Nick Bunkley
Nick Bunkley
Staff Reporter - Enterprise

Why Chevy execs are suddenly watching 'Mad Men'

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One of Joel Ewanick's big moves in his brief reign as chief marketing officer of General Motors was to combine two rival ad agencies and give them the Chevrolet account, ousting Campbell Ewald after decades of experience.

It turns out that Don Draper had that exact same idea in 1968.

On the latest episode of AMC's Madison Avenue drama "Mad Men," Draper, the show's top creative mind/philanderer/drinker/identity thief, dumped one car company -- Jaguar -- before making a play for a much bigger, more prestigious fish: Chevy.

He won the account after he and a competitor agreed to merge so they could take on Campbell Ewald and the other big boys wooing GM.

The plot wasn't lost on Jeff Goodby, co-chair of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, one half of the real-life Commonwealth joint venture that Ewanick created to handle Chevy. Today he tweeted: "Teaming up with another agency to work on Chevy, Don Draper? Dude, we should talk."

Commonwealth lasted less than a year, with McCann Worldgroup taking full ownership and the Chevy business in March after Ewanick was fired from GM.

'Worst Car of All Time'

Unfortunately for Draper and his coworkers, the first car they get to promote will turn out to be one now remembered for little more than being terrible.

It's the Chevy Vega, GM's state-of-the-art ("They designed it with a computer," Draper's partner, Roger Sterling, excitedly reveals) subcompact that initially sold in huge numbers before rampant quality problems ultimately led to its demise and took a good chunk of GM's reputation down with it. A few years ago, Car and Driver said the Vega "is on everyone's short list for Worst Car of All Time."

In May 1968, though, poor Draper thinks the Vega, which he only knew by its code name, XP-887, will give the Ford Mustang a run for its money.

"There's been nothing before Mustang and nothing after it, but they're hoping it's this," Draper says.

The episode doesn't show the actual presentation to GM by Draper and his rival-turned-collaborator, Ted Chaough, but they reveal their separately developed concepts in an earlier scene:

Chaough's pitch: "'This is a car for the young and the young-at-heart. Because today, nobody knows where they're headed, but they're not afraid of what's around the bend. Power plus design equals adventure. Throw the map out the window and hit the road, Jack.' And then I sing the song."

Draper's pitch: "Just music. People's faces. All kinds. Teenagers, dads, moms, different expressions of wonder. What could this possibly be? 'It's so new, this combination of power, technology, comfort and price that it's impossible to imagine. But not at Chevy. The future is something you haven't even thought of yet.' You run that for a week, then you finally show the car."

No Chevy involvement

GM and Chevy had no involvement in the brand appearing on "Mad Men."

If they had, they certainly would have preferred the show highlight the Camaro instead. No doubt more than a few people in the Renaissance Center will be following upcoming episodes and hoping that Chevy comes off more favorably than Jaguar.

Last season one character tried to kill himself in a Jaguar but couldn't because the car failed to start, and Draper's agency won the Jaguar account primarily because shapely secretary Joan Harris slept with the head of the brand's dealers association, earning herself a partnership in the process.

"We were just as surprised as everyone else," Cristi Vazquez, a Chevrolet spokeswoman, said today. "We will be watching closely."

You can reach Nick Bunkley at nbunkley@crain.com. -- Follow Nick on Twitter

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