Chevrolet’s ad company knocks it out of the park with a heartwarming tearjerker

Like Longfellow’s little girl, who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead, sometimes ad agencies are very good indeed, and sometimes they’re horrid. When they’re good, it’s worth taking note because, as with all media, those short videos have a disproportionate effect on the American psyche. In the case of Chevy’s holiday ad, that effect can only be good.

When I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, in the pre-streaming age, you watched ads whether or not you wanted to. These years were the heydays of jingles and slogans. Indeed, for us, jingles were a family tradition.  

Because my grandmother hadn’t raised my mother (the nanny and the governess did so in the long-ago days when the family had money), she didn’t know any songs for children. So, she fell back on commercials. “You’ll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent…Pepsodent,” she would croon to us.

I can still sing words perfectly to the songs for Armour Hot Dogs, Oscar Meyer Weiners, and, of course, “I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke” and, one of my favorites, the “I’m a Pepper” jingle. And let’s never forget Alka-Seltzer’s hugely successful ad campaigns: “plop, plop, fizz, fizz” along with the phrases “Try it; you’ll like it” and “I can’t believe I ate that whole thing.”

Things changed for ad companies with the coming of DVRs and, now, streaming. Advertisers have two choices: Incredibly quick 15-second hits for an audience with a 10-second attention span that’s armed with a clicker or mouse or a commercial that grabs the audience and gets shared on social media.

One of the best examples of a viral ad was the Volvo ad with Jean-Claude Van Damme, which reached a much wider audience (118 million views) than would ever consider buying the product advertised. (This digital Chuck Norris spoof is pretty great, too.)

Image: Chevy Suburbans (edited) by Jarek Tuszyński. CC BY-SA 3.0.

This year, Chevrolet crafted the perfect viral ad: A family gathers for the holidays as the grandmother sits stone-faced, lost in the wasteland of dementia. The hip daughter, disconnected from all this family stuff, decides to act. She gently puts Grandma in the 1972 Chevrolet Suburban and puts in an eight-track tape playing John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulders.”

Then, the two take a lovely drive through a classic American town (Holly, Michigan). They visit Grandma’s childhood home, school, and the drive-in where she first kissed Grandpa. Predictably, Grandma’s intermittent memory returns for the day, and the family has a happy holiday.

The commercial is blatantly, unashamedly, almost ham-handedly manipulative, something I really hate, but it works. And I allowed it to work because it was manipulative in the nicest way. I wasn’t being manipulated to hate people or to abandon my life and the life I had planned for my children. Instead, I was being gently bullied into remembering a sweeter American past (although I hasten to add that Grandma is around 20 years older than I am) and clinging to the joys of the present.  

Indeed, the commercial is so good that I forgive the one little phrase slipped in to remind us that, while Chevrolet had the good sense to hire an ad company that knows its market (normal people in the vast red heart of America), the ad’s writers are still young leftists. It’s kind of creepy when you think about just how much they know how to push our buttons without embracing our values.

Hat tip: Red State

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