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Criticism of New Chevy Theme Line Runs Deep

But Automaker, Goodby Confident It Will Resonate Like 'Got Milk?'

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Chevy Runs Deep. Really?

General Motors Co., which gave its iconic Chevrolet brand such revered taglines as "See the USA in Your Chevrolet," "Heartbeat of America," "Like a Rock," and "An American Revolution," officially unveiled its new theme line -- don't call it a tagline -- this morning. The "Runs Deep" line, er, runs at the conclusion of five new TV commercials for the brand that will debut tonight during the Game 1 of the World Series on Fox.

But already the tagli -- um, theme line, which GM calls it, insisting it won't be used everywhere -- is drawing criticism barely 24 hours after it became public.

Justin Hyde of Jalopnik.com called it "worst ad slogan ever." " 'Chevy Runs Deep' doesn't say anything about what to expect once you've laid hands on a Chevy. Well, maybe it does, but only if you're a fan of crass sexual humor. It says nothing about what Chevy promises, why it's better than its competitors or improved from what it was before." Mr. Hyde added that "Chevy Runs Deep" sounds "less like a pitch and more like a diagnosis from a dermatologist."

Newsweek's Mickey Kaus wrote, "'Chevy Runs Deep' appears to be yet another attempt to sell you patriotic 'heritage' -- in other words, to get you to buy an American car because American cars used to be really good and everybody drove them!"

Ironically, the new theme line that is drawing criticism replaces another tagline that drew criticism, even from within GM. Within days of taking over as VP-marketing in May, Joel Ewanick dumped Publicis Groupe as Chevy's ad agency in favor of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, and jettisoned the "Excellence for All" tagline.

"It's interesting that there's an adverse reaction to that," Jeff Goodby told Ad Age this morning, referring to it as a tagline. "It's not fair to judge a tagline out of context. I use the example of 'Got Milk?' A lot of people didn't like it, including one of my partners, until they saw it within the context of a campaign. I think [Chevy Runs Deep] is a tagline that will have legs."

Chris Perry, Chevy's new marketing chief after being hired away by Mr. Ewanick from Hyundai in August, agreed with Mr. Goodby. "When we seed the campaign, people will start recognizing the line," Mr. Perry said. "I was hesitant about how it might play with the younger generation, but they get it. They understand the authenticity of the brand. It does cross generations."

'Coming Home,' 'First Car' and 'Dogs and Pickups' all use archival footage, drawing heavily on nostalgia and heritage.
'Coming Home,' 'First Car' and 'Dogs and Pickups' all use archival footage, drawing heavily on nostalgia and heritage.
Four of the five spots debuting tonight -- the fifth is for the new electric hybrid Volt -- draw heavily on nostalgia and heritage. One spot, "Anthem," includes archival footage from more than 70 years ago. Two others, "Coming Home" and "Dogs and Pickups," prey on the emotion of bringing a newborn home from the hospital and having man's best friend riding shotgun next to you. And the fourth, "First Car," shows video and stills from people posing with their first Chevrolet.

All the spots, including the one for Volt, end with the theme line and a camera shot focused on the famed Chevrolet bowtie. "In those communications that we developed, we wanted to make that emotional connection. That's where the theme line is going to be used the most," Mr. Perry said. "But we want the bowtie to stand on its own."

Obviously, using the phrase "Chevy" in "Chevy Runs Deep" puts to bed any residual animosity engendered in July when a leaked memo from the automaker told employees to can the Chevy nickname and start using Chevrolet. "I know there was a lot of controversy about the memo that came out," Mr. Perry said. "I wasn't here, but from Southern California I was able to view it from afar and the passion was unbelievable. It speaks to the American public owning the brand."

Still, the early returns on the new slogan aren't favorable. Jeff T. Wattrick, writing on Michigan-based MLive.com, said, "Drawing on Chevy's history, however iconic, to sell the brand runs counter to GM's recent 'may the best car win' ethic. It's hard to imagine potential Cruze buyers responding to a slogan that appeals to crotchety oldsters' nostalgia for the '57 Chevy they never owned."

Judge for yourself: View the spots and comment below.

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Chevrolet: Anthem

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Chevrolet: Coming Home

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Chevrolet: Dogs and Pickups

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Chevrolet: First Car

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Chevrolet: Volt Anthem

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