By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 2/11, 9:30 p.m.) Detroit. After much buildup, Chevrolet unveiled its “Find New Roads” campaign (after deep-sixing “Chevy Runs Deep”) on the Grammy Awards show on CBS Sunday night, and to say I am a bit underwhelmed doesn’t quite capture what I’m feeling. (Here it is, for those who haven’t seen the new spot. – WG)
And no, it’s not due to the lingering hangover left from the greatness of the “Farmers” spot for Dodge Ram truck, either. Advertising, especially in this nanosecond attention span era, is in a fleetingly fluid state and as good as that spot was it is already in the past for a lot of people. Will its impact live on? Yes, of course, but the reality is that the casual observer out there in ConsumerVille is already riding the digital wave to the next one, or even the one after that.
And the “next one” – as far as automobile advertising is concerned at least – is the new campaign for Chevrolet, which debuted on the Grammy Awards. The “Find New Roads” spot is at times whimsical and at times seemingly one in search of an idea as it attempts to work in a sampling of the Chevrolet passenger car lineup in 60- or 90-second bits.
The net effect, however, is that it is disjointed and feckless, with several different scenarios mashed together that don’t necessarily form a unified whole, or pay off the closing voiceover message, which is: “Why just go from A to B, when imagination can take you everywhere.”
A nice idea, but does that line get resolved visually in the spot? Not really. You can almost see two separate image spots for the Chevrolet brand being pulled out of “Find New Roads,” one for the Volt and one for the Impala – although the Impala scenario certainly leaves a lot to be desired, to put it charitably – but even that would require some serious re-think to make it come together cohesively.
Be that as it may, is “Find New Roads” horrible? No, of course not. It’s competent and intermittently stylish, but it certainly isn’t big or heroic enough for Chevrolet. After all, this is the brand that brandished some of the most memorable advertising campaigns in automotive history, from “See the U.S.A. in Your Chevrolet” and “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet” to “The Heartbeat of America.” And “Find New Roads” seems to under-deliver and fall flat, as if Chevrolet is announcing that they’re out of the business of trying to move you emotionally in such a way that you’ll be compelled to take a closer look. Instead they’re suggesting that you go searching on your own, because they’re tired of doing it for you. Not exactly elegant or heroic, is it? But then again it may be reflective of the creative culture of our times.
Let’s consider three of the more prominent car companies and their respective theme lines. Along with Chevrolet’s “Find New Roads” there is “Go Further” for Ford and “Let’s Go Places” for Toyota. How did disparate creative groups at these companies’ respective advertising agencies alight on a similar idea at the very same time?
Is it a case of groupthink, even though it’s spread out among different ad agencies in different time zones? Or is it the ennui of this era? Whereas collectively we feel like powerless cogs in The Machine, resigned to go along on this 24/7 roller-coaster ride of relentless, instantaneous media communication – social or otherwise – that never stops? And the numbness that goes along with it?
Maybe. Then again maybe not. But this ad work does seem to be indicative of the state of auto advertising today, as in, there seems to be a lot of restlessness and searching going on, and the notion that there’s something out there, something over the next rise that’s meaningful, something that, if you would just buy one of these cars you would find out and your life will be altered in a positive way.
And considering that, are these campaigns actually trying to point us in a different direction, subtly cajoling those of us out in ConsumerVille that a good and meaningful life is still possible if you venture out to find new roads and allow them to take you to different places, and that eventually you’ll go further in life because of it?
I happen to think that these themes are thinly disguised attempts at getting back to another, more romantic era, where the simple act of driving was such an adventure unto itself that whole car companies rose up around that notion. These spots are trying in their own way to capture that magic again, even though we live in an era where surprises quickly well up and subside in a fleeting, momentary social media blast, only to be buried by the next story, which is soon to be swallowed up by the next story, and so on.
Are they as artfully done as some of those calls to action of the past? In a word, sometimes. Certainly there are bursts of brilliance in some of the individual executions, with the majestic power of words showing up on occasion and the equally powerful imagery present and accounted for just as intermittently, but it’s hard to find the real enduring power in some of these new car campaigns.
I’m going to remind you of one advertising campaign that set out to create majestic imagery for a car and instead ended up defining the craft of advertising for decades.
I’ll set the scene for you. When Edward S. “Ned” Jordan, a former advertising guy, founded the Jordan Motor Car Company in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1916, he had dreams, big Technicolor dreams of fame and glory and of the world beating down his door.
Jordan’s cars were for the most part a collection of other manufacturers’ parts, but they were high-styled machines, because, as Jordan was quoted as saying, “Cars are too dull and drab.” He was out to change all that, so his designs were arresting and his bold advertising forays, which created an aura for the brand, were even more so.
And change it he did. In the June 1923, edition of the Saturday Evening Post, an ad for the Jordan “Playboy” – a rakish roadster – appeared. In it, a flapper girl was wrought low behind the wheel, with a cowboy racing beside her off the right rear fender, framed by wide-open skies. And the words:
"Somewhere west of Laramie there's a bronco-busting, steer roping girl who knows what I’m talking about. She can tell what a sassy pony, that’s a cross between greased lighting and the place where it hits, can do with eleven hundred pounds of steel and action when he's going high, wide and handsome. The truth is - the Playboy was built for her. Built for the lass whose face is brown with the sun when the day is done of revel and romp and race. She loves the cross of the wild and the tame. There's a savor of links about that car - of laughter and lilt and light - a hint of old loves - and saddle and quirt. It’s a brawny thing - yet a graceful thing for the sweep o' the Avenue. Step into the Playboy when the hour grows dull with things gone dead and stale. Then start for the land of real living with the spirit of the lass who rides, lean and rangy, into the red horizon of a Wyoming twilight."
Yes, it’s from a different time and a different era, but its message remains powerfully evocative to this day.
“Step into the Playboy when the hour grows dull with things gone dead and stale. Then start for the land of real living…"
Makes “Find New Roads” or “Let’s Go Places” sound decidedly meek and ordinary, no?
I remain unmoved that this touchy-feely world we live in – the one filled with shiny happy group hugs and enough politically correct drivel to last us a lifetime – is the one we’re supposed to settle for. I reject the notion that it’s all over but the shouting, that we have to settle for this benign facsimile of advertising that in a hushed, inoffensive voice politely asks us to come along for a ride, instead of lighting our fires and making us all say “Oh hell yes!
And I am also convinced that the current advertising brain trusts at work in agencies across this country can do better, much better work than what they’re doing right now.
Maybe they need to get out from behind their computers and get behind the wheel and drive to nowhere in particular. And experience things in real time instead of depending on YouTube to bring the world to them.
Then maybe we’ll get the kind of powerful advertising that actually makes us want to buy a car, or at least gets us excited about the thought of owning one for a change.
Find new roads indeed.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.