MARKETING Q&A: CHEVY'S PAUL EDWARDS

Why Chevy's 'Real People' ads are still running

"At its worst, technology can be very complicated and cumbersome. At its best, it can really simplify consumers' lives." Paul Edwards

Chevrolet's versatile "Real People, Not Actors" campaign is two years old but still has plenty of life left, says Paul Edwards, the brand's U.S. vice president of marketing.

Although the ads have inspired parodies that poke fun at the concept of using real people, Chevy is sticking with them.

Chevy's ability to push the Malibu's technology in the campaign's "Unbranded" spot earned it the Automotive Tech Ad of the Year award from Nielsen last month during the New York auto show. The ad featured focus-group participants who were impressed by a Malibu whose badges had been removed, and ultimately surprised to learn the car was not from a luxury brand.

Nielsen said the work resonated with consumers in memorability, branding and likability.

Chevrolet has used the real people premise to push its lineup while playfully knocking competitors such as Ford. Edwards spoke with Staff Reporter Vince Bond Jr. about why the format has been able to house so many storylines over the years.

Chevrolet's "Unbranded" spot was chosen as Nielsen's Automotive Tech Ad of the Year.

Q: Why has that Malibu ad resonated with consumers? 

A: I think part of it is the campaign. It came into market when we were nine months into the campaign. We're seeing the campaign effect now that we're two years in. Our breakthrough measures -- which are a matter of do people remember it, and they do, they know it's from Chevy -- continue to increase month after month. It really hit when we were starting to hit our stride. 

What is the most difficult part of advertising tech features? 

I think the goal is trying to articulate the consumer benefit. At its worst, technology can be very complicated and cumbersome. At its best, it can really simplify consumers' lives. If you can clearly find a way to articulate the benefit in a way that people can appreciate it, then we've done our job. 

The beauty of our "Real People, Not Actors" campaign is we've been able to leverage real people to really tell that benefit story through their own words, through their own experiences. 

You saw that in the Malibu ad with both the teen driver technology and Apple CarPlay technology. Consumers were reacting and really expressing how that could help them in their automotive experience. 

With Buick's "That's not a Buick" idea and Chevy's focus-group campaign, General Motors has been consistent with its advertising themes. Why is it important to maintain a theme over a long period? 

If you take a look at the advertising marketplace out there, there's an increasing amount of clutter. It poses a challenge to marketers, an increasing challenge to break through, reach consumers, have them remember the communication, and remember who it's coming from and to ultimately drive some sort of intention. 

The value of a campaign, now that we're two years into it, is that people are familiar with the tenets of the campaign. They've become more familiar with the ingredients such as this whole idea of doing experiments with real people. Ultimately, they become more familiar with the brand. As we continue with the advertising under the campaign umbrella, the ability to break through and drive opinion, which is ultimately our goal, increases. If we were to change the structure of the communications every month, as an example, we'd basically be starting from square one. 

One of Chevrolet's "Real People" ads touts the Silverado pickup over the Ford F-150.

This focus group format has been able to push a variety of vehicles and storylines. Why has it been able to adapt to so many subjects? 

I think it's really the structure itself. The consistent ingredients have been real people. We've never strayed from that: using those real people in these interesting experiments in which we put in front of them Chevrolet products, Chevrolet launches, Chevrolet stories and have them react. It's a pretty simple construct, but the construct itself has afforded us the bandwidth to do everything from new-car launches like we've done with Cruze and Malibu last year to competitive advertising, which we've done with Silverado and F-150 last summer, as you remember, to a consistent Chevy story. We've been telling the quality story through our most-awarded execution or our J.D. Power executions. While those are different messages from Chevrolet, they all work within that construct of real people being exposed to Chevrolet through interesting experiments.

What is the secret to the longevity of this campaign? 

Keeping it fresh. We're not just going to fall into a rut. We've got to maintain the equities of the campaign that we've built, but continue to keep it fresh and interesting. If you don't, consumers are going to tune out. Seeing what we did with The Lego Batman Movie, as an example, was a very interesting twist on the campaign using those same equities, but really freshening it. I think when you see the new Equinox work premiering in May, you'll see another freshening of the campaign but still thinking through to those campaign equities.

How long is Chevrolet likely to keep this campaign going? 

From where I sit two years in, there's no sign that it's losing steam. In fact, every month, like I said, it continues to pick up in terms of our ability to break through and drive opinion. 

For the foreseeable future, we don't have a change in mind.

You can reach Vince Bond Jr. at vbond@crain.com -- Follow Vince on Twitter: @VinceBond86

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