Louis Chevrolet, a Swiss-American driver and engineer, and Billy Durant, the founder of General Motors, started Chevrolet Motor Car Company in late 1911. By 1914, the company began advertising in newspapers, citing their vehicles’ cheap price and “unprecedented efficiency.” The ads ended up working, as the company’s sales began growing at rapid rates. While the company sold only 2,786 cars in 1914, they finished their 1917 sales having sold 111,779 cars!
Since then, Chevrolet has been at the forefront of clever marketing campaigns. After all, they have plenty of competition, and advertisements are one of the best ways to get noticed by potential buyers. While these ad strategies originated in newspapers and later progressed to radio and television, Chevrolet has recently been trying their hand at new media, particularly social media. Not only has this boosted the company’s popularity among younger consumers, but it’s also allowed for additional creativity.
Some of the campaigns are long gone, but you might still see some remaining elements of them in your local Chevy dealerships in Lexington, Kentucky. Let’s see how these marketing strategies have evolved over the years, with a focus on Chevy’s most iconic campaigns…
“The Heartbeat of America”
Chevy has always been fond of pulling the America card, and what better way to show their patriotism than declaring themselves “The Heartbeat of America.”
The company ended up choosing composer Robin Batteau to create the accompanying song for the late 1980s/early 1990s campaign. The jingle (or, as Chevy advertising director Dannielle Hudler referred to it, the “anti-jingle”) quickly became a hit, and when it was time for Chevy to retire the campaign, dealerships wanted to continue using the ad and song.
“The music embodied the campaign,” said Hudler. “It would have been good, but not great, without that music.”
“Like a Rock”
This Chevy campaign could be seen throughout the 1990s (it effectively ended in 2004), and it quickly became one of the car industry’s best-known slogans. The company used singer Bob Seger’s 1986 hit “Like a Rock,” and the song quickly became synonymous with Chevy trucks. The Americana feel, including shots of farmers, firefighters and veterans, also helped reinforce that Chevy was an American brand.
The idea originated from the company’s desire to advertise the durability of their trucks. They decided they wanted a “meaningful, emotional” twist to the commercials, and they ultimately came across the Seger song.
“I thought ‘Like a Rock’ was over the moon,” Chevy general manager Ritter said (via Julie Halpert of AdAge.com). “It captured the physicality of the truck,” the independence of the truck buyer and the vehicle’s durability. The campaign tested well among focus groups.
Interestingly enough, despite the fact that the song quickly became iconic, Seger and his band didn’t perform the hit for nearly 30 years. Why retire such a popular tune? Seger only wanted to perform the song with the right combination of band members, and that finally happened at a 2013 concert in Detroit.
“We haven’t done it for 27 years, so it’s like a new song for us live,” he said. “You know, it’s so great; it’s kind of like when (band mate) Alto (Reed) plays the sax on ‘Turn the Page.’ Once people recognize the song we’re playing, it starts out really really quiet. And once I sing the first line it gets a big response, so it’s a lot of fun.”
On April Fools, Chevy decided to switch things up and stray away from the usual combinations of silly tricks.
As part of their #BestDayEver campaign, the automakers traveled through America and treated random strangers with acts of kindness. These ‘acts of kindness’ included a Kelly Clarkson concert for some lucky fans, a makeover for a woman, free gas, free pizza and, of course, the opportunity to play with cute puppies. They even went as far as to surprise Occidental College history students by dressing actor Alec Baldwin like Abraham Lincoln. Clearly, they wanted to pull out all the stops.
“We are going to make it the #BestDayEver for thousands of people across the country with hundreds of events and surprises, big and small, as an unmistakable signal that something massive is happening at Chevrolet,” said Chevy’s US vice president of marketing Paul Edwards.
Earlier this week, Chevy sent out a press release regarding their upcoming 2016 Chevrolet Cruze. There’s nothing too weird about that, but take this into account: the release was composed solely of emojis. When you hear the company’s reasoning behind the strategy, it makes plenty of sense:
“Words alone can’t describe the new 2016 Chevrolet Cruze, so to celebrate its upcoming reveal, the media advisory is being issued in emoji, the small emotionally expressive digital images and icons in electronic communication.”
I’m not an emoji expert, so I’m not going to attempt to decipher it. However, the ads have certainly caught on, as their #ChevyGoesEmoji campaign has been trending all week. They’ve even released a series of commercials, including an ad that shows comedian Norm McDonald attending the fictional Emoji Academy.
Chevy has also taken advantage of other unique sources for advertising. Millenials love their Instagram, and Instagram users seem to love professional Instagrammer Kevin Lu, who has nearly 200,000 followers! The former biomedical engineer (that’s right, he left that industry to snap pictures) was hired by GM to cover the debut of the 2016 Chevy Volt back in February.
“I get hired because I’m a social influencer,” Lu told Bradford Wernle of Autonews.com. “I take photos. They reached out and said, ‘Come to the auto show and see our new car.’
“I figure if people want to see cars, it’s not that hard to find cars,” he continued. “I kind of want to get into more behind-the-scenes stuff people don’t experience firsthand. This way, I can give people a more personal, intimate view of what’s going on. It’s a cool way to photograph.”
Hiring Lu clearly worked out for Chevy, as each of his videos and pictures got at least 1,000 ‘likes.’
Finally, the company recently decided to embrace their “real people, not actors” mantra, by relying on freelance social media experts to help advertise their product, particularly the release of the 2015 Chevrolet Trax.
“Twenty social media influencers will create a “social swarm,” using a mix of paid media, social media and unique experiences – conveying the versatile personality and capabilities of the all-new Trax in Chicago and New York,” the company said in a statement. “Following personalized itineraries, each participant is tasked with sharing their city discoveries one may not otherwise find, including venues and activities like live music in a small club, trampoline training, a butchery demo and a distillery tour.”
Part of Chevy’s rich history and popularity can be attributed to their popular advertisements over the year. It’s hard to think of a more iconic car campaign that “Like a Rock” or “The Heartbeat of America.” With advanced technology, Chevy is now capable of doing pretty much anything when it comes to promoting their brand.
Maybe after seeing these commercials, you have an itch to go check out some new Chevy vehicles. If you’re in the Paris, Kentucky area, head down to Cummins Chevrolet for a great selection on cars and trucks.