2002 Seville STS F55, 2006 Mazda Miata
Campbell-Ewald, the ad agency behind “Like A Rock”, is credited with coming up with “See The USA In Your Chevrolet,” which Advertising Age ranks among the most successful campaigns of the last century.
The 1952 campaign with Dinah Shore was nothing short of brilliant -- catchy, bright, and perfectly in tune with America’s endless supply of optimism.
Chevrolet’s advertising has always leaned on its ties to American culture, unabashedly associating itself with hot dogs, baseball, and apple pie. While patriotism served as a point of pride in the 1950s and 1960s, it later functioned as a retreat from issues of lacking quality, fuel economy, and sophistication.
The agency was also responsible for the “Heartbeat of America” campaign used in the 1980s and early 1990s, which resonated throughout working-class middle America. It seemed as if marketers were suggesting, “If you don’t buy from Chevrolet, you want America’s heart to stop beating.”
And here in the breadbasket, that's how many of us felt.
Heartbeat had the unfortunate burden of having to sell some of Chevrolet’s worst-built vehicles, including the Beretta, Celebrity, Corsica, and Cavalier. Patriotism ran high, but quality ran low during the years of Smith and Stempel.
Undeniably, the campaign worked as more than a few of us in 'working-class' America bought into it. I grew up in a lower-class neighborhood in a medium-sized Illinois town. I remember my dad having a chat with one of our neighbors over why we should buy American. We had a new 1988 Nissan Sentra and they had a new Chevy Beretta, a sleek looking coupe. The Nissan Sentra (which I hated driving) continued to serve our family until it finally died in my teenage hands at 170,000 miles. Within a couple years, the neighbor’s Beretta completely lost all of the paint on the hood and roof. It didn’t stay with their family for much longer after that.
Japanese imports in the 1970s and early 1980s suffered from miserable corrosion, a brutal lack of refinement, and questionable build quality, but offered mechanical dependability and fuel efficiency, two particularly important consumer needs during a period of political and economic instability. As fuel and living costs spiked during the Carter era, GM allowed an entire generation of customers to disappear, followed by entire regions, like California.
After a series of budget cuts, GM fired Campbell-Ewald in 2010.
Most of the cars I’ve owned have been American-made, and I have a fondness for GM products like Corvette, Camaro, the entire Cadillac division, and Chevy/GMC trucks, but Chevrolet’s mass market passenger cars, at least during the three decades that I’ve been alive, have rarely lived up to the promises made by slick marketing.
Today, GM wants to remind us that “Chevy Runs Deep”, reiterating Chevy’s connection to American culture. Indeed, Chevrolet runs deeper than ever thanks to federal bailouts, whether we like it or not.