A few years ago, Dodge ran a campaign that I tore into on this here blog. The premise of that campaign was, predominantly, that Dodge cars were manly cars for men. (The kind of cars you could drink a Dr. Pepper Ten while driving, perhaps.) The ads were laughably inconsistent - when marketing the Charger, Dodge implied that it was unmanly to drive a minivan, but as soon as it had to sell the Grand Caravan, suddenly driving a minivan was the manliest thing on God's green earth. It was really kind of pathetic. Fortunately, Dodge has backed down from this embarrassing stance. Unfortunately, here comes Chevy to fill the void.
A version of this ad, though perhaps not the exact same one, aired during the Super Bowl. And Chevy's pitch is right there on the table: buy a truck or you're a loser.
Announcer: "Can a truck change how people feel about a guy?"
Maybe? People feel different ways about people for all sorts of reasons. The real question is whether said guy should make important purchasing decisions based exclusively on that.
Announcer: "We talked to real people. Not actors."
The lady doth protest too much, methinks. But let's assume these are real people; who gives a shit? Real people are just as likely to give you the answer they know you want to hear as an actor you've handed a script. Especially when giving the right answer is going to get them on television.
Announcer: "We showed them two pictures of the same guy in the same location."
Right away you can see the problem with this, right? People aren't stupid. You think they didn't know this was the same guy? You think they didn't know the only difference in the photos was that one guy was standing in front of your truck and one was standing in front of a Honda Civic or whatever? So with that in mind, how much weight do you REALLY want to put in their answers? Oh, all of it? Okay.
Interviewer: "Which man is sexier?"
Woman: "That one has way more sex appeal."
That's right, guys: unless you drive a Chevy Colorado, no woman will EVER want to fuck you. Mark it down!
Woman: "This [car] guy is definitely the guy your mom wants you to marry, and this [truck] is the guy you're gonna run off to, and leave him, to be with him."
I'm thinking car guy dodged a real bullet on this one. Seriously, though, am I supposed to be taking any of this seriously? These women know why they're there. Fuck, the truck has a prominent Chevy logo while the car isn't even marked. We're here to talk about a truck. And then they get asked an insipid question like judging the sex appeal of two identical guys based solely on the vehicle photoshopped in behind them. What are they gonna say?
Announcer: "You know you want a truck."
I hated it when Kraft tried to use this kind of slogan, and I hate it now. Trying to tell me, the consumer, what I want is just the most embarrassing kind of desperation. You can't just encourage me to buy your product? You have to try and be like, "I know you don't think you want this. But you do! Secretly you do. Chevy sees into your dreams and we know your darkest fears. Buy a Colorado... unless you want people to find out what happened at summer camp in 1994?"
Here's the thing about this when it comes to the Colorado (or any truck) in particular. If you need a truck, go ahead and get a truck. Like, do you have a boat you need to haul out to the lake and back? Great! Get a truck! No problem here. But you don't need to sell trucks to those people with this angle because (a) they probably already have a truck if they need it for real reasons and (b) they do know they want a truck and so don't need to be told that. So who is this marketing to? Guys in general. Guys who drive compact, or maybe midsize, cars like the total weenies that they are.
For instance, take a look at this spot:
This doesn't even make a ton of sense, really. So we have this one guy arriving at the office on what is presumably supposed to be a Monday morning, and he's driving what looks like a Honda Civic or similar. He gets to be represented by a Carpenters song. But then he crosses paths with our bad-ass hero, represented by AC/DC, who drives the Chevy Colorado. But what is the deal with his work schedule? Has he been there all night? All weekend? Or does he just get to come and go as he pleases, because... he drives a truck? Also, there's no visible reason in the ad for him to have or need a truck. He has one because he wants to, I guess. Which is fair enough. But is that really practical? Am I really supposed to be super impressed by a guy who drives a truck in the city for no reason?
Just to ram it home, here's Chevy's copy below that ad on YouTube:
"When you're behind the wheel of Motor Trend’s 2015 Truck of the Year, you sit differently and you walk differently. And suddenly the world is different. The world is yours for the taking."
Look, bullshit, okay? You walk differently? Come on. I know advertisers are pretty much obligated to pump the shit out of their products, but this is just nonsense.
(Oh, and lest we think that Chevy is not completely serious about pushing this angle to the limit, just check out some of the ancillary content they've got on YouTube, which includes "We gave this guy a truck and it improved his dating profile" and, no shit, "We made a fake deodorant and some people bought it, therefore trucks are cool." I really don't even have anything to add here.)
Let's get back to fundamentals for a second. Back when I wrote that Dodge post, I cited market research showing that women made more than 50% of all new vehicle purchases and influenced 80% of all vehicle sales overall. That was five years ago, but I can't imagine things have changed TOO much since then. In addition, according to this review of the 2015 Colorado by one of the editors at AutoGuide.com, the midsize truck segment has been "withering away for years." If you're trying to kickstart it, do you really want to market yourself so narrowly? You're pretty much ignoring women entirely! Of course, you're also marketing your truck almost exclusively to the kind of man who doesn't really need a truck but is worried about being seen as less sexy, or as the kind of pansy who owns birds instead of a German shepherd, or as soul patch guy instead of mutton chops guy. (Side note: holy FUCK these ads are embarrassingly reductive.) So, not really opening up a big segment of the market there, maybe?
I'd guess the midsize truck market is kind of a tough sell. If you need a truck regularly, you might prefer a larger truck (like Chevy's Silverado, the GMC Sierra, the Dodge Ram, etc.) that can handle a wider range of activities. And if you rarely if ever need a truck, there's not much reason to buy a truck, is there? One can't help but wonder if GM's push here is based on the hope that plummeting gas prices will make people more willing to buy enormous, impractical cars again. (I mean: remember how ubiquitous Hummer was for a while? Did you know that brand became completely defunct five years ago? There's a reason for that.)
But of course, people aren't just going to buy big-ass trucks they don't have any need for, no matter how cheap gas is. So what's the next move? Try to make it about image. Sure, you may not NEED a pickup truck. But aren't they cool? Aren't they rugged? Wouldn't you feel like more of a man if you were driving one? Look, Chevy, I can get a German shepherd for a lot less than the cost of a truck that will apparently make children think I own one. Building a whole ad campaign around lazy stereotypes aimed at insecure single men in the 25-45 age range might work, I suppose. But you guys better pray that gas prices don't rebound any time soon.
What really kills me about the whole thing is that Chevy's first piece of Colorado-related content on YouTube (which I've never seen on TV, needless to say) is actually pretty good:
Like, that's an acceptable amount of swagger for a car commercial. And it actually shows the truck being used in places where I'd expect to need or want a truck. It shows some things it's good for. It shows people of both sexes using the truck! And most impressively, it doesn't bother trying to call you a wuss if you aren't interested. So, obviously, Chevy dumped it when it came time to truly market the Colorado. I mean, advertising that isn't insulting to the viewer's intelligence? Who'd want that?