Commentary

Chevrolet Impala Strikes Out With Baseball Analogy

What I love most about the 4th of July is that, 235 or so years after our freedom-loving predecessors told Jiminy Redcoat what he could do with his left-driving and Robbie Williams CDs, we still celebrate it in a way that's consistent with our nation's ideals. We attempt to inflict third-degree burns on our buddies' calves with strategically targeted bottle rockets. We slather an extra layer of honey-mustard glaze on the pork loins that we bought at Costco. We star-spangle everything: our banners, our muscle cars, our remaining slivers of non-inked flesh. In short, we live, man. We live.

To keep this legacy alive, I spent my holiday week shopping for meat and munitions and rummaging through the brand-video closet of what, to me, remains the quintessentially American brand, Chevrolet. Granted, it would take multiple miracles of engineering as well as a generous government grant to prompt me to buy a Chevy, but that doesn't prevent me from admiring the company's heritage, or the version of its heritage that's been depicted in commercials. No matter how many fantastically average vehicles Chevrolet unleashes on our interstates, I'm always going to group the brand in with apple pie, blue jeans, Main Street, individuality, wheelies and grandma (the non-racist one). That's 30-plus years of promos during baseball games talking. U-S-A! U-S-A!

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But this recent clip in which Chevy paints the 2014 Impala as "a testament to craft in all forms"? I dunno. Following 15 brief seconds that linger in and around the Impala, the video jets off to… Actually, let's play a guessing game here. If you're Chevy, and you want to position the Impala as a legitimate option for luxury-minded consumers, where would you set your clip? Your choices are: a) the valet line outside a hot downtown bistro. b) Rio. c) a Rawlings baseball factory. d) all of the above, with the holy trinity of Johns (Wayne, Walton and Cougar Mellencamp) superimposed for good jingoistic measure.

Did you guess (c)? Pour yourself an extra malt beverage tomorrow afternoon, friend! Yes, as part of its attempt to restore cachet to the Impala brand, Chevrolet has chosen to liken it to a baseball. One is a $28,000 car. The other is a baseball. Dolores, get me our finest metaphor reconstructionist on line 3.

The bulk of "Rawlings Baseballs: Discover the Craft" depicts the engineering of a Major League Baseball-certified projectile, but in reverse. We see the completed ball, then we see it deconstructed. The baseball has a rubberized core, while the Impala's tires are made of rubber. This is extremely interesting if you have a grand interest in the prehistory and internal life of baseballs.

But wait - maybe that's not where we're supposed to focus. It's the precision, not the baseball stitches/bucket-seat stitches analogue, that matters. Just as Rawlings baseball makers who have an interesting idea of business-casual dress pour themselves into their job, so too does whoever assembles, designs, crafts, artisanizes or maybe drives the Impala. Throw in some heavy-handed narration about destiny and chance and fate-determinism ("a ball might make it through six pitches - but that's six chances at greatness before it finds the stands or hits the ground"), and Chevy has succeeded in likening its top-of-the-line sedan to what the clip describes as more or less a throwaway commodity. Foul tips = fender benders. Do I have to draw you a diagram?

What this video is supposed to tell me is that Impalas are constructed with exacting care, that they are every bit as refined as foreign-born luxury sedans, that they are much an objet d'art as they are an everyday vehicle. What this video actually tells me is that Impalas remain as dull and undistinguished as the waxed thread that keeps each baseball from unraveling like the 2011 Red Sox (see what I did there?).

I'll allow that Chevy has an uphill battle in attempting to reposition the Impala - which, fairly or not, tends to get lumped in with the energy-inefficient, American-born boats of yesteryear. This Impala is clearly far removed from that. Maybe, then, the automaker deserves a half-enthusiastic fist-bump for adopting tactics pinched from the BMW and Mercedes branding/marketing playbook.

But the baseball-factory walkabout, just like the equally forced John Legend tie-in, somehow diminishes the Impala brand by association. Nobody's saying Chevrolet should plop the Impala down on the Champs-Élysées, flash "luxury!" in big blocky letters on the screen and call it an afternoon, but there are far more clever analogies to be drawn and brand associations to be forged. 

1 comment about "Chevrolet Impala Strikes Out With Baseball Analogy".
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  1. Laura Mandzok from WebMetro, July 3, 2013 at 3:23 p.m.

    Yeah, for a die-hard baseball fan, seeing how each ball is made - hand-wrapped and hand-stitched was awesome.

    I did go to chevybaseball.com, but moreso because the tagline promised I could "Celebrate the Craft of the Game".

    Nope, no video from the Louisville Slugger people, just a standard lead form landing page. Disappointment continues. :(

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