I had the pleasure of spending part of a dinner at last week’s Volt press launch chatting with GM’s marketing honcho Joel Ewanick, better known for his work as “marketer of the year” at Hyundai. Ewanick’s a confident, engaging guy, and when the “Don’t Call It Chevy” mini-embroglio came up over desert, his eyes took on a mischievous twinkle. As other GM communications and PR staff recounted their stories of the 24-hour madness that followed the release of a memo which indicated that the term “Chevy” was no longer a welcome marketing feature, it became clear that neither Ewanick nor any of his staff had any regrets about accidentally launching a full-blown public debate over the value of the term Chevy. The very debate, it seems, reconnected the brand that had tried everything marketing-wise with its hidden core: consumers care enough about Chevrolet to have a popular and affectionate nickname for it. And what started as an unnecessary PR blunder seems to have given birth to Chevrolet’s newest marketing tagline: Chevy Runs Deep. Or, as Chevy’s ad man Jeff Goodby puts it
Certainly there seems to be some evidence of this. As much as marketers of GM’s recent past complained about the so-called “perception gap,” the reality is that, given the quality of its products, Chevrolet was lucky to maintain the volume it did over the preceding decades. Chevy’s long history in the US market has allowed the brand’s marketing to weave itself into the cultural fabric of America, giving it an advantage that is certainly worth more than any one product or feature.
Not that Ewanick discounts the importance of product either. When asked about Hyundai’s success in the US, he credits CEO Chung Mong-Koo for spending 24 years in customer service before becoming head of the company, and challenging his firm to deliver quality that is on par with the best in the business. “It all comes down to product,” Ewanick said, sounding more like an engineer than a marketer. “Who’d have thunk it?”
But, as with any idea, 90 percent of getting “Chevy Runs Deep” will be in the execution. After all, a number of commentators are already lining up to declare “Chevy Runs Deep” dead on arrival. Jalopnik‘s Justin Hyde figures the line doesn’t actually say anything about the brand, and that it “sounds less like a pitch and more like a diagnosis from a dermatologist.” MLive’s Patrick Wattrick reckons that
Drawing on Chevy’s history, however iconic, to sell the brand runs counter to GM’s recent “may the best car win” ethic. It’s hard to imagine potential Cruze buyers responding to a slogan that appeals to crotchety oldsters’ nostalgia for the ’57 Chevy they never owned.
Newsweek’s Mickey Kaus follows a similar line of criticism, arguing that the line
appears to be yet another attempt to sell you patriotic “heritage”—in other words, to get you to buy an American car because American cars used to be really good and everybody drove them!
But one thing is clear: “Chevy Runs Deep” is both more honest and more convincing than its predecessor “Excellence For Everyone,” ousted Marketing Boss Susan Docherty’s attempt to refocus Chevrolet marketing on products. And though it’s easy for auto enthusiasts to argue that a brand should be focused solely on its products, this goes against the whole point of branding. Obviously, good products are a precursor to success, but a brand tagline should be about adding emotional appeal on top of what the vehicle itself offers. Ewanick and Goodby insist that the tagline won’t be in every ad (for example, the Volt will feature the “more car than electric” tag), and that it won’t shift the focus entirely away from product-oriented advertising like the recent crop of Cruze commercials.
Chevrolet’s marketing has been all over the place since “American Revolution” ran out of steam (well before it was discontinued, it must be said), and we haven’t seen a convincing stab at the effort since GM emerged from bankruptcy. Product-based taglines like “Excellence For Everyone” and “May The Best Car Win” simply didn’t give consumers a real reason to think about Chevrolet as anything other than an underdog. More importantly, they were premature in the sense that they debuted while Chevrolet still had a number of deeply uncompetitive products like the Cobalt, Aveo, Impala and Colorado. Until Chevrolet has a lineup without a single weak product, saying “look at our products” simply isn’t good enough.
“Chevy Runs Deep” is far from perfect, but it expresses the heritage of loyalty to Chevrolet in contemporary terms. It’s also the product of learning from mistakes, a sure sign that Ewanick’s arrival has shaken things up at Chevy’s marketing operation. Though we don’t see “Runs Deep” turning into the next “Heartbeat of America” or “Like a Rock,” it’s a fairly solid effort for a brand that still has a long ways to go.