Saving Chevrolet Means Sending ‘Chevy’ to Dump
Bye-bye, indeed, Miss American Pie. If General Motors has its way, you
won’t be driving your Chevy to the levee ever again.
On Tuesday, G.M. sent a memo to Chevrolet employees at its Detroit
headquarters, promoting the importance of “consistency” for the brand,
which was the nation’s best-selling line of cars and trucks for more
than half a century after World War II.
And one way to present a consistent brand message, the memo suggested,
is to stop saying “Chevy,” though the word is one of the world’s
best-known, longest-lived product nicknames.
“We’d ask that whether you’re talking to a dealer, reviewing dealer
advertising, or speaking with friends and family, that you communicate
our brand as Chevrolet moving forward,” said the memo, which was signed
by Alan Batey, vice president for Chevrolet sales and service, and Jim
Campbell, the G.M. division’s vice president for marketing.
“When you look at the most recognized brands throughout the world, such
as Coke or Apple for instance, one of the things they all focus on is
the consistency of their branding,” the memo said. “Why is this
consistency so important? The more consistent a brand becomes, the more
prominent and recognizable it is with the consumer.”
Although the memo cites Coke, it does not note that Coke is shorthand
for Coca-Cola — or that Apple is not commonly used in reference to its
products, which are known simply as iPads, iPhones and MacBooks.
One expert on branding said G.M.’s effort ran counter to a trend in
which corporate names had become more casual. The consultant, Paul
Worthington, head of strategy for Wolff Olins, a brand consulting
company, noted that FedEx had replaced Federal Express, KFC had
supplanted Kentucky Fried Chicken and “even RadioShack has evolved into
Regardless, if Chevrolet plans to put the Chevy genie back in the
bottle, the task could prove harder than climbing out of bankruptcy.
As of Wednesday night, the word Chevy appeared dozens of times on
Chevrolet’s Web site, chevrolet.com, including a banner on the home page
that said, “Over 1,000 people a day switch to Chevy.” One of the
dropdown menus was “Experience Chevy.” On Facebook, brand pages include
Chevy Camaro, Chevy Silverado and Team Chevy.
If taken to its logical conclusion, Chevrolet would presumably need to
ask Jeff Gordon, the four-time Nascar Sprint Cup champion who currently
races a Chevrolet Impala, to change the Web site address —
jeffgordonchevy.com — for his dealership in Wilmington, N.C.
And what about rolling back the popular culture references to Chevy?
Elton John, Bob Seger, Mötley Crüe and the Beastie Boys have all sung
about Chevy, and hip-hop artists rap about “Chevy Ridin’ High” or
“Ridin’ in My Chevy.”
There are also a good many auto enthusiasts who have "Chevy" tattooed
onto various body parts. Some probably have a Chevy II or two tucked in
“It’s a ’Vette, it’s a Caddy, it’s a Chevy,” said Dick Guldstrand, a
long-time racer who has been inducted into the Corvette Hall of Fame. He
noted that the brand was named for Louis Chevrolet, a race driver of the
early 20th century.
“Once it became an American icon, America took it away from G.M.,” said
Mr. Guldstrand, 83. “They made it a Chevy. You’re doing a disservice to
all the people by telling them not to call it a Chevy.”
In 2006, Chevrolet updated a series of popular commercials with the
tagline “Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet," which noted how
the brand was woven into the fabric of American culture.
The commercial juxtaposed imagery of past baseball greats with modern
ones. And at the end, the narrator says, “Apparently, baseball’s changed
a little over the years, but not America’s love of the game — or love
So why make the change now? G.M. wasn't saying, but the memo came after
several major marketing moves. The memo was provided to The Times by the
disbelieving recipient of a copy.
In April, Chevrolet dismissed its long-time ad agency, Campbell-Ewald,
which over several decades had created such memorable slogans as "See
the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet," "Like a rock" and "The heartbeat of
America." The account went to Publicis USA, but only for a month. In
May, Joel Ewanick was hired from Nissan to head United States marketing
for G.M. Shortly after settling into his position, Mr. Ewanick switched
the Chevrolet advertising account again, this time to Goodby,
Silverstein & Partners.
Klaus-Peter Martin, a G.M. spokesman, confirmed the memo. "We're going
to use Chevrolet instead of Chevy going forward in our communications,"
he said in a telephone interview, and linked the change to the move to
Mr. Worthington, the branding expert, said Chevrolet seemed unclear what
the brand stood for. "So what it would appear they are trying to do, by
centralizing to a single formal name, is to try to get some focus as to
what that brand stands for, and get that out into the marketplace, which
makes a lot of sense."
Ultimately, he said, consumers "will call you whatever they want to call
But not Chevrolet staff members. A postscript to the memo says a sort of
cuss jar - a plastic "Chevy" can - has been placed in the hallway.
"Every time someone uses ‘Chevy' rather than Chevrolet," the note said,
the employee is expected to put a quarter in the can.
The proceeds are to be spent on "a team building activity."
Presumably, that would not include nachos for the staff at Chevy's.
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