During the 1950s, ads portrayed a woman as a "good wife,"
smiling and dressed for church in the passenger seat with three or
four children in the back seat. By the 1960s, Hudler said, women
dressed in evening gowns surrounded the cars; by the early 1970s,
women in bikinis were draped provocatively over the hood. It wasn't
until the 1980s, when women headed to the workplace in large
numbers, that marketing and advertising to women began in earnest,
Hudler said. "Women finally became the customers instead of
accessories," she said.
Tony Hopp, former CEO of Campbell-Ewald, said marketing
vehicles to female buyers has "been part of Chevy's marketing
arsenal" during his 40-plus years at the agency. He recalls a
program for the introduction of the S-10 Blazer in 1983, one of the
first attempts to market trucks to women. The ads showed the
vehicle's versatility, with a woman loading a flat of flowers, for
example. And it played on the word "blazer" to indicate that it was
a fashion statement. The S-10 ad "was a breakthrough" in capturing
the women's market, Hopp said.
Sean Fitzpatrick, a former Campbell-Ewald creative director,
said bringing women to the brand was an ideal way to expand the
market between 1984 and 1986. Ads running in women's magazines
featured the Blazer as an "urban safety vehicle," dodging potholes
and surviving harsh winter conditions while emphasizing the secure
feeling of sitting up high, he said.
'Welcome to the 1950s'
As a key way to tap into how women think, Fitzpatrick started
hiring women in the creative department, which wasn't common in the
car and truck area at the time. "Women know what they're doing in a
lot of areas where men don't," he said.
But that was sometimes met with resistance at Chevy. He recalls
that one of the Chevy ad managers didn't want one of Fitzpatrick's
female employees in a meeting merely because she was a woman. "It
may have been the '80s, but there should have been a sign in
Detroit that said 'Welcome to the 1950s,'" he said.
Then there was the "Like a Rock" campaign, which started in
1991. It was developed during a time when there was a huge
migration toward using trucks for personal use, which warranted a
shift away from the historic ads that pictured trucks in the mud
with stoic men. Bill Ludwig, now Campbell-Ewald's CEO, recalls a
Dallas dealer telling him, "I'm having women in heels and short
skirts buying pickup trucks, and that 's not pictured in the
In response, marketing efforts focused on self-reliance. One of
the things the "Like a Rock' theme did was play to the idea that a
woman wants to be "like a rock" to her husband, children and
co-workers. The ads featured images of strong women. One was
wearing a professional suit; another was pregnant; another was
eating pizza in a truck; a musician was hoisting her cello into the
back of the vehicle. Those images also helped to convince women
that the truck would be dependable, said Kurt Ritter, who was
marketing manager of Chevy trucks at the time.
In the famed "An American Revolution" campaign, Chevy joined
with Conde Nast for a promotional tie-in in which Chevy was a
sponsor of fashion shows in malls across the country. Cars that
appealed to women and families, including the Camaro, Malibu,
Traverse and Equinox, were on display, Ludwig said.
Family Circle named the Malibu the most family-friendly car, a
seal of approval that Chevy leveraged. Chevy hired a fashion
photographer to shoot the 2008 Malibu for print ads that ran in
women's magazines, highlighting its stylish and elegant lines. "We
had the Malibu showing up in places that it wouldn't have appeared,
with upscale, elegant magazines with a huge female readership,"
Finding a Heartbeat
A landmark in Chevy's marketing to women was the "Women's
Heartbeat" Camaro commercial in 1986, part of "The Heartbeat of
Lawrence Dolph, a creative director at Campbell-Ewald in 1985,
recalls the MTV -like "quick-style cuts" that were used to showcase
the line. "Our women's spots were shot in a way that was highly
innovative for Detroit commercials," he said. They represented a
big departure from the chauvinistic, outdated "pink ads" designed
for the 1950s woman. Instead, women were shown as self-confident,
nurturing their children and "bossing the guys around." He said
having women like Colliver in marketing proved to be a huge
Ludwig said that instead of highlighting particular features of
the car, the advertising showed a variety of powerful women firmly
in control, including a bodybuilder shooting an arrow and another
pumping gasoline in a cocktail dress.
Fitzpatrick said women were portrayed in real-life situations,
"showing the benefits and ego rewards of Chevy," demonstrating the
car's ability to accelerate quickly and maneuver easily through
traffic. The spots conveyed the idea of an emancipated woman "who
has power over her own life and isn't subject to other people," he
Dolph said the 1986 commercial was groundbreaking at the time in
the advertising world and was well-received by the 100 million
people who saw it. "Camaro sales rose 17.5 percent in a down
market, from the second quarter of 1985 to the second quarter of
1986, rising numbers led by purchases by women in a domestic market
assaulted by imports," he said.
Ritter recalls a commercial for the Impala in 2001 that showed
the power of women. A woman pulls up to a light next to
menacing-looking young men. The viewer hears blaring music and
assumes it's from the men's radio but learns as the woman pulls
away that she's playing the song.
Lew Eads, Chevy's advertising manager for passenger cars from
1987 to 1997, pointed to a commercial portraying a young woman
saying goodbye to her parents in a rural setting, hopping into a
new Cavalier to head to her first job. It was part of an effort
from 1989 to 1991 targeted at women aged 22 to 26 who were
purchasing their first cars, he said. Eads said the marque's
sponsorship of the Miss America pageant from 1988 to 1993, which
had an enormous number of viewers, also provided great
While today's feminists may scoff, he said, when the pageant was
at its peak, "it was a great marketing tool for us to reach out to