Brand spotlight: Chevy and Corvette Hit the American Road

  • by September 9, 2002
Talk about American brands! Chevrolet and its flagship brand ? the Corvette ? have been an integral part of our cultural landscape for many decades. Thanks to Chuck Berry, Don McLean, The Beach Boys and Prince, Chevy and Corvette are bona fide cultural icons. It?s no wonder the automaker decided to draw on that fame in its new ad campaigns.

Two major marketing and advertising initiatives are on the way from Chevy and the Corvette brand. First, Corvette is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Second, Chevy will break with the tried-and-true Detroit practice of focusing advertising on individual models, and unleash a brand campaign. "We want to show that Chevy is a dependable brand, not just in terms of performance. The cars perform at a very high level, we know that," says Chevy director of advertising and sales promotion Jim Jamdesek. "We?re launching a campaign to show that we?re dependable in terms of a social role. We?re a brand that has always been there for America and always will be there. We?re dependable in terms of style and accessible value."

Corvette?s 50th anniversary celebration will be a mix of events and advertising. Print ads celebrating the car?s birthday have already started in automobile enthusiast magazines, and the first event was held in mid-August, when more than 1,000 classic Corvettes raced at the world's premier historic vehicle race, the Monterey Historic Automobile Races, which honored Corvette in its 50th anniversary year as its "featured marquee."

Corvette also ran an eye-catching campaign on over the late spring and early summer. "They did some stuff that was pretty innovative," says CBS MarketWatch?s EVP of Sales & Marketing Scot McLernon. Corvette took advantage of MarketWatch?s eight-second ad format that appears as Web visitors arrive at the site. In that introductory message, a Corvette blazed across the screen. The brand also appeared on customized charts inside MarketWatch?s quotes area. Visitors could choose from one of four Corvette backgrounds, some with autos, others with the 50th anniversary logo.

McLernon said Corvette wanted to make a big splash on the Web with an effort that would complement its offline campaign. MarketWatch?s sales department approached GM. "They were looking for aggressive pricing, a lot of reach and the male demographic," McLernon says. "Guess what? Three out of three."

MarketWatch is particularly strong with the at-work audience, one that McLernon said GM was looking for in marketing Corvettes. He said it?s important that GM went beyond MSN, Yahoo and AOL in advertising. He said GM was branching out to a pinpointed audience, one where MarketWatch was perfect.

That audience for the Corvette campaign actually has two pinpoints, according to Chevy?s Jamdesek. The first is the Corvette enthusiast ? the type of guy who owns more than one Corvette, or someone who would actually attend the Monterey race. The second audience for the campaign ? the much bigger one ? is the dreamer. It?s the person who ogles Corvettes, always wanted one and someday hopes to own one. The brand?s website is designed to deliver content on both levels, as is the 50th anniversary media campaign.

"We sell every Corvette we build," Jamdesek says. "This anniversary campaign comes from 18-20 months of thinking and planning a strategy about what to do with the brand. This is an icon car. It?s an American icon. We want to keep it up on a pedestal. And yes, it?s important to keep it on the wish lists."

Automotive marketing experts believe Jamdesek and his team are on the right track. "Corvette is the quintessential American sports car," said Brian Walters, director of product research at JD Power and Associate. Corvette has topped JD Power & Associates initial quality survey (satisfaction over the first 90 days) for two years in a row in the premium sports car category. Corvette has seen a 50% improvement in ratings since 1998, around the time of the last major redesign.

"It speaks volumes about the vehicle," Walters says. "It says that customers are very happy with it. They highly rate Corvette?s excitement and say it?s fun to drive." Corvette also does well in another survey on the vehicle itself, including style, design and handling. J.D. Power & Associates study found that among premium sports cars, Corvette scores highest for innovation and new ideas and is highly rated in the other categories, including styling and standing out among the competition. The competition includes the Audi TT, BMW Z3, Honda S2000 and the Porsche 911. Corvette?s production plant in Bowling Green, Ky., won last year?s second-place award in J.D. Power & Associates survey of the best automotive production plant in North America. Having its excellence confirmed by third party sources means that the Corvette brand advertising can focus on "the pedestal" that Jamdesek refers to.

"It?s unusual for a car to last this long," says Bruce Belzowski, senior research associate for the Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation at the University of Michigan. "How many car lines have started in the ?50s and are still around? It?s not going to go away. It?s here to stay. It has a lineage that very few American cars have and a lineage that most manufacturers would want."

"Corvette is still the car that comes to mind when someone says ?America?s sports car,? even though challengers have come along," says AutoWeek executive editor Kevin Wilson. "It?s still a Chevrolet, which is to say that it?s a good value, even though rather expensive. Corvette offers performance for $50,000 that costs much more from other sports car makers."

Wilson says the future of Corvette as a unique standalone in the GM fold seems a little shaky. "We enthusiasts worry a little about potential dilution of the brand as Cadillac prepares to launch its two-seat luxury roadster based on some of the same mechanicals ? and built in the same factory ? as the next-generation ?Vette."

The second effort from Chevy will focus on addressing the concerns of enthusiasts like Wilson as well as the average Main Street car customer. Along with the regular slate of print, TV and Internet ads for Impala, Blazer and Monte Carlo, a "full-line" brand campaign is ready to start with the new 2003 model year this fall. Jamdesek calls it a "juggernaut."

"We feel like this effort is within our brand DNA," he says. "We?re a big solid brand that has been around for 91 years. The Chevy brand is bigger than the sum of its parts."

Jamdesek declined to identify the total budget for the campaign, but said it will include a much bigger Internet effort than Chevy has ever undertaken. And it will press the idea that Chevy is a cultural icon.

Chevy has also identified 219 songs that include references to Chevy cars and has licensed several of them ? including Prince?s Little Red Corvette, the Beach Boys? 409 and more modern music from Snoop Dogg and Nelly ? for use in its full-line campaign. So much for Bob Seger?s Like A Rock.

"We?re playing our face cards," Jamdesek said. "And dealers love it too. The sign on the dealership doesn?t say ?Corvette.? It says ?Chevy.? "

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