"Chevy Runs Deep"… But Does It?

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
chevy runs deep but does it

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

It’s such a deep, wide, connected brand in America. All things being equal, Americans want to buy Chevys. And we have to put them in that position

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.

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  • Mtypex Mtypex on Oct 27, 2010

    I love the tagline! Then again, I love all GM taglines. Chevy runs deep ... discounts. They're in deep doo-doo, running second now to Ford, and losing out only to the Japanese due to currency fluctuations (which hurts the Japanese' ability to build competitive product at price points, not only in the export markets but also in the home market) and because every street corner in America, even after the dealer cuts, is still 4-deep with Chevy dealers, otherwise Hyundai would be more deeply entrenched in the US market. Maybe they should run a little more deeply with discounts, and not play GM's game of trying to screw over the consumer. The more they try to artificially enhance transaction prices, the more likely consumers are going to see where they can find deep value in Hondas and Hyundais. Chevy ran deep into the ground and is a relic of the 20th century. Maybe they could build a pink Caprice for Susan Docherty to drive as a retirement present, after she runs most deeply into the dirt? (Dunno why still is still in the GM empire, what's left of it, although that place runs through deep darkness, which allows space for those who run deep.) Much better than 'Excellence for Everyone,' but still not as good as 'Not That Old Fart's Oldsmobile.'

  • Bugo Bugo on Oct 27, 2010

    All the GM haters are coming out of their holes. You think your precious little Toyota's "moving forward" campaign is any better? Especially in the light of the unintended acceleration fiasco.

  • MaintenanceCosts This is now our fourth 20th Anniversary GTI, and the third of those four that had major structural modifications for purely aesthetic reasons. I didn't picture Tim as the type to want to join the STANCE YO crowd, but here we are?
  • JMII This is why I don't watch NASCAR, it just a crash fest. Normally due the nature of open-wheel cars you don't see such risky behavior during Indy car events. You can't trade paint and bump draft with an Indy car. I thought it was a sad ending for a 500. While everyone wants a green flag finish at some point (3 laps? 5 laps?) red flagging it is just tempting people too much like a reset button in a game.The overall problem is the 500 is not a "normal" race. Many one-off competitors enter it and for almost every driver they are willing to throw away the entire season championship just to win the "500". It sure pays way more then winning the championship. This would be like making a regular season NFL game worth more then the Super Bowl. This encourages risky behavior.I am not sure what the fix is, but Indy's restart procedures have been a mess for years. If I was in charge the rule would be pit speed limiter until the green flag drops at a certain place on the track - like NASCARs restart "zone". Currently the leader can pace the field however they wish and accelerate whenever they choose. This leads to multiple false and jumped starts with no penalty for the behavior. Officals rarely wave off such restarts, but that did happened once on Sunday so they tried to make driver behave. The situation almost didn't happen as there were two strategies in the end with some conserving fuel and running old tires, driving slower with others racing ahead. However the last caution put everyone on even terms so nobody had advantage. It always gets crazy in the last few laps but bunching up the field with a yellow or red flag is just asking for trouble.
  • Tim Healey Lol it's simply that VWVortex is fertile ground for interesting used cars!
  • Jalop1991 I say, install gun racks.Let the games begin!
  • EBFlex For those keeping track, Ford is up to 24 recalls this year and is still leading the industry. But hey, they just build some Super Dutys that are error free. Ford even sent out a self congratulatory press release saying they built Super Duty’s with zero defects. What an accomplishment!