Poor Chevy Nova! From its humble beginnings as the Chevy II, the Nova found itself being turned into a coat of many colors. In 1970, it was compared to O.J. Simpson. Future events would make this comparison eerily prescient and scary. By 1976, the marketplace had GM positioning the Nova as a “full-size” small car. Succumbing to a tidal wave of corporate hubris, the decision was made to make a commercial comparing the Nova to Mercedes Benz. The Nova had a larger wheelbase than the MB 230!!!!! Why would anyone want to pay all of that money for a Mercedes when they could buy a Chevy Nova with a larger wheelbase (one inch) for thousands less? No more comparing ourselves to Japanese cars, we were going after the Germans! And what better way to demonstrate the Nova superiority than to film it speeding along the German autobahn and cruising the mountains of Bavaria. We were going to Germany! Well, at least the agency producer and art director were. My job was going to be trying to clean up the nightmare that this commercial was going to become.
Chevy’s Small Car Advertising Manager, and my client, was Tom Boyle. He had done time on the agency side and knew what went on behind the green curtain. From the get-go, he had opposed doing this spot, but had been out-voted by the big-brains at corporate. One of Tom’s first questions to me was, “Are we going to have to go to the expense of shipping a Nova over to Germany for this thing?” I assured him that I had been told we would be able to find the appropriate vehicle in Germany. Wrong! I had to go back to Tom and tell him that we were going to have to ship THREE vehicles to Germany. Rather than beat me to death with his Chevy coffee mug, he just shook his head and chuckled, “Here we go!” Of course, rather than shipping the cars via ocean freighter, the vehicles had to be air shipped to stay on the shoot schedule. Of course, the production company hadn’t gotten the appropriate customs certificates so the vehicles were impounded at the Munich airport. Of course, this meant that the crew had to sit on their heels for almost a week while we frantically tried to get the vehicles released. Of course, I had to tell Tom all of this good news. Each time I visited him, I held a revised budget in my sweaty, trembling hands. After signing the fourth budget revision, Tom said, “Look, this thing can’t be saved. At least, let’s enjoy the craziness. You told me about a sushi bar that’s just opened out near the GM Tech Center. Every time you have a budget revision for me to sign, let’s go there for lunch.” We ate a lot of sushi in the next few weeks. Finally, the commercial was done. Tom and I watched the rough cut. After it was over, we looked at each other. Except for the announcer and the oom-pah-pah music, the footage looked like a curvy stretch of I-96 between Lansing and Muskegon, MI. The commercial was now done and scheduled to go on the air in three weeks. What else could go wrong? A few days later, I was sitting at home watching Charlie’s Angels when I saw a new Ford Granada (a Nova competitor) commercial My blood ran cold! My home phone began ringing. I already knew who it was. I answered the phone. “Hi, Tom. Yeah I saw it. Yeah, they shot a commercial in Bavaria too. Yeah, they compared themselves to Mercedes. Yeah, you could see King Ludwig’s castle in the background so you knew that they were actually there. Yeah, they even had some guy speaking German in it. Hey, you up for sushi tomorrow?”
Let’s just say that our “Germany” spot had a limited run. Who knew? There were still market segments to be exploited. I suggested that they not go Hispanic with the Nova. There was that “name” thing. For those of you who don’t know yet, Chevy Nova in Spanish can mean “Chevy Won’t” or “Chevy Doesn’t Go.” When I was still the LA guy, we talked Chevy into producing a Chevy Monza spot for the Hispanic market. It was a spot full of aspirational, familial, lifestyle stuff. Chevy’s Ad Director at the time said he “didn’t get it.” “Where’s the mention of rack and pinion steering and the wheel opening molding plastic chrome accents?” So much for Hispanic Marketing. What about marketing to women? Those Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem chicks had women all riled up. Maybe they would get more of a say into the car buying decision than just choosing the color. It was worth a try. We could make the Nova anything for anybody. We’d make an ad that “appealed to women!” We came up with a layout that everyone agreed was spot on. It would be an interior shot of the Nova with a woman behind the steering wheel, dressed in Chanel and a big hat that looked like an orange juicer, who was looking across the front seat at the reader. Long white gloves were draped next to her on the front seat. The headline read, “Elegance, Style, Nova.” The late, great David E. Davis, former Creative Director at Campbell-Ewald, would call these “Modess Because” ads. If you’re old enough, you’ll get it. If you’re not, I’m not going to explain it here except to say their ads featured a woman standing next to a piano, open window, fountain, horse, grand staircase, or museum art piece. She would always be dressed elegantly, and the headline would simply say “Modess…Because.” We ran the ad in our magazine buy of “women’s magazines.” The mother of four kids who is about to lose it, definitely forced her husband to buy a Nova after she saw our ad in Family Circle. I’m sure the ad was very successful.
A few weeks later, we decide that we needed to give Monza sales a push. Time for some new magazine ads. The request for creative to develop ad concepts was ironically called a CPR…a Creative Planning Request. They came up with eight layouts. We, along with the client, had to choose two. The Chevy Ad Department showed up en masse. Various Campbell Ewald Creative Poo-bahs were there along with three account people…the Car Management Supervisor, the Car Account Supervisor, and the guy to blame (me), if the meeting was a fiasco. After about an hour of hemming and hawing, mumbling, opinion reversals, and heavy breathing, we had chosen only one of the layouts to go forward. Now came the part of a creative presentation where everyone felt compelled to start picking the fly poop out of the pepper. They were now parsing punctuation! The visual of one of the ads appealed to me. It was a photograph of a driver smiling as he ran the Monza up a winding mountain road. The headline read: Chevy Monza…It Puts The Fun Back In Driving. Borrrrring! I foolishly thought that since I was in the meeting, I should open my mouth and give an opinion. The Chevy clients were getting upset at not being able to find a second ad to approve. That’s when I opened my mouth. “Hey guys,” I said, “driving a Monza is more than just having fun, it’s about the pure excitement of going fast on twisty roads. Instead of saying that it puts the fun back in driving, why don’t we say it puts the “driving” back in driving?” Chevy Monza…It Puts The Driving Back In Driving! The clients loved it! The meeting was a wonderful success. Lots of back slapping and gemülichkeit as they left the room. I was feeling pretty darn good about myself, when I felt a hand grab my shoulder and turn me around. It was one of the Associate Creative Directors. “Never, ever, open your mouth and shout out a creative idea at a meeting. You make us look bad. Tell us the idea later.” Mysteriously, the ad never ran. Note to self: Your job on a shoot is to sit next to the Craft Services table, and in a creative meeting your job is to keep your mouth shut.
Next: I Dodge A Big Bullet