Chevrolet's Silverado TV Ad: Our Country, Your Truck, They're Wimps

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
chevrolet s silverado tv ad our country your truck they re wimps

In 1991, Italian clothing maker Benneton released a controversial ad campaign. Huge billboards and full page magazine ads displayed rows of crosses in an American military cemetery, a priest kissing a nun on the lips, a black woman breast feeding a white baby and other images designed to shock even the most jaded sensibilities. In 1992, Benneton upped the ante with photos of a dying Aids victim, a Kalashnikov-wielding African guerrilla holding a human leg bone, a boat overcrowded with Albanians, a group of African refugees, a weeping family contemplating the bloody body of a Mafioso and two Indians caught in a Calcutta flood. “Reality advertising” had arrived. And now it’s here, courtesy of, of all companies, Chevrolet.

The ad in question is “Our Country, Our Truck.” The 60-second music video cum ad features a montage of historical and manufactured images, including civil rights campaigner Rosa Parks sitting on a bus, Martin Luther King mouthing “I have a dream” in front of the Washington monument, a half-naked peace protester clutching a US flag modified with a peace symbol, a recently resigned President Nixon waving goodbye from a Marine helicopter, a raging wildfire, a hurricane ripping the roof off of a house, post-Katrina flooding, the twin floodlight light tribute at Ground Zero, weary firefighters (geddit?) and, oh yeah, a new Silverado.

Needless to say, after the ad was aired, a number of viewers and more than a few media commentators took GM to task for using images of disaster and political strife to sell pickup trucks. Needless to say, Chevrolet’s spin machine was warmed-up and ready to go. "We were trying to strike that balance between provocative and not stepping over the line," Chevrolet Advertising Director Kim Kosak told Automotive News. "A brand like Chevrolet can do it. If you used those images to hawk a $199 deal that would be reprehensible," Kosak added, oblivious to the old joke that ends “We already know what you are; we’re just haggling over price.”

When asked WTF they were thinking, the edgy ad guys responsible for the spot were even, um, edgier. According to Bill Ludwig, Chief Creative Officer for the Campbell-Ewald ad agency, "If you want to make a statement that rings true with the majority of people, you are going to piss off some people.” This, we can presume, was a large part of Ludwig’s goal. In case you missed it, “There are a lot of cynical people out there who don't react well to this, and a lot of people who will never get behind the wheel of a pickup. So let them get into their Volvo sedans and complain about this spot that they see as exploitive. This is not for them."

Never mind the ad’s subtext, clock Ludwig’s anti-Volvo agenda. Following GM’s recent hiring of right wing commentator Sean Hannity for a national radio promotion, this kind of barely concealed blue state hate is designed to attract pickup buyers with an “us vs. them” political mentality. Paranoid? Then what’s with John Cougar Mellencamp’s musical tribute to the idea of “stand and fight” under an image of a Vietnam battlefield? How reactionary is that? And you’ve got to wonder about the politics of a man who uses death, disaster and turmoil to sell a truck calling his critics “cynical.”

All of which brings us back to the central question: does controversy sell pickups? If Benneton can sell sweaters by showing a black stallion humping a white mare (as you can see, I’m not making this up), surely Chevy can sell a light truck or two by reminding us of the tragedy of 911. Ah, but there is a crucial difference between the two campaigns. As you’d expect from the company that brought us the front wheel-drive Impala SS, Chevy wimped out. Benneton’s ads were/are designed to confront viewers, to make them question their values and preconceptions. Chevy’s “Our Country, Our Truck” was/is designed to reinforce the traditional pickup truck buyer's (if no one else’s) values and preconceptions.

GM’s ad guy’s right: for Chevy’s core audience, the “Our Country, Our Truck” ad is about as confrontational as The National Enquirer. Even the atomic bomb explosion removed from the final cut would not have asked any questions of the average pickup truck buyer’s psyche. Sure, the ad exploits a few uncomfortable moments of our national history for commercial gain, but it’s not as if they showed a bunch of flag-waving Chevy owners pushing a non-union made Toyota Tundra off a cliff.

Once again, GM shows it just, can’t, quite, get, there. Like the people in charge of designing and building their products, the execs responsible for Chevrolet’s advertising don’t understand that fortune doesn’t favor the semi-brave. If you’re gonna build a V8 performance car, it's gotta be rear wheel-drive. If you're gonna piss people off, you gotta really piss them off. As it stands now, the only people who are going to be angry about this Silverado thing are GM’s shareholders.

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  • MarkBlog MarkBlog on Nov 02, 2006

    Like so many other deaf, dumb and blind so-called companies, the dinosaur called GM thinks it can advertise its way to success. That "creative" directors can fool all of us into simply overlooking the fact that their cars suck. That they are junk on wheels. This controversy is a tempest in a teapot. The company is supposed to be making cars not noise. But it forgot how to do that 30 years ago. So it leaves that to Toyota. And that quiet giant is eating GM's face. Mark Stevens MSCO

  • Notbuyinit Notbuyinit on Feb 04, 2007

    Most of what you see is caused by the fact that Chevy/GM ad execs pretty much live in a bubble and have no real lives. Therein lies the problem -- they mostly use their agency CE as a mouthpiece and production house and very seldom as a creative thinktank, they force pretty much every idea down the agency's throat. Not to say CE doesn't cooperate lovingly and have its own share of redneck reasoning. Literally everything that gets into public view has to be of low enough IQ and quality for Chevy's sheltered & idiotic ad figureheads to understand/approve it. "Our Country" is so highly offensive (and desperate) on so many levels... and not a single ad exec at GM could see for themselves as to why on earth that would be the case. Fire them all -- as far as Detroit goes,we should be viewing these people as accountable elected officials, they are controlling/destroying the livelihood of an entire region -- and trust me, I know from personal experience that Kosak and co. don't give a mangy rat's ass about a single one of you. If you are in the ad biz in Detroit, start looking for a new gig and soon. Most likely in a new city unless a tech boom happens. Oh yeah, and the cars continue to utterly suck. There's your trump card. See ya GM, (and CE) it's been a good run but all good things must come to an end. I give ya 5 before you are absorbed by Toyota.

  • Kat Laneaux Wonder if they will be able to be hacked into (the license plates) and then you get pulled over for invalid license plates or better yet, someone steal your car and transpose numbers to show that they are the owners. Just a food for thought.
  • Tassos Government cheese for millionaires, while idiot Joe biden adds trillions to the debt.What a country (IT ONCE WAS!)
  • Tassos screw the fat cat incompetents. Let them rot. No deal.
  • MaintenanceCosts I think if there's one thing we can be sure of given Toyota's recent decisions it's that the strongest version of the next Camry will be a hybrid. Sadly, the buttery V6 is toast.A Camry with the Highlander/Sienna PSD powertrain would be basically competitive in the sedan market, with the slow death of V6 and big-turbo options. But for whatever reason it seems like that powertrain is capacity challenged. Not sure why, as there's nothing exotic in it.A Camry with the Hybrid Max powertrain would be bonkers, easily the fastest thing in segment. It would likewise be easy to build; again, there's nothing exotic in the Hybrid Max powertrain. (And Hybrid Max products don't seem to be all that constrained, so far.)
  • Analoggrotto The readers of TTAC deserve better than a bunch of Kia shills posing as journalists.