competition came from GM’s primary American competitors, the Ford Motor Company and the Chrysler Group (the American division of DaimlerChrysler, responsible for the Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge brands). The company was also under pressure from the Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp., whose subsidiary, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., was making heavy inroads in the U.S. market. In 2003 Toyota passed Ford to become the second-largest automaker in the world, right after Chevrolet’s parent, GM. The Japanese automaker moved 6.78 million units worldwide in 2003 alone, versus 8.6 million units sold worldwide that year by GM.
Chevrolet was especially concerned about the SSR’s sales prospects. It would be entering the already crowded light-truck field. Nevertheless, Chevy hoped to move at least 13,000 units of the SSR. This was a relatively conservative number that reflected the strength of the light-truck market in the United States. Both the SSR and the Trailblazer faced stiff competition from the Ford Explorer, which remained the top-selling vehicle in its class in 2003. The Corvette, Chevrolet’s biggest name, would be challenged by other sports cars, including the Porsche 911, the Audi 350Z, and the BMW Z4.
Chevrolet was faced with the daunting task of introducing new models for 10 separate vehicle lines, or half of its fleet. To meet this challenge the company unified all of its advertising under one overarching campaign, ‘‘An American Revolution.’’ This tagline reflected the dynamic new products Chevy was introducing. The campaign was created by the Michigan-based agency Campbell-Ewald and cost a reported $800 million to implement.
Chevrolet had many goals for the campaign. Most importantly, it wanted to establish strong sales for all of its new vehicles, especially key models such as the Corvette C6. Dealer participation in the company’s most recent campaign, ‘‘We’ll Be There,’’ had been only about 20 percent. Chevy wanted this number to improve significantly. It also wanted to maintain a high level of customer awareness for the company in general. The campaign was the first company-wide initiative since the ‘‘Heartbeat of America’’ campaign in the 1980s. It kicked off on New Year’s Eve 2003–2004, during the television special Dick Clark’s Primetime New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. Chevrolet was the primary sponsor of the event, the most-watched New Year’s celebration on American TV. It also bought a major billboard in Times Square to capitalize on the New Year’s Eve publicity.
The first spot of the campaign—and the focus of Chevy’s New Year’s advertising—was the ‘‘Car Carrier’’ spot. Helmed by major Hollywood director Michael Bay, whose films included the blockbusters Armageddon and The Rock, it featured six new Chevrolets that were being introduced in 2004. The spot starred the premier vehicle in Corvette’s fleet: the Corvette. Each new vehicle made an appearance as it was loaded onto a car carrier. The SSR received prominent placement, dramatically backing into the frame at the end of the spot.
The New Year’s launch underscored one of Chevrolet’s key goals for the campaign: to advertise at major events. This approach continued with the debut of two major spots at the Super Bowl just a few weeks later. The SSR was the star of one of these spots, titled ‘‘Soap.’’ It featured children getting their mouths washed out with soap after their response to seeing the SSR for the first time. The commercial met with controversy for its implied profanity and only ran for a few months. It made an impression on viewers, however, and was regarded as one of the best spots on the broadcast, which was acknowledged to be the biggest night in TV advertising. The Summer Olympics gave Chevrolet a chance to premiere a TV commercial featuring its Silverado truck. The spot depicted a Silverado acting as a tow truck for a car carrier. It recalled the New Year’s spot that kicked off the entire campaign while also underscoring the sturdy, reliable power of Chevrolet’s signature truck. Later, another key move of the campaign focused on the Silverado as well. In order to unite all of its advertising under one banner, Chevrolet discontinued its popular ‘‘Like a Rock’’ campaign, which had run for more than a decade. Featuring the eponymous song by Bob Seger, the ‘‘Like a Rock’’ spots had helped the Silverado become one of the most popular trucks in the United States. In anticipation of a 2006 redesign, however, Chevrolet decided that a new approach was needed to keep the brand fresh.
To reach the male consumers that composed the major target market for Chevy trucks, Chevrolet used both television spots and print ads. The key spot of the campaign featured the catchphrase ‘‘Men love trucks. Why? Because trucks don’t ask why.’’ The print campaign was built around a 10-page insert called ‘‘Men, Woman, and the Truck: A Relationship Handbook.’’ These inserts were placed in publications with large male readerships, such as Popular Mechanics and Men’s Health. The ads were meant to underscore the Silverado’s appeal to men in a humorous way, by tweaking traditional ‘‘macho’’ notions about men and women. In addition, retired National Football League (NFL) star Howie Long was signed on as a spokesman for entire Chevy truck line. For the HHR and Impala lines, Chevrolet devised commercials around the rap group Slum Village in an effort to reach younger fans of hip-hop music. Several television and radio spots were produced, including two 60-second radio spots for the Impala. The television commercials, with stylized visuals and quick-cut edits, were meant to look like music videos. They featured the song ‘‘EZ Up,’’ a single by Slum Village. The group itself was chosen because of its Detroit roots, and the spots prominently featured Detroit scenes. These commercials were intended to show the hipness of the Chevrolet brand. They also targeted urban consumers and ran during popular hip-hop themed events, including the Vibe Awards. Created by Vibe magazine, one of the most successful urban-music-themed publications, the awards spotlighted the best hip-hop performers in the United States.
The campaign was successful on most fronts. Chevrolet accomplished its goal of increasing dealer participation. Ninety-eight percent of United States Chevy dealers participated in the campaign. Traffic at the company’s website increased significantly, with individual vehicles, such as the Aveo, seeing 280 percent more visitors than they were before 2004. The campaign’s television commercials drew praise from critics, who found them bold and interesting. More importantly, consumers responded to the spots. According to a Millward Brown study conducted in late 2004, the ‘‘American Revolution’’ campaign was the seventh-most-recognized campaign at that time.
The spots as a group drew a positive response in
USA Today ’s Ad Track survey as well, with 26 percent of respondents holding a highly favorable view of the campaign, versus an industry average of only 16 percent. Sales were solid. The Corvette C6, which featured prominently in the campaign’s kickoff, sold out for the year. The Impala also performed impressively, moving 290,259 units to become the top-selling domestic fourdoor passenger vehicle in 2004; and the Trailblazer, with 283,384 units sold, made stiff inroads against the classleading Ford Explorer’s 339,333 units. Some lines disappointed, however. The SSR had surprisingly weak sales, moving less than 9,000 units. Chevrolet later discontinued the line.