At last, a commercial that doesn't diss men

A new commercial that launched July 4 is doing something remarkable in television advertising. It’s actually treating men with respect.

Finally – respect
Finally – respect

From the black-and-white sitcoms of the 1950s through last year’s disastrous Huggies campaign, television has depicted America’s husbands and fathers as the most hapless, clueless, clumsy, inept shlubs in the universe.

This Chevrolet Silverado truck commercial attempts to change all that, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Today, men are a minority in college and graduate school admissions. Unemployment throughout the five years and counting of the Obama economy has disproportionately hit men. It’s so bad, Dr. Helen Smith says in her Amazon-best-selling book, Men on Strike, that, according to the book description,

American society has become anti-male. Men are sensing the backlash and are consciously and unconsciously going “on strike.” They are dropping out of college, leaving the workforce and avoiding marriage and fatherhood at alarming rates…

[But] men aren’t dropping out because they are stuck in arrested development. They are instead acting rationally in response to the lack of incentives society offers them to be responsible fathers, husbands and providers. [emphasis in original]

Good strategy

It makes good sense for GM to buck this trend, because by doing so, they’re once again talking to their core audience.

Before the recession, says Edmunds senior analyst Michelle Krebs, truck sales were soaring because “people were just buying them whether they needed them or not…they were cool.” That was then. Now, with full-size pickup trucks’ sticker prices rivaling those of luxury cars, the only ones who can buy them are people who need them, mainly for work. That means mostly men – those who are still working, that is.

And, like any core audience, you’re not going to sell them by insulting them.

Another thing that makes good sense is the media decision to launch the spot in Texas a full 11 days before its July 15 national rollout on ESPN’s Home Run Derby. The reason it makes sense is a small-scale Pareto distribution; while Texans comprise about 8.25 percent of the US population, they accounted for 17 percent of large-truck registrations this year. That’s about three times as many as California, the only state with a larger population.

Mediocre execution

Executionally, you could call the commercial derivative. It takes its structure from the brand’s early ’90s “Like A Rock” campaign and its message from Procter & Gamble’s 2012 “Proud Sponsor of Moms” Olympics campaign, which, we wrote at the time, talked “about their audience — the mothers of the world who raise and take care of their kids with love and hard work (and buy Procter & Gamble products, but the spots don’t talk about that)” – or, in short, glorified its target audience.

Chris Perry, US vp-Chevrolet marketing, told Advertising Age that the campaign’s goal was for his brand to “[take] back the soulfulness of the [truck] category. If you think about trucks, that segment is one of the most steeped in values and imagery. We want to reflect those customer values.”

But while Chevrolet wants to do the right thing, there are problems with how they do it.

Not “Like A Rock”

The new commercial, AdAge reports,

features everyman archetypes and is set to an original song, “Strong,” written for Chevrolet by Nashville-born Grammy-nominated musician Will Hoge. The anthem includes lyrics about an American man who gets to work on time, has loved one woman for all his life, and is someone who can be trusted. “Everybody knows he ain’t just tough, he’s strong,” Mr. Hoge sings. The company’s new tagline, “Find new roads,” appears in the spot as well.

The spot’s first problem is with its lyrics. The effectiveness of a music-based commercial depends on what we in the trade call a hook – a memorable phrase you hear over and over again. While the 1990s campaign’s music track had lyrics, the one thing you kept hearing, juxtaposed with video of the trucks, was, “Like a rock…like a rock…like a rock” – just three words that implied volumes.

The new commercial’s music has an attempted hook – “Strong” – but this refrain is grossly overwhelmed by lyrics that sound like a blue-collar to-do list. So “Strong” doesn’t really come through. Neither, as a matter of fact, do the lyrics; that’s because people pay more attention to, and absorb more of, the video than they do of what, if spoken, would be a very talky voice-over. The sheer length of the lyrics turns them into white noise.

One thing the P&G “Moms” campaign proved was that showing something is far stronger than  saying it. The emotion we see the on-camera mothers go through as they raise, nurture, support and ultimately root for their children says far more, and more convincingly, than any words, either spoken or sung, could ever hope to.

Finally, unlike the “Like A Rock” campaign, the new spot locks the actors’ on-camera action to the lyrics. So what you end up with is a very expected see-say (or in this case, see-sing) commercial.

So, Chevrolet, we beleaguered men thank you for a nice try. Maybe next time you pluck at our heartstrings, as the Ad Age headline put it, you’ll actually catch them.

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At last, some respect
At last, some respect