Chevrolet may have been licking its wounds last year, but it's back big-time now and out to prove the point at the Super Bowl next Sunday. The automaker will have six or more TV spots in the game, plus a post-game surprise -- which GM Global CMO Joel Ewanick and Chris Perry, VP of U.S. marketing, are keeping mum about for now.
If buying big in the Bowl sounds like Hyundai Motor America's own "Big Voices in Big Places" strategy, it's probably because Ewanick and Perry developed that tactic of advertising against major-event broadcasts when they were running the marketing show at the Fountain Valley, Calif. automaker up until last September, when Perry headed for Detroit.
And while Perry and Ewanick are in a sense competing against their past selves since Hyundai staked out a lot of game real estate at last year's upfront (Hyundai and Ford are both big in the pre-game) Chevrolet will be the big dog during the game: the automaker will tout Camaro, Cruze, Cruze Eco, Volt, and Silverado; it will introduce a new Facebook partnership with OnStar; the MVP of the game gets a Camaro convertible; Chevrolet will be launching redesigned traditional and mobile versions of Chevy.com in conjunction with the Super Bowl; and there's the post-game mystery.
"Our plan was to own the day," says Ewanick. "Chris was still at Hyundai when we bought all this media. And I remember saying, 'Man, we'd better go buy media before Chris buys it all up and doesn't let us in! But we both understand the power of the Super Bowl. And at the end of the day we have a very similar philosophy: we don't need to be the funniest or most entertaining, the most profound or the most outrageous. We want to tell a story about Chevrolet that begins with the pre-game and ends with the special thing we have planned at the end of the day."
Perry says accomplishing that goal means the new ads have to be focused on products versus last fall, when Chevrolet focused on establishing a new brand identity. "In the fall, we launched 'Chevy Runs Deep' and the Carbon Initiative, which is more about brand," says Perry. "In the Super Bowl, we have to be all about product. Not just 'here's a Camaro spot that's going to make you laugh.' We have a range of stuff that's funny, that's sincere -- but it's all about a specific attribute about that product."
The new ads are humorous but not over-the-top, and almost all of them are designed to encase a central "I didn't know that" fact about the vehicles -- particularly where Volt and the new Cruze Eco are concerned. One spot for the Volt, for example, trumpets the fact that you can charge the car's electric motor via any three-prong outlet for a dollar and change. The ad for Cruze Eco is a kind of meta-commercial where a group of elderly -- and hard-of-hearing -- men and women are watching a TV spot for the Cruze Eco, but misunderstand that the vehicle can get 42 mpg. Thus, the pertinent facts are repeated humorously throughout the spot.
The ad for Silverado shows the vehicle as "everyday hero" as Ewanick puts it, by having the owner use it to extricate his son from ever more ludicrous situations: a well, a cave, the belly of a whale, a volcano. "I didn't even know this town had a volcano," the guy says as he drives off in his Silverado to save his kid from the mountain, erupting in the background.
And a spot for Camaro, teasing the vehicle's involvement in the Paramount feature "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," actually masquerades as precisely the kind of ad automakers (and just about everyone else) hates: a tacky tier-III "buy one get two free" type dealer spot.
In the ad, the stereotypical dealer, Al's Chevrolet "Route 1, off Highway 5" shouts about his Super Bowl deal at his store with cheerleaders and balloons in the background. He wants to demonstrate how he's "smashing prices" by having a guy in a costume try to bash the hood of a Camaro with a mallet. Suddenly, the vehicle comes to life as the Transformer from the toy and movie franchise grabs the guy and hurls him across the parking lot, as guys with microphones and cameras, who are shooting the ad, run for cover.
"Come Monday," says Ewanick, "What we really want to have happen is -- we want to make it difficult for people not to consider a Chevrolet for their next purchase. That's it."