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Op-Ed: Dear Chevy, Find New Ideas

We’re glad to welcome yet another monthly contributor to the fold in the form of Chuck Hipsher, currently a Houston-based freelance creative director who’s worked at the likes of Campbell Ewald, TBWA and what was FCB back in the day. If you wanted a story from the trenches, here you go. We should note that these opinions don’t necessarily reflect those of AgencySpy’s, but feel free to love or hate in the comments thread. By the way, you can read Chuck’s blog here.

I was fortunate enough to have worked on the Chevy Silverado brand from 2005 –2008 at then-Campbell Ewald in Warren, Michigan. I was the Creative Director who led the charge on the “Our Country. Our Truck” campaign.

John Mellencamp’s song, “Our Country” played a decisive role in that campaign’s birth because, frankly, then-CCO Bill Ludwig slid the studio demo cd across the table to me one day during creative development and said, “See what you can do with this, Chuck.”

Coming from the guy who was instrumental in the famous “Like A Rock” and “Heartbeat Of America” campaigns for Chevy, I was nothing – if not obligated, to listen and try.

Early on, we had terrific research and planning information at our disposal on what the Silverado brand meant to the people who cared. It was work extensively mined by one Ted Klauber (the greatest planner in America, btw) and his team months in advance of the creative start.

Ted and team had travelled to a half dozen or so locales throughout the country and interviewed countless truck owners of all brands, not just Chevy. They came back to Detroit and crunched their info and finally decided this: “Chevy truck drivers are everyday heroes. And the Chevy Silverado is their Big Metal Dog.”

That insight immediately sparked the minds of myself and the creatives working with me. We had an early war room with ideas on the wall that rivaled anything I’ve ever seen produced by ANY agency on ANY automotive brand. EVER.

But then there was that Mellencamp thing.

I found myself in a very tight spot. How would I appease my boss of bosses, while also leading and encouraging my team to do the best work of their careers?

There was no easy way out. Meeting after creative meeting found more push towards somehow making the Mellencamp song the central focus of any new campaign. Yet it ran counter to the Klauber Team insight. It was more about borrowed interest from a known music star and less about a genuine idea. Some called it, “Like A Rock 2.0”.

I eventually saw it for what it was – a song bed. My instinct and tact was to show Chevy Silverado owners in their natural element and stake the claim that “This is our ___________.” And then show how the Silverado plays an every day role in that situation and reply, “This is our truck.” It was an attempt to take the Klauber insight of ‘Every day hero and Big Metal Dog’ to a simple, accessible space.

I started with the core customer and imagery/reality from their lives. A group of friends in the stands at a NASCAR race claiming, “This is our party.” Their Silverado parked outside the race track with, “This is our truck.” A man in a fishing boat with his dog and “This is our time.” His Silverado parked back at the boat launch and, “This is our truck.”

You get the idea.

Unfortunately, when the campaign launched that idea had evolved into images of Martin Luther King giving his famous “I Have A Dream” speech while Mellencamp sang, “I do believe there’s a dream for everyone”. Followed by Rosa Parks on a bus, the 9/11 tribute lights and Katrina devastation footage – all culminating with the hero truck – rather than the every day hero truck owner. Big difference.

The campaign and work occupies a good portion of my online portfolio, but it is purposely separated from the rest of my stuff. I have mixed feelings about it. I think the “Fence Line” spot shot by Albert Watson is among my favorites because it actually has an idea behind it (A timeline intertwining a family ranch, America’s history and the subtle role the Chevy truck played in all of it). Credit must be given to Tim Thomas as copywriter and Steve Glinski as Art Director. A brilliant team I hope [new Commonwealth CCO, North America] Gary Pascoe has the sense to rehire, now that he has a clean shot at taking the Chevy brand to a level he wasn’t afforded when he was my ECD at CE.

Speaking of which, when Goodby took over Chevy, I had hope for the work. But in the end it was uneven and searching for a voice. Then Commonwealth happened. And “Find New Roads”. Now Silverado is somehow simply, “Strong” (below). Based on a song by a country singer?

I think the only way automotive advertising will ever break out of its shell is when and if it allows for new, simple thinking. Ideas that have nothing to do with advertising and everything to do with the reality of how and why people like you and me buy the cars and trucks we buy.

I know this because for the past year, I’ve been in the trenches making dealership work for a dozen or so dealers in Texas and California. And I’m here to tell you – they love a big idea, but only if it produces big sales. These guys live month-to-month and couldn’t care less if you have a shiny, cute, insightful, clever ad. If it doesn’t sell cars or trucks, it doesn’t work.

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