Chevrolet’s Borrowed Brand Equity

Chevrolet missed the mark with a recent commercial.

The commercial, called “First Impressions”, captures focus group participants’ initial reactions to different cars in the Chevy lineup. The kicker is that the participants don’t know they’re looking at Chevies (for the remainder of this post, let us all agree that this is the accepted spelling of the plural of “Chevy”)

You can watch the ad below. As per usual, we’ve included a transcription of the ad below the video.

Facilitator: What do you think?
Jamie: When I first sit in the seat, it makes me think of a BMW
Girl #2: I feel like I’m in a Lexus
[white screen. Text: “Real People. Not Actors.”]
Lizz: You would think that this is a brand new Audi
Girl#4: It’s like a luxury car!
Trey: It Feels kinda like an Infiniti
Girl #5: Very similar to a Range Rover
Trey: This is pretty high tech
Lizz: (in agreement with Trey) Yeah it is
Girl #2: It reminds me of a Mercedes
[white screen. Text: “What car company are they talking about?”]
Jason: (with incredulity) This is Chevy? Wow
Girl#6: (laughter)
Girl #7: (vo) I have a new appreciation for Chevy.  (now on camera in car) They thought about me
Dude #1: I could totally rock this.
Dude #2: This thing feels pretty boss.
Mojo (girl):  It looks kinda dope
Gaylord: That’s pretty cool
Teresa: This is the jam
Stoner Bro*: (with stoner affectation) Pretty bomb, dude
Teresa: (vo) Maybe I will go Chevy
Stoner Bro: I’m definitely in

*”Stoner Bro” is not Stoner Bro’s actual name

I didn’t really like this ad. Here’s why:

1. Brand Equity Jacking

Although the broader communication point is that Chevrolet’s cars are luxurious, it is unwise for Chevrolet to  “equity jack” or to “borrow” brand equity from luxury car makers like Lexus, Audi and Infiniti as a means of fortifying their own brand equity.

Such an action is unwise for three reasons.

First – It alienates the existing Chevy base who want Chevies that are Chevies and not Chevies that are “Benzes”.  Just because people generally associate positive things with luxury brands does not mean that existing Chevy customers want what they already have to be associated with those brands.

Second – It taints a strong brand. Chevrolet already has powerful brand equity. It is deeply ingrained in the hearts and minds of Americans and, despite recent controversy with GM, those feelings are mostly positive.

One example of the richness of Chevy’s brand is the fact that it is mentioned by name in hundreds of songs, not the least of which is “American Pie”, a song that reflects so much that is good about the culture and history of the United States. All of that goodness gets attributed to Chevy – that’s powerful.

Even if the goal of this spot was only to position Chevy as more luxurious than its mass market competitors, equity jacking is the wrong way to do it – to try to add to the brand in this way is to subtract from its overall value by way of contamination.

Third – this kind of equity jacking is a weak attempt to win over luxury car drivers. Luxury cars are about more than the ‘in-car’ luxury driving experience, they are also about the ‘out-car’ experience.

Luxury cars, like Mercedes Benz et al., communicate many things about the driver to the outside world and, no matter how elegant the car’s interior, a Chevy will never communicate what the Mercedes name and exterior  do.

How To Make It Better

As was discussed in an earlier post about McDonalds, it is better to assert your identity than it is to try be someone/something else. GM pursued this strategy of assertion with their “That’s not a Buick” campaign. In it, GM showed how the newly designed Buick far surpassed consumer’s expectations of luxury and design. GM should consider doing something similar with Chevy.

2. Contrived Endorsements

Though Chevrolet claims at the outset that these are “Real People” and “Not Actors”, these “Real People” don’t feel real to me. To say that the end of this commercial feels inauthentic is an understatement. Every time I hear Teresa dispassionately say “This is the jam” I find myself asking “Who the heck talks the way these people talk??” The answer?

No one.

I’m also convinced these “Real People” felt “Real Pressure” to say some of these things because I cannot imagine anyone saying “This is the jam” in such a dispassionate manner about anything on camera without feeling like someone wanted them to say it.

The bad thing about using people who talk in such an inauthentic way at the end of the commercial is that they undermine every seemingly authentic statement about Chevy’s luxurious qualities stated at the commercial’s outset.

The inauthentic statements also make this ad fodder for ridicule. The “Am I really supposed to believe this?” question invites deeper investigation. Everything in me now wants to make fun of what is being said, how it’s being said and who is saying it.

For example: Does the car remind Girl #2 (see above commercial transcript) of a Lexus or a Mercedes? Get it together, Girl #2!

Secondly, I believe Gaylord’s endorsement, but his name is Gaylord. Gaylord is an English surname derived from a french word that means “high spirited and boistrous” – but seriously, what kind of name is that? It brings to mind Ben Stiller’s character “Gaylord Focker” in the movie “Meet The Fockers“. Everything about Stiller’s character was a running joke throughout the movie (remember the Wall Of Gaylord?) – especially his name. Ben Stiller’s character went through a lot in the movie,  how many years of therapy did this actual Gaylord need to overcome everything that must have come with that name? The poor guy.

Thirdly, I also believe Stoner Bro’s endorsement, but he’s a stoner! What doesn’t he like? They probably had to edit out the part when he was also talking about how “bomb” the lights in the showroom were.

I can go on (there’s so much more to talk about – like how much Dudes #1 and #2 love Nickelback), but for the sake of brevity and providing constructive criticism, let’s move on.

How To Make It Better

If these are, in fact, “Real People”, GM should have spent more time recruiting on the front end to ensure that their participants were capable of giving  the kind of endorsements that would show well to the world.

Until Next Time