Watching the Super Bowl last weekend, I thought the ad for the Chevy Sonic was attention-grabbing for many reasons. The song, the tagline, the stunts, the general vibe all screamed “Millennial.” Chevy has made it no secret that it is determined to understand young drivers and make the cars they want to own.
That’s cool with Millennials; they know when they’re being marketed to, and they don’t think it’s a bad thing. They like it when a marketer indicates that it cares enough about their demographic to talk directly to them. But the trouble is when the message is forced and the brand doesn’t take the time to learn who it’s talking to.
The song used during the Chevy ad stood out — music has always been a cultural touch point with Millennials — so I was soon looking up the band and checking out the video. It’s a beautiful slow-motion club scene … that is shamelessly interrupted by a Windows phone that tries to steal the spotlight from the band with a screen shots of the device that fill the frame. It’s an obvious product placement for a less-than-hip brand trying to get in with the band and win over Millennials. In short, it’s forced and doesn’t show any understanding of the audience.
Chevy is also doing a little product placement with its new model, which it referenced in the Super Bowl ad. The brand hired the band OK Go, known for quirky, inventive videos, to use the car in a music video. The car is in just about every shot of the video as it races through a course lined with instruments that play along as the band belts out the tune. It might sound like the car steals the scene, but instead it really is with the band, hammering on the piano and plucking out the melody.
There’s no “check out the features” moment as with the Windows phone placement. In fact, the whole video is as much about the car’s features — tight rally driving turns kicking up dust — as it is about the band and the song. It’s an obvious product placement, but one that doesn’t desperately ask Millennials to like it; it’s one that shows it gets what they like.
A brand needs to put in the work to understand what moves Millennials at their core. Simply latching on to the latest band, the new It Girl or Guy, or dropping a little slang into a marketing message doesn’t cut it. They can always tell who’s with the band and who’s the hanger-on.