Back in the 1950s, singer Dinah Shore burbled at TV viewers to "see the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet." For the last month, Chevrolet has been playing the patriotic card once more, but with a deeply disturbing twist. General Motors' 60-second TV spot for the Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck, titled "Anthem," features John Mellencamp singing "Our Country" against a montage that shifts from uplifting (Statue of Liberty, factory workers) to unsettling (civil rights boycotts, Vietnam battle) to shocking (Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 memorial). And what's Richard Nixon doing in there, like the Spirit of Walpurgisnacht Past? (Watch the ad, and read Slate.com writer Seth Stevenson's critique, here.) The original spot, according to car blogger Jalopnik, included footage of a nuclear mushroom cloud. (Jalopnik called the ad an "Amerigasm.")
Polarizing? Oh, just a tad.
Robert Farago blogs in The Truth About Cars:
When asked WTF they were thinking, the edgy ad guys responsible for the spot were even, um, edgier. According to Bill Ludwig, Chief Creative Officer for the Campbell-Ewald ad agency, "If you want to make a statement that rings true with the majority of people, you are going to piss off some people.” This, we can presume, was a large part of Ludwig’s goal. In case you missed it, “There are a lot of cynical people out there who don't react well to this, and a lot of people who will never get behind the wheel of a pickup. So let them get into their Volvo sedans and complain about this spot that they see as exploitive. This is not for them."
Yeah--downshift this, you latte-drinking, same-sex-marrying, French-speaking, Volvo-driving wusses!
The campaign could be seen as a desperate attempt by GM to stanch the bleeding. In fact, yesterday's New York Times reported that improved sales of the Silverado were in part responsible for GM's smallest loss in two years ("just" $155 million). Not exactly the same as a profit, but still.
Times media critic David Carr, also writing yesterday, says the ad is "landing with a thud in the advertising community, and not just because it achieved the impossible: making viewers nostalgic for Chevy’s last anthem, Bob Seger’s 'Like a Rock.'”
“I feel a little violated when I watch it,” Advertising Age ad critic Bob Garfield told Carr. “I don’t mind when they have a tent sale on President’s Day, but those guys have been dead for 200 years. I’m not sure I’m ready for a Rosa Parks sale-a-bration.” Veteran ad man Jerry Della Femina said, "You see all these moving images and at the end of it, all you get is a lousy Chevy truck.”
Concludes Carr: "When it comes to selling bars, trucks or even politicians, you can wave the flag or you can drape one over a coffin. You can’t do both."
There's a spoof of the ad on YouTube, but it's hard to top the original, which approaches self-parody.