Chevrolet Premieres Centennial Commercial

Chevrolet has been criticized for repeatedly resorting to nostalgia and patriotism to sell its cars to Americans. Even its current “Chevy Runs Deep” tagline carries with it an implicit reference to the company’s long history and role in American culture. It’s not a new phenomenon. In the 1970s, as the domestic auto industry tried to compete with the first wave of Japanese cars sold in America, jingle composer Ed Labunski and Campbell-Ewald ad writer Jim Hartzell wrote “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet”, which provided the soundtrack to what Car and Driver called one of the two best car commercials of all time. It was a landmark advertisement that is considered to have changed not just advertising but also branding in general. Chevy even reprised the concept this past summer with a spot called “Love Affair”, that reflected changes in baseball, America and the Chevy lineup.

It seems to me that while a lot of the criticism of Chevrolet and GM advertising is valid, when you’re a company that’s 100 years old you can’t run away from your history. After all, in the minds of consumers that history, good or bad, is a part of Chevy’s brand. So Chevy can’t exactly avoid its history as America’s car brand, a position it held for much of the 20th century. As the Chevrolet centennial approaches even critics of Chevy’s nostalgically themed advertising have to allow the company a little space to celebrate its anniversary.

William C. “Billy” Durant and Louis Chevrolet founded the Chevrolet Motor Co. on November 3, 1911. With Chevy’s actual centennial only two weeks away, the other night Chevrolet introduced the commercial that will be the company’s public face running through it’s 100th birthday celebration. In the spirit of Labunski and Hartzell, Chevy launched the ad during the first night of the 2011 World Series.

The commercial is called “Then and Now” and the ad, created by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, part of the Omnicom Group, is very clever film making. It’s one of those cases of synergy, where the visual concept of the ad meshes beautifully with the messages. The ad is based on vintage photographs of Chevy cars and trucks, held up in front of the camera in exactly the same locations as they were originally shot. Some of the photos are from the GM archive, others were found on photo sharing web sites like Flickr and Facebook. The soundtrack is Ray Charles’ magisterial version of America the Beautiful. Some of the locations are family homes and some are sightseeing spots, with an implicit emphasis on family as well as country.

About midway through the 60 second ad, we get our first view of a current Chevy car, the Volt, pictured with three young snowboarders at the side of the road, as a vintage photograph is raised to show us three young people with a Chevy in the same spot in the 1930s. In another scene, the camera pulls back from a vintage photo of a ’60s Chevy pickup with kids in the bed parked near an adobe building to reveal a new Silverado parked in front of the same building. Finally, there is a photo of a family standing around their 1955 Chevy in the driveway of their home. The photo is pulled away to reveal video of a family getting into their new Chevy Volt as a low key Tim Allen intones, “For the first 100 years and for generations to come, thanks for making us a part of your life.” The spot ends with a graphic of a Chevy bow-tie, the tagline Chevy Runs Deep, and below it, Since 1911.

I usually measure advertisements on a simple basis, do they sell product? I’m not sure, though, if that metric counts when it comes to things like anniversaries, particularly centennials. This commercial was created to give Americans warm fuzzies about Chevy and it that I think it will succeed.

Note: This not the original version of “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet”, which ran in 1974. This is a 1975 ad for 1976 model year Chevys.

“Love Affair”, Summer 2011

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