On June 10, I came across several articles dealing with an internal GM memo which apparently prohibited its staff to use the name „Chevy“ when speaking of Chevrolet models or the brand in general. „Why this?“ you may wonder. Isn’t this term common all over the U.S or even the world and doesn’t this express that to many people Chevrolet is more than a brand, something that has been part of American lives for centuries and that people have strong affection for? Damn right! And what is the corporate benefit of only using Chevrolet instead of Chevy? Should Coca-Cola avoid the use of Coke? Surely GM’s marketing department has had its reason for this. I use this opportunity to provide you with some interesting facets of the history of the US automobile market and the central role of patriotism.Many American automakers make heavy use of patriotism in commercials. Why? Well, simply because it works and it helped sell cars for many centuries.
When in the late 70s Japanese makes with surprising product quality and price-quality-relation entered the U.S. market, pointing to U.S jobs and the economy helped push sales of U.S. automobiles. Using the country-of-origin effect to gain a competitive advantage towards foreign makes and playing the patriotic card is what I term „patriotic marketing.“ Especially the U.S. is a country most popular for its loyalty towards its nation and its cultural heritage and thus patriotic marketing has seen great success throughout different industries. Wal-Mart, Ford, Chevrolet and Budweiser are just some examples. And patriotic marketing is not a recent phenomenon. It can be found in markets all over the world. In the the U.S. it has been applied already in the days of the early colonies in order to support the local economy and to push the independence from British goods and dominance.
The sad side: Patriotic marketing has the same effect on domestic economies as other trade barriers have. They hinder foreign goods from entering the market. If they had been produced more efficiently , the tariffs make them more expensive than they actually would be and thus less attractive to the US consumer. Unfortunately this did not give U.S. auto brands in the 80s the time and space to improve in terms of productivity and quality. Instead patriotic marketing just helped to distract consumers from the obviously lower quality compared to German or Japanese makes. By avoiding direct competition and by producing specifically to a patriotic US target group, US automakers lost touch of the Japanese and European competitors. This is the reason why in the past you could barely sell US automobiles outside of the US. As a result GM, Chrysler and Ford all have been struggling in the beginning of the 21st century.
Status Quo: Today Ford and GM have realized that future market share comes from quality and innovation and from producing globally competitive vehicles that are attractive to auto buyers all around the world. Ford today is known for a strong focus on Social Media. Why? To connect with young target groups and in order to rejuvenate the brand. In the US more and more small-sized cars enter the U.S. market and GM is among the leaders when it comes to Hybrid technology or battery-powered vehicles such as the promising Opel / GM Ampera. Also GM started to introduce successful European Opel models in the US (under the Saturn brand). And they did NOT sell Opel, which may be playing a central role for the future of the GM corporation.
Learning: Patriotism may work nicely in domestic markets but in a global economy values such as quality, innovation and fit-to-market is what matters. President Obamas decision against a major Buy American campaign to boost domestic economy may have cost a short-time boost, but in the long run and in a global context, this was certainly the right decision. The recent financial reports by Ford and GM show that they obviously have made the turn: They again make good money with better vehicles. And Toyota who has always been ahead in terms of quality and reliability now has the quality troubles…. If this GM memo has been a move away from the patriotic American background towards a more global positioning, I cannot tell. Future commercials may provide an insight. But I am sure that the future of GM can only lie in becoming a strong global brand such as Ford or VW. Only then you can selll enough vehicles, profit from economies of scale and invest in order to be able to equip your vehicles with the latest technology.
Today, we are experiencing exciting times in the global automobile industry. Never before have there been challenges such as gas prices, battery technology, etc that may fundamentally change the auto business.
But let’s get back to America’s love for Chevy and how important a role Chevy had been playing in the past. When writing my master’s thesis on „Patriotism and American Values in U.S. Advertising“ I came across numerous examples of patriotic marketing applied in US TV commercials. And I must admit that some of them also have a strong impact on me. To many proud Americans, these commercials may feel like a confirmation in their beliefs, in the cultural values many Americans so proudly cherish. I have provided you with a selection of commercials that are filled with references to American cultural values such as „work ethic“, „freedom“ „risk-taking“ and „individual achievement“. And in almost all of them you come across „Chevy“. Enjoy these colorful, moving commercials. Some of you may find them pathetic or stereotypical. But just imagine how these images may move a patriotic American citizen and ease the complex purchasing process…
1994: „Like A Rock“
2007: Chevrolet Super Bowl Commercial „Ain’t We Got Love“
~2006: This Is Our Country (Chevy Silverado)
1991: Chevy Truck „The Heartbeat of America Campaign“
1992: Chevy Like a Rock
Ads like these show that Chevy is a positive synonym for Chevrolet, a brand that helped make America what it is today. A brand that brought mobility to generations of Americans.
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