Chevy 100

From 'See the USA in your Chevrolet' to 'Like a Rock,' Chevy Ads Run Deep

Here's a Look at the Advertising That Built an Iconic American and Global Brand

By Published on .


General Motors founder Billy Durant, ousted from GM in 1910, teamed up with Louis Chevrolet, a Swiss-American race car driver and engineer, to start Chevrolet Motor Car Co. on Nov. 3, 1911.

Frank Campbell (on right in photo) and Henry Ewald (left) opened Detroit ad agency Campbell-Ewald on Feb. 7, 1911, with Hyatt Roller Bearing Co. and steamship operator D&C Navigation as its first clients. Hyatt's general manager: Alfred Sloan, a future GM CEO.

Starting with that Hyatt relationship, Campbell-Ewald has been on the GM roster continuously since 1911. As of 2011 the agency handles GM's OnStar and a significant portion of GM customer relationship marketing.


Chevrolet introduced its first model, the Chevrolet Series C Classic Six. The company sold 2,999 cars in the first year.

Pictures shown are from photo shoot for Classic Six introduction. Lower photo: Billy Durant (in bowler) and Louis Chevrolet (in white duster).

Louis Chevrolet left the company in 1913 and died in 1941.

  • 1912 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,999
  • U.S. market share: 1.0%


Chevrolet introduced its bow tie logo. Chevrolet's first-known ad ran in 1913 and included the logo. An early logo is shown here.

  • 1913 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 5,987
  • U.S. market share: 1.4%


In one of its earliest newspaper ads, Chevrolet trumpeted how "enormous buying power" and "unprecedented efficiency" in manufacturing allowed it to offer "substantial financial savings" to customers.

  • 1914 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,786
  • U.S. market share: 0.5%
  • 1915 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 20,158
  • U.S. market share: 2.1%

Durant acquired Hyatt and related ventures to form parts maker United Motors Corp., run by Sloan. Durant won back control of GM and became its president.

  • 1916 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 61,838
  • U.S. market share: 4.2%


Campbell-Ewald's Frank Campbell retired from the agency in 1917 to move to France; he died in 1951. Henry Ewald remained with the agency until his death in 1953.

  • 1917 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 111,779
  • U.S. market share: 5.9%


GM acquired Chevrolet and United Motors.

United Motors' Sloan joined GM as a VP. Sloan became GM president-CEO in 1923; retired as chairman-CEO in 1956; and died in 1966.

Chevrolet introduced its first trucks.

  • 1918 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 94,992
  • U.S. market share: 7.0%


Campbell-Ewald was hired for its first Chevrolet project, an all-text ad appearing in 45 newspapers. The ad said Chevrolet "meets completely the national need for dependable and economical transportation. The first cost is low. The upkeep is never a burden."

  • 1919 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 129,717
  • U.S. market share: 6.5%


Durant was forced out of GM for the second time, meaning Chevrolet's co-founders - Durant and Louis Chevrolet - no longer had any connection with the brand. Durant died in 1947.

  • 1920 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 143,176
  • U.S. market share: 8.9%

  • 1921 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 70,921
  • U.S. market share: 4.3%

GM consolidated its advertising account at Campbell- Ewald, giving the agency responsibility for all GM brands including Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, Oakland (predecessor to Pontiac), Oldsmobile and GM Truck (GMC). GM over time shifted all those divisions except Chevy to other agencies. Campbell-Ewald handled Chevrolet until 2010.

Tag lines of the 1920s: "For economical transportation" and "Quality at low cost." Chevrolet's 1922 magazine ad budget: $212,000.

  • 1922 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 153,270
  • U.S. market share: 8.6%


A Chevy ad promoted "Man's conquest of time." Copy: "More than any other single factor of civilization, the automobile has multiplied the producing power of man, by deciminating time and distance, and by providing a broad and flexible means for the transportation of men and their products."

  • 1923 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 322,746
  • U.S. market share: 11.5%


Sloan pursued his marketing strategy of "a car for every purse and purpose," segmenting the market from entry level Chevrolet to luxury line Cadillac.

  • 1924 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 313,593
  • U.S. market share: 10.0%
  • 1925 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 388,329
  • U.S. market share: 11.3%
  • 1926 ad pushed a value message using Chevrolet's "Quality at low cost" slogan.
  • 1926 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 542,015
  • U.S. market share: 15.1%

Chevrolet for the first time passed Ford in U.S. calendar year sales to become the No. 1 selling car as well as the top-selling truck.

A 1927 ad, right, showed off the Chevrolet line.

  • 1927 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 752,642
  • U.S. market share: 25.7%


Campbell-Ewald's Henry Ewald purchased a Chevrolet dealership to get a deeper understanding of the car business.

  • 1928 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 903,609
  • U.S. market share: 26.0%


Chevy ads in 1929 promised value, promoting "A six [cylinder] in the price range of the four."

  • 1929 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 941,012
  • U.S. market share: 21.7%


Chevrolet sponsored its first radio program, "Chevrolet Chronicles," hosted by World War I hero Eddie Rickenbacker. Chevrolet invested more in radio advertising as the medium surged in popularity during the Depression years. The percentage of U.S. homes with radios rose from essentially zero in 1921 to 39% in 1930 to 73% in 1940, according to the Census Bureau.

  • 1930 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 737,154
  • U.S. market share: 24.7%


A 1931 ad targeting women is at right. Chevrolet tag line: "The great American value."

  • 1931 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 682,987
  • U.S. market share: 31.2%


Chevrolet rolled out its 1932 models with what Ad Age called "a mammoth sales promotion drive." The ambitious integrated marketing campaign included 25,000 outdoor boards, "the most intensive outdoor campaign ever staged"; ads in 5,355 newspapers; magazine ads; radio spots on 169 stations; window displays at 10,000 dealerships; and more than 1 million lapel buttons distributed by dealers.

Ad Age reported that the company mailed a four-inch phonograph record to "every owner of a Chevrolet" offering "advance information on the great American value for 1932."

This all-out effort was swamped by the Great Depression. Chevrolet's 1932 U.S. vehicle sales plunged 44% (while the industry fell 43%) in what would be the brand's and industry's Depression sales low point.

  • 1932 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 383,644
  • U.S. market share: 30.5%


As the Depression dragged on, Chevrolet pushed its value message. The marketer sponsored the radio shows of Al Jolson and of Jack Benny, who urged listeners to drive a new Chevrolet, "priced as low as $445."

Newspaper ads focused on product improvements such as better brakes and easier shifting-at "a price which takes into account today's incomes."

Chevrolet staged a massive direct-mail campaign, including a mailing to 1 million prospects "whose names have been obtained by salesmen and dealers," Ad Age reported.

Chevrolet's 1933 U.S. market share would reach the highest level in the brand's 100-year history, accounting for one in three vehicles sold. (U.S. market share in 2010: 13.5%.)

  • 1933 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 574,873
  • U.S. market share: 33.5%

  • 1934 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 692,413
  • U.S. market share: 30.8%

Chevrolet began its decades-long sponsorship of the All-American Soap Box Derby. In the derby, boys (and, starting in 1971, girls) compete in a downhill race of home-made, engine-less race cars.

The event was conceived in 1933 by Myron Scott, a photographer at the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News. Scott and a friend at Campbell-Ewald pitched a sponsorship to Chevrolet. The automaker signed on as national sponsor in 1935. Scott joined Chevrolet as assistant advertising manager to run the derby as a national youth promotion. He retired in 1971. Chevrolet ended its derby sponsorship in 1972.

The derby in 1935 moved from Dayton to Akron, home of major tire makers. The derby has run every year since then in Akron except for a four-year suspension during World War II. The most recent All-American Soap Box Derby took place in July 2011.

  • 1935 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 823,827
  • U.S. market share: 25.8%


Chevrolet took back the No. 1 position among car brands after falling behind Ford in 1935 U.S. sales. Owners of a 1913 Chevrolet roadster won a contest to find the oldest Chevy still in use. Chevrolet presented the winners with the 1 millionth Chevy built in 1935 and featured them in ads.

  • 1936 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 1,134,594
  • U.S. market share: 28.8%


  • 1937 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 951,714
  • U.S. market share: 23.6%
  • 1938 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 583,816
  • U.S. market share: 26.4%
  • 1939 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 768,291
  • U.S. market share: 24.9%

Chevrolet's ad budget reached its highest point since 1929. Ad theme: "Eye it. Try it. Buy it!" Ad Age reported: "A big institution, Chevrolet does things in a big way" - and in numerous small ways. Ad Age noted the remarkable breadth of Chevrolet promotional materials, including "banners, pennants, window trims, footstep stencils, parking lot signs, invitations to show rooms, license plate cards, bumper strips, key cases, paper napkins, ash trays, seat cushions, workmen's caps, bridge score pads, lapel emblems, and animated show room displays, just to name a few."

  • 1940 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 989,043
  • U.S. market share: 25.8%


Frank Campbell (on left) and Henry Ewald in photo taken for Campbell-Ewald's 30th anniversary.

  • 1941 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 1,035,688
  • U.S. market share: 24.7%

Civilian auto production was halted until the end of World War II as factories shifted to military production.

At right is a 1942 ad promoting Chevrolet's war production.

  • 1942 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: -
  • U.S. market share: N/A


With its factories devoted to war production, Chevrolet looked for ways to keep its brand relevant. Ad Age reported: "A three-purpose advertising plan for 1943 has been charted by Chevrolet Motor Division's advertising committee, having as objectives conservation, dealer support, and keeping the company's trade name alive."

Chevrolet promoted a program to "Save the wheels that serve America," emphasizing "car conservation," "mileage rationing," observation of speed limits and car pooling. For motorists who signed a conservation pledge, Chevrolet dealers offered free car inspections, a decal and membership cards in the "National Victory Service League."

  • 1943 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: -
  • U.S. market share: N/A

  • 1944 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: -
  • U.S. market share: N/A

Chevrolet encouraged Americans to "continue to conserve your present car" and to "buy war bonds," but a 1945 ad looked forward to "C-Day" - "when new Chevrolets roll off the assembly line."

World War II ended with the formal surrender of Japan on Sept. 2. Chevrolet resumed car production on Oct. 3.

  • 1945 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: -
  • U.S. market share: N/A


Chevrolet ran its first live TV commercials with a series of variety shows that aired in four cities on the DuMont network. This marked Chevrolet's first regular sponsorship of programs on network TV.

New vehicles remained in short supply as Chevrolet and rivals ramped up post-war production. Local co-op ads that Chevrolet ran with dealers stated: "There simply are not enough new Chevrolets to go around."

Chevy ran newspaper ads in 4,000 cities with the message: "Thank you for waiting for delivery of your new Chevrolet." The ads promised: "Patience will be more than rewarded when we hand you the keys to your new Chevrolet, for here, in our judgment, is the first and only automobile to bring you big car quality at low car cost."

  • 1946 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 441,153
  • U.S. market share: 19.5%


Chevrolet began an ad campaign directed at women, one of the first such campaigns in the auto industry. Ads appeared in Ladies' Home Journal and other women's magazines.

  • 1947 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 794,497
  • U.S. market share: 20.8%


Chevrolet ran its first national TV commercial, scenes of which are shown at right. Just 0.4% of U.S. homes had a TV in 1948, but the medium was set to take off. TV household penetration passed the halfway point in 1954.

  • 1948 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 939,072
  • U.S. market share: 22 .1%


The automaker sponsored "Inside USA with Chevrolet," a CBS TV series based on the Broadway revue "Inside USA" (which in turn was based on John Gunther's popular book, Inside USA). The short-lived TV program featured what would become a lasting jingle: "See the USA in your Chevrolet," written by Leon Carr and Leo Corday.

Chevrolet's ad budget for the first time topped $20 million, according to Ad Age 's industry estimates.

  • 1949 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 1,327,467
  • U.S. market share: 23.8%


Chevrolet announced $51 million would be spent on advertising in 1950, "the greatest outlay for advertising in the history of the automotive industry," Ad Age reported. That included $27 million spent by the division and $24 million spent by dealers. "An innovation in the campaign will be widespread use of television," Ad Age said. In 1950, 9% of U.S. households had a TV.

Ad theme: "America's best seller, America's best buy."

Chevrolet in 1950 displaced Coca-Cola Co. as the nation's top-spending outdoor advertiser, according to industry estimates.

  • 1950 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 1,764,931
  • U.S. market share: 24.5%


Chevrolet signed a deal to sponsor entertainer Dinah Shore's TV shows on NBC starting in November 1951. "The Dinah Shore Show" began in 1951 and evolved, later in the decade, into an expanded variety program, "The Dinah Shore Chevy Show." Shore sang "See the USA in your Chevrolet" at the end of her shows through 1961, when the automaker dropped its sponsorship. Ad Age ranked "See the USA in your Chevrolet" No. 5 among the top 10 ad jingles of the 20th century. Ad Age scored the campaign No. 41 among the top 100 ad campaigns of the century. Chevrolet has reprised the "See the USA" theme at various times, including a 1999 campaign for the Impala and a 2011 Super Bowl Sunday rendition featuring the cast of Fox's "Glee."

  • 1951 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 1,349,802
  • U.S. market share: 23.3%

  • 1952 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 1,065,120
  • U.S. market share: 22 .6%

Chevrolet introduced the Corvette. The sports car was named by Myron Scott, the assistant advertising manager, after speedy warships, known as corvettes, used by the British navy in World War II. Scott also was known for his creation of the Soap Box Derby (see 1935).

A 1955 Corvette ad is shown here.

Henry Ewald died in 1953; he worked at Campbell-Ewald until his death. Frank Campbell, who left the agency in 1917, died in 1951.

  • 1953 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 1,610,732
  • U.S. market share: 25.1%

  • 1954 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 1,647,676
  • U.S. market share: 26.9%

Chevrolet and Ford battled at the start of 1955 over who was No. 1. Chevrolet boasted it was the top car brand based on 1954 R.L. Polk new-car registrations, but Ford insisted it was the best-selling brand based on Polk's registrations of cars actually sold to customers (a definition that excluded cars registered to dealers and manufacturers). Ad Age reported: "The sales fight between Ford and Chevrolet has grown so intense that the year end [1954] found them dangerously near the name-calling stage." In the end, Chevrolet took the crown as top-selling 1954 car, according to Automotive News.

  • 1955 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 1,897,008
  • U.S. market share: 24.2%


Ad for 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air Convertible.

  • 1956 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 1,802,811
  • U.S. market share: 27.5%

Chevrolet ran its first color TV commercials. A frame from a commercial featuring the Corvette and other models ("That Chevy feeling") is shown here.

  • 1957 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 1,688,224
  • U.S. market share: 25.7%


Chevrolet dismissed the potential for small cars in the U.S. "Edward N. Cole, general manager of Chevrolet and a VP of General Motors Co.p., said ... Chevrolet does not think much of the possible market for the small economy car," Ad Age reported. Despite Cole's comments, he was a key backer of the Corvair, a rear-engine small car sold in the 1960 through 1969 model years. Cole later became GM president before retiring in 1974.

A frame from 1958's "A Car is Born" is shown here.

  • 1958 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 1,430,449
  • U.S. market share: 27.9%


Chevrolet and Campbell-Ewald won a Grand Prix at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes for "Station Wagon," a two-minute, no-dialogue color commercial about a family's visit to the Chevrolet showroom. This would be the first of four Grand Prix awards that the agency and Chevrolet would win over five years.

The Ford/Chevy battle continued. Ford sent a hard-sell direct-mail pitch to Chevrolet owners that included a letter signed by Lee Iacocca, Ford's car marketing manager.

  • 1959 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 1,664,385
  • U.S. market share: 25.0%


Chevrolet and Campbell-Ewald won a Grand Prix at Cannes for "Aspen Chevrolet," a Corvair commercial. Chevrolet did a cross-promotion with dressmaker Smoler Bros. in which Smoler produced dresses color-coordinated to match Chevrolet cars. Chevrolet then promoted the dresses in conjunction with department stores, awarding a new car to the woman who gave the best reason for liking her Chevy-shade clothes.

  • 1960 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 1,952,893
  • U.S. market share: 27.1%


Chevrolet's estimated division ad spending (not including dealer ad spending): $50 million.

In November 1961 Chevrolet celebrated its 50th anniversary with a one-hour TV spectacular on CBS that looked at the history - and future - of automobiles. The campaign also included newspapers, magazines, radio, TV spots, outdoor boards and direct mail.

Chevrolet and Campbell-Ewald won a Grand Prix at Cannes for "Magic Ride," a captivating commercial showing a couple traveling in an invisible car that turned out to be a new Chevrolet.

The company in fall 1961 dropped its decade-long sponsorship of Dinah Shore on NBC. Chevrolet said its marketing plans called for something different than Shore's variety show. Ad Age noted: "Her story has been one of warm all-family appeal and high sponsor identification; her program was not one of the rating sensations."

Chevrolet shifted its sponsorship money to NBC's "Bonanza," a Western that became one of the top-ranked shows of the 1960s.

  • 1961 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 1,842,781
  • U.S. market share: 28.3%


Chevrolet ran an elaborate 5.5-minute commercial on "Bonanza." Ad Age reported: "The commercial, not quite as elaborate as 'Ben-Hur' or 'Antony & Cleopatra,' will bring together 11 Hollywood stars from Chevy's three network shows, 'Bonanza,' 'My Three Sons' and 'Route 66.' The time and talent will be used to display Chevrolet's complete lineup of 1963 automobiles."

  • 1962 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,381,616
  • U.S. market share: 30.8%


Chevrolet and Campbell-Ewald won their fourth Cannes Grand Prix in five years with "Truck Egg Test." The commercial demonstrated the smooth ride of a Chevy truck by suspending a basket of eggs from the body. When the truck drove over a rough surface, the eggs didn't break.

Chevrolet produced another attention-getting, if hard to fathom, commercial, floating a car lazily along Venetian canals.

  • 1963 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,517,878
  • U.S. market share: 29.6%


In an elaborate commercial production, Chevrolet and Campbell-Ewald put a woman in an Impala convertible on top of towering Castle Rock in Utah to prove "Chevrolet stands alone in '64." Chevrolet years later remade the commercial to promote the 1973 Impala.

Chevrolet in spring 1964 produced a 5.5-minute commercial showing travel scenes of the U.S., following its 1962 long-form ad. Chevy aired another 5.5-minute blockbuster to introduce its 1965 models.

  • 1964 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,542,440
  • U.S. market share: 28.0%


Chevrolet produced what Ad Age called "the most spectacular - and expensive - TV commercial of recent years." For the commercial, the automaker blew up a 1966 Impala. The two-minute commercial, "Fusion," showed the explosion in reverse so that far-flung parts came together to create the new car. Ad Age reported: "Cost of the commercial is estimated to be just under $100,000, which includes the second-hand Plymouth used in pre-production tests for the explosion."

  • 1965 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,920,077
  • U.S. market share: 27.8%

  • 1966 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,665,353
  • U.S. market share: 26.0%

Chevrolet and Campbell-Ewald faced intense pressure to perform. "With Ford car(s) creeping up on Chevrolet, and with the quick success of Ford's Mustang, both Chevrolet and the agency [are] under the gun," Ad Age reported.

Rumors spread about potential changes on the account, including one report that Chevrolet had concluded there was only one other agency capable of handling the account - J. Walter Thompson, Ford's agency. Chevrolet also considered assigning its new Mustang-fighting Camaro to another agency.

Both Chevrolet and Campbell-Ewald underwent management changes. Campbell-Ewald held on to its signature account.

  • 1967 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,460,687
  • U.S. market share: 25.7%

  • 1968 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,615,553
  • U.S. market share: 24.1%

At right is an ad for the Blazer, an early SUV from Chevy's "Sports-Recreation Department."

Campbell-Ewald formed a women's marketing and advertising department to reinforce the agency's capabilities for what it called the "powerful influence of the women's buying market." The new department began a study to determine women's attitudes toward automobile styling.

  • 1969 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,658,773
  • U.S. market share: 24.2%


Chevrolet introduced the subcompact Vega.

"After 20 years of waiting and watching by the wayside, Chevrolet is ready to step out and meet the little foreign car right in the middle of the road," Ad Age said. The Vega would compete with "Volkswagen, Toyota, Datsun, Fiat and the rest of the little foreign cars," as well as Ford's new Pinto and American Motors' Gremlin.

Chevrolet touted the Vega as "the little car that does everything well." Chevy's marketing director said Vega advertising would be "good, strong, powerful, effective, with a lasting quality. ... Essentially the personality of the advertising itself will be congruent with that of the car."

Plagued by engine failure, quality issues and rust problems, the Vega turned out not to have a lasting quality. Chevrolet dropped it after the 1977 model year.

GM in September 1970 was crippled by a UAW strike, prompting the automaker to suspend most advertising. This immediately affected agencies. Campbell-Ewald slashed salaries by 10% (lower-level staffers) to 25% (upper-level executives). The agency in October instituted additional salary cuts and furloughed many employees. After the strike ended in November, Campbell-Ewald recalled workers and restored salaries.

  • 1970 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,166,043
  • U.S. market share: 22 .0%


An ad for the 1971 Caprice promoted it as "the biggest Chevrolet ever" and the Vega as "the littlest Chevrolet ever."

  • 1971 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,769,813
  • U.S. market share: 24.3%


Chevrolet ended a sponsorship of the Soap Box Derby that dated to the Depression (see 1935) and began to sponsor another youth-oriented event, the Junior Olympics. In dropping the derby, a Chevrolet executive said: "With today's changing life styles, young people in America have different needs, attitudes and interests. To keep pace with the changes, we must develop creative new programs that are responsive to modern attitudes."

Interpublic Group of Cos. bought Campbell-Ewald, marking what at the time was the biggest agency acquisition in history (based on billings). Interpublic already owned another major GM agency, McCann Erickson.

Chevrolet promoted its 1972 line with the theme, "Building a better way to see the USA," recasting its 1950s theme.

  • 1972 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 3,037,885
  • U.S. market share: 24.0%


Chevrolet promoted the 1973 Impala with a remake of its 1964 "Stands Alone" spot, shot atop Castle Rock in Utah.

  • 1973 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 3,378,252
  • U.S. market share: 24.2%


With the nation mired in its deep 1973-75 recession, Chevrolet at mid-year introduced a new theme, "Chevrolet makes sense for America."

  • 1974 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,777,570
  • U.S. market share: 25.3%


Chevrolet promoted its 1975 models with a catchy new jingle: "Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet."

A 1975 commercial here shows 1976 models.

  • 1975 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,595,515
  • U.S. market share: 24.1%


The company introduced the Chevette (a low-priced subcompact, smaller than the Vega) as "Chevrolet's new kind of American car." In what Ad Age called "a precedent-shattering move," Chevrolet staged the official introduction in Washington to show off the American-made economy car to members of Congress and to regulators.

  • 1976 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 3,114,074
  • U.S. market share: 24.2%


Six years after introducing "the biggest Chevrolet ever," Chevy launched a downsized Caprice designed in the wake of the early '70s energy crisis. Average price for a gallon of gas in 1977 was 62 cents ($2.31 adjusted for inflation in 2011 dollars), up 72% from 1971 (36 cents). An ad for the new model said: "We made it right for the times without making it wrong for the people."

  • 1977 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 3,372,324
  • U.S. market share: 23.5%


Chevy promoted its 1978 line under the umbrella theme, "See what's new today in a Chevrolet." The new jingle used the old "See the USA in your Chevrolet" tune.

Chevy's U.S. sales reached what would be their all-time peak. (U.S. sales in 2010: 1.56 million.)

  • 1978 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 3,582,147
  • U.S. market share: 24.0%


Chevrolet introduced the Citation, one of GM's "X-body" cars, with a campaign focused on the compact's front-wheel drive and other product features. The X cars suffered from safety recalls and quality problems. Bob Stempel, Chevrolet's general manager (and later GM's CEO), in 1983 said the Citation was "really a centerpiece of our program" through the 1980s, adding that Chevy would keep the model name "unless the barrage of bad press is so bad that the name doesn't ring so well. If we see that happening, we'll have to do something with the name." Chevy did something with the name, relabeling the car Citation II in 1984. In the end, Citation was not the ticket. Chevrolet ditched the car after the 1985 model year.

  • 1979 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 3,200,643
  • U.S. market share: 23.3%

  • 1980 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,471,864
  • U.S. market share: 22 .1%

The marketer introduced a new ad theme-and hope-for the 1981 model year: "Chevy's up ahead." The jingle: "Oh, yeah, that 's a Chevy up ahead. You bet that 's a Chevy up ahead. ... Some cars lead and some are led and here's that Chevy up ahead."

  • 1981 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,097,271
  • U.S. market share: 19.9%


Amid a deep recession, GM pressed suppliers including ad agencies for a 2% giveback on the cost of goods and services. GM said it would use the money to help pay for rebates to spur sales. Ad Age reported: "Campbell-Ewald, agency for Chevrolet, GM's largest and most troubled division, jumped in first. Agency chairman Tom Adams said C-E sent a 'cash contribution' to GM based on anticipated revenues for the remainder of the model year. He said, 'We're delighted to participate.'"

Chevrolet's ad theme for the 1982 model year: "Chevy makes good things happen."

  • 1982 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,054,734
  • U.S. market share: 19.8%


Chevrolet, digging out of the 1980-82 double-dip recessions, pushed its 1983 line with a commanding new ad theme: "USA-1 taking charge." "USA-1" was a line from the past. Chevrolet, for example, used "USA-1" to promote its 1940 models. Chevy's director of marketing said the "taking charge" theme came from research that showed "America is waiting for someone to take charge, and they believe Chevrolet can get it done."

Campbell-Ewald recruited Sean Fitzpatrick as exec VP-creative director on Chevrolet. He came from Toyota's agency, Dancer Fitzgerald Sample (now Saatchi & Saatchi).

  • 1983 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,343,683
  • U.S. market share: 19.3%


Beefing up its entry-level play, Chevy in 1984 and 1985 introduced three Chevrolet-branded small cars made with Japanese partners: the Sprint (built by Suzuki), Spectrum (built by Isuzu) and Nova (a new car with an old name, made in the U.S. by a new Toyota/GM joint venture).

The Nova was essentially a rebadged Toyota Corolla. Nova ads carried the themes "The best of both worlds" and "Imported from America." The latter line is similar to the "Imported from Detroit" theme introduced by Fiat's Chrysler in 2011.

Chevrolet hired a startup agency in Los Angeles, Vic Olesen & Partners, to produce a California-specific campaign. Ad Age reported: "Chevrolet has gone outside C-E for special campaigns aimed at minority markets, but it's believed to be the first time in 70 years it has shifted a sizable chunk of regular business" away from Campbell-Ewald.

  • 1984 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,670,075
  • U.S. market share: 18.8%


The marketer introduced its 1985 models with a new ad theme, "Today's Chevrolet - live it," which replaced the 2-year-old "USA-1" and "Taking charge" campaign.

  • 1985 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,963,443
  • U.S. market share: 19.2%


College ad from Campbell-Ewald promoting two Chevrolets imported from Japan, the Sprint (made by Suzuki) and Spectrum (made by Isuzu).

  • 1986 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,948,276
  • U.S. market share: 18.4%

Chevrolet in fall 1986 introduced "The Heartbeat of America" as its full-line national campaign for 1987 models.

Ad Age reported: "The pulsating, heart-like 'Heartbeat of America' music is used as background for emotional TV spots that are a bit spicier than Chevy's usual apple-pie image." The "Heartbeat" campaign went on to win more than 400 awards by 1989.

The campaign was new, but the tag line was not. Jerry Burton, who today is an associate creative director at Campbell-Ewald, coined "Heartbeat of America" in 1984 for a Chevrolet brochure, and Chevy used it as a Camaro theme line under the "Today's Chevrolet" campaign in 1985 for 1986 models.

  • 1987 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,674,073
  • U.S. market share: 18.0%


One of various Chevrolet vs. Ford pickup ads that have run over the years. At times, the two companies have done lookalike ads as they try to one-up the rival.

The near-century-long truck rivalry continues. In a winning pitch to land the Chevrolet Hispanic account in 2010, LatinWorks pitted a dozen Chevy and Ford truck owners against one another to defend their passion for their chosen brands. The Yankees need the Red Sox; Chevy needs Ford.

  • 1988 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,816,023
  • U.S. market share: 18.2%

Chevrolet introduced Geo as a subbrand of models made with GM's Japanese partners. Campbell-Ewald and Vic Olesen & Partners shared the Geo assignment for the 1989 model year. GM consolidated Geo national advertising at Campbell-Ewald for the 1990 model year. Olesen continued to work on West Coast ads for Chevy-branded cars.

  • 1989 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,658,267
  • U.S. market share: 18.3%

  • 1990 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,607,101
  • U.S. market share: 18.8%

Chevrolet introduced "Like a Rock" as the theme for Chevy trucks, drawing on Detroit-area native Bob Seger's 1986 song.

The iconic "Like a Rock" campaign continued through the end of the 2004 model year. A 1997 ad from the campaign is shown here.

Chevrolet in 1991 moved its California-specific account back to Campbell-Ewald from Vic Olesen & Partners, which had been on the roster since 1984.

  • 1991 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,229,583
  • U.S. market share: 18.1%

  • 1992 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,156,843
  • U.S. market share: 16.7%

Frame from Camaro commercial from 1993.

  • 1993 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,364,377
  • U.S. market share: 17.0%

"Genuine Chevrolet" replaced "Heartbeat of America" as Chevrolet's ad theme.

While "Heartbeat" drew industry praise, Chevrolet's market share fell during the run of that campaign. Voiceover in the new campaign's launch commercial said: "You've probably never thought much about it, but chances are, at one time or another, you've had a Chevy in your life. Maybe it was an old truck you and your friends piled on Friday nights. Or the car you drove away in on your wedding day. Maybe it was the first car you bought with your own money. Or maybe it's a car that , after all these years, you still dream of owning - someday. Whatever your story is , Chevy's probably been a part of it."

Shown here is a Chevrolet Motorsports ad with Dale Earnhardt, driver of a GM Goodwrench Chevrolet.

  • 1994 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,457,847
  • U.S. market share: 16.3%


Chevrolet, working with Campbell-Ewald, launched its website,

In 1995, 14% of U.S. adults were online users (at home, work and/or school), according to Pew Research Center for People & the Press. Internet use among adults reached 50% in 2000 and 78% in 2011 (including 95% of those age 18 to 29), according to Pew Internet & American Life Project surveys.'s home page from October 1997 is shown here.

Chevrolet ran a national Spanish-language TV campaign on Univision and Telemundo, its first national campaign specifically for the Hispanic market.

  • 1995 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,474,910
  • U.S. market share: 16.8%

  • 1996 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,534,905
  • U.S. market share: 16.7%

Ad promoting Chevrolet's sponsorship of U.S. Ski Team.

  • 1997 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,476,990
  • U.S. market share: 16.3%

Chevrolet dropped the Geo subbrand, putting three former Geo models - the Prizm, Metro and Tracker - under the Chevrolet brand.

  • 1998 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,418,510
  • U.S. market share: 15.5%


The division reprised its "See the USA in your Chevrolet" theme in ads for the redesigned Impala and other models.

  • 1999 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,600,767
  • U.S. market share: 15.3%


Chevrolet introduced "We'll be there" as the ad theme in September 1999. The tag line replaced "Genuine Chevrolet." Chevrolet kept "Like a Rock" as its truck theme.

Chevrolet General Manager Kurt Ritter said in a press release: "We have and will continue to use the very successful 'Like a Rock' theme to emphasize Chevy Trucks as the most dependable, longest-lasting trucks on the market. 'We'll Be There' tells a similar dependability and reliability story for Chevrolet passenger cars."

  • 2000 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,604,705
  • U.S. market share: 15.0%

  • 2001 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,681,189
  • U.S. market share: 15.6%
  • 2002 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,633,800
  • U.S. market share: 15.6%

GM solicited ideas for an umbrella Chevrolet campaign from Interpublic Group agencies beyond Interpublic's Campbell-Ewald. The agency kept the business.

  • 2003 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,642,583
  • U.S. market share: 15.8%


Chevrolet launched "An American Revolution" as the theme for its 2004 models on Dec. 31, 2003, on Dick Clark's New Year's Eve broadcast. The campaign set the stage for the introduction of 10 new products over 20 months. The tag line replaced "We'll be there."

Chevrolet dropped its "Like a Rock" tag line for the Silverado pickup at the end of the 2004 model year, putting all Chevrolet trucks and cars under the "An American Revolution" theme.

GM named Interpublic's McCann Erickson as agency to launch Chevrolet in China.

  • 2004 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,747,368
  • U.S. market share: 16.2%


Chevrolet shifted two assignments — motorsports and Major League Baseball — from Campbell-Ewald to Interpublic sibling Deutsch, Los Angeles, in fall 2005. Chevrolet moved the work back to Campbell-Ewald a year later.

GM expanded its Chevrolet product offering in Europe by rebranding Daewoo cars as Chevrolet with campaigns from Interpublic's FCB, London, and German ad agency Buehler & Partner. GM bought South Korea's Daewoo in 2001. (GM in 2011 changed the name of its GM Daewoo unit to GM Korea; at the same time, GM dropped the Daewoo brand in South Korea, rebranding Daewoo models as Chevrolet.)

  • 2005 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,651,124
  • U.S. market share: 15.6%


Chevrolet promoted its Silverado pickup with an aggressively patriotic song by John Mellencamp, "Our Country." The "Our Country. Our Truck" ads drew attention and controversy for using stirring images—Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Vietnam, 2005's Hurricane Katrina, the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks—to sell trucks. The campaign was an extension of the broader "An American Revolution" theme.

  • 2006 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,396,532
  • U.S. market share: 14.5%


GM's marketing chief, Mark LaNeve, put pressure on Chevrolet and Campbell-Ewald to improve Chevy advertising. In an interview with Automotive News, LaNeve said he wanted to push Chevrolet cars as a "smart choice" offering a better price and comparable quality vs. Asian rivals.

  • 2007 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 2,250,352
  • U.S. market share: 13.9%

  • 2008 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 1,790,519
  • U.S. market share: 13.5%

Stung by the Great Recession, struggling with shrinking market share and overloaded with debt, General Motors Co.p. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization on June 1, 2009. The new GM, under the name General Motors Co., emerged from a speedy bankruptcy on July 10, 2009.

Chevrolet heard pitches for select assignments. A spokesman said: "As Chevrolet moves to expand its global presence, it will reach out to a wider range of advertising agencies for new brand and product campaigns." The spokesman said Campbell-Ewald "will continue as the lead agency in supporting product information, brand catalogs and retail support," and that the shop was welcome to participate in the review, which also was open to non-roster agencies.

Chevrolet in December 2009 shifted a major portion of its U.S. advertising account from Campbell-Ewald to Publicis, part of French agency holding company Publicis Groupe . Chevrolet's press release said:

"Chevrolet has selected two agency partners to develop advertising creative for the first half of 2010. Publicis will develop creative for Chevrolet Malibu, Equinox and Traverse. Campbell-Ewald will develop and execute creative for Silverado and Silverado HD, and as well as contextually relevant Olympics brand work. Campbell-Ewald also remains the agency of record for Chevrolet, and will continue to handle Chevrolet retail business. … 'We look forward to continuing our long-standing partnership with Campbell-Ewald, and forging a new relationship with Publicis to develop compelling, effective creative to debut during the 2010 Winter Olympics,' says Kim Brink, Chevrolet General Director."

Chevrolet's 2009 U.S. market share slumped to its lowest level since 1925.

  • 2009 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 1,338,612
  • U.S. market share: 12.8%


GM in April 2010 decided to consolidate Chevrolet's U.S. account at Publicis, dropping Campbell-Ewald. (Chevrolet's former agency modified its name in 2011 to Campbell Ewald, dropping the hyphen.)

Publicis revealed its win of the account on April 23, 2010, with a one-sentence press release: "Publicis Worldwide is proud to announce that Chevrolet has decided to consolidate all its U.S. advertising with Publicis Worldwide U.S.A."

GM on May 5, 2010, named Joel Ewanick as VP-U.S. marketing effective May 24. (Ewanick became GM's global chief marketing officer in December 2010.) Ewanick jumped to GM just weeks after he left as VP-marketing at Hyundai Motor America to be VP-marketing of the Nissan Division at Nissan North America (effective March 22 , 2010).

Even before his official GM start date, Ewanick on May 20, 2010, announced the hiring of Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners as agency for all Chevrolet U.S. advertising. Ewanick had worked with Goodby Silverstein while at Hyundai (before Hyundai dropped the agency effective March 31, 2009) and, earlier in his career, at Porsche. Goodby Silverstein handled GM's Saturn brand from 2002 until 2007.

The Goodby Silverstein appointment marked a stunning turnabout as Chevrolet aborted the April 2010 plan to consolidate Chevrolet at Publicis.

Ewanick said in a statement on May 20, 2010: "Based on my personal experience working with Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, I'm confident they have the creativity and ability to take the iconic Chevrolet brand to the next level—and to do it fast."

Chevrolet introduced its new ad theme from Goodby Silverstein in October 2010 in Game 1 of the World Series: "Chevy Runs Deep." In addition to TV, the campaign included digital, print, out-of -home and social media.

Chevrolet had estimated 2010 U.S. measured-media ad spending of $1.129 billion (52% of GM's U.S. total), making it the third-most advertised brand in the U.S. (behind AT&T and Verizon and ahead of No. 4 Ford), according to data from ad tracker Kantar Media.

  • 2010 Chevrolet U.S. vehicle sales: 1,563,881
  • U.S. market share: 13.5%
  • 2010 Chevrolet worldwide sales: 4.26 million vehicles in more than 140 countries
  • Worldwide market share: 5.8%
  • Chevrolet's share of GM 2010 U.S. vehicle deliveries: 71%
  • Chevrolet's share of GM 2010 worldwide vehicle deliveries: 51%


Chevrolet staged a post-Super Bowl tie-in with Fox's "Glee," creating a two-minute commercial to promote the electric Volt, new Cruze compact and the Camaro convertible. The "Glee" cast sang "See the USA in your Chevrolet," the brand anthem of the 1950s. GM's Ewanick told Automotive News in August 2011 that Chevrolet may do more contemporary versions of iconic Chevy campaigns.

Asked to grade Goodby Silverstein nearly one year into the "Chevy Runs Deep" campaign, Ewanick said: "I think they're a great agency. I'm really happy with them in general." But "to get an A, you have to be consistent. That's more of C and B work when you can't find the consistency." Ewanick said he had seen "grade-A work" from the agency. "The problem is , it hasn't been consistent," he told Automotive News. "We need to find our stride where it's always at that level."

GM in October 2011 launched a sweeping global agency review for Chevrolet creative, soliciting proposals from four major agency holding companies: Omnicom (parent of Goodby Silverstein), Interpublic (parent of McCann Erickson and Campbell-Ewald), Publicis and Korean firm Cheil Worldwide.

Agency Co-Chairman Jeff Goodby said he expected his agency to stay on the roster. McCann Erickson - Chevrolet's agency in China, India, Latin America and Canada - also has a major stake in the review.

The automaker said: "GM will evaluate the proposals and determine the best course for moving forward, which may be to maintain or adjust its current agency footprint."

Ewanick said: "While preliminary, this is another significant step in our efforts to more effectively engage consumers, and drive efficiencies in our marketing operations on a global scale."

Source: Ad Age archives; Ad Age research; Advertising Age Encyclopedia; Automotive News; Campbell Ewald; Chevrolet; General Motors Co.'s GM Heritage Center and GM Media Archive; Goodby, Silverstein & Partners.

U.S. sales figures from Automotive News Data Center.
Most Popular