Why Chevy features a 65-year-old car in its holiday ad

Marketing

Rarely, if ever, has a car ad started by showing a car that won’t start. But that is how Chevy begins a holiday-themed spot that will run nationally during Thanksgiving Day NFL games on NBC, Fox and CBS.

The ad by the General Motors brand features a turquoise-colored 1957 Chevy Bel Air Nomad station wagon. It tells the fictional story of “Mrs. Hayes,” who finds community in her neighbors after losing her husband in the Vietnam War, including “Billy.” He surprises the woman by fixing her Bel Air, which she affectionately calls “old beauty,” even when it doesn’t start in the opening scene.

It might seem like an odd choice to feature a broken-down, 65-year-old car in a 60-second ad shown to a massive Turkey Day football audience who will otherwise be seeing a blitz of brands seeking to capture their attention—and dollars—amid the holiday shopping season. But Chevy’s goal with the ad is more about burnishing its long-term brand image, rather than moving 2022 models off the lot.

From our partners at Ad Age: Holiday marketing guide for brands

Mrs. Hayes “becomes the matriarch of the community. And the car has been a critical piece of that,” said Chevrolet Marketing Vice President Steve Majoros. There is a glimpse of a modern Chevy in the ad—its new electric Blazer crossover, which is more pronounced in a longer-form version of the ad that Chevy will share on its social channels. 

The ad is “a little nod to our past and our future, you know, kind of coming together,” Majoras said. “We are a brand with great history, and we’re a brand with a great future. And we’re at this incredible period of transformation that we’re going to celebrate who we’ve always been, and we’re going to look forward to the next 110 years.”

Commonwealth/McCann handled the ad. It was directed by Joshua Kissi.

Chevy took a similar approach to its 2021 holiday ad. It told the story of a man who cherished memories of his late wife and the times they had together in a 1966 Chevy Impala, which the man’s daughter has restored.

Chevy’s decision over the past two years to avoid hard-selling tactics during the biggest shopping season of the year comes as the automotive industry continues to experience supply chain issues that have contributed to vehicle shortages. (Toyota has lowered its yearly output by half a million vehicles, for instance.)

Traditionally automakers flood the holiday airwaves with seasonal sales event ads, designed in part to move current model years off the lot ahead of the new year. With less inventory, such year-end selloffs are not as necessary.

“December is always a massive month for automotive,” Majoros said. “But circumstances had us rethinking things,” leading Chevy to turn its ads into more of a “holiday card to America.”

“Most people have some sort of Chevrolet story,” so the brand wants to “remind people that we’re a brand that has heritage and history, and connections to family and community.”

But Chevy is not entirely putting the breaks on sales events ads. It still plans to run its “Red Tag” ads in the coming weeks, supported by so-called tier one and tier two ads, which is auto industry lingo for regional, dealer-focused marketing. “I think we’ll be more aggressive than we’ve been the last couple of years. Because we’ve got to fight and compete for the business that’s available,” Majoros said.

Other brands are also moving forward with December sales event marketing. Lexus, for instance, has brought back its long-running “December to Remember” campaign. But this year’s lead ad forgoes the typical moments of people putting red bows on Lexus’s as they spend thousands of dollars on a car as Christmas gift.

In the new ad, the red bow appears on a gift an older brother gives to his younger sibling as he surprises him by coming home early from college for the holidays. The sentimental approach follows themes put forth by brands in other industries that are attempting to be sensitive to the current economic times.

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