October 16, 2006


Can Rosa Parks Sell Pickup Trucks?: Chevy's icky, exploitative new ad. (Seth Stevenson, Oct. 9, 2006, Slate)

The spot: Singer John Mellencamp leans on the fender of a Chevy pickup, strumming an acoustic guitar. He sings, among other things, "This is our country." Meanwhile, a montage of American moments flies by: Rosa Parks on a bus. Martin Luther King preaching to a crowd. Soldiers in Vietnam. Richard Nixon waving from his helicopter. And then modern moments: New Orleans buried by Katrina floodwaters. The two towers of light commemorating 9/11. As a big, shiny pickup rolls through an open field of wheat and then slows to a carefully posed stop, the off-screen announcer says, "This is our country. This is our truck. The all-new Chevy Silverado."

This ad makes me—and, judging by my e-mail, some of you—very angry. It's not OK to use images of Rosa Parks, MLK, the Vietnam War, the Katrina disaster, and 9/11 to sell pickup trucks. It's wrong. These images demand a little reverence and quiet contemplation. They are not meant to be backed with a crappy music track and then mushed together in a glib swirl of emotion tied to a product launch. Please, Chevy, have a modicum of shame next time.

I actually found it immensely interesting that the company chose to associate the truck with such bleak bits of the American escutcheon and the sort of implicit suggestion that these are the kinds of things that hard-working folk (pick-up drivers) overcome. Do we really need more happy-smiley-'60s-psychedalia-throwback ads? I asked The Wife what she thought, but, significantly, it's an ad they show during sports events, not on Food Network, so she'd not seen it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 16, 2006 7:38 PM

The only part of that ad that makes all that much sense is the Katrina part, where it shows trucks being involved in the reconstruction. Seems to me they could have gone with that theme, instead of the "random bits of Americana" theme that annoys so many people, and made a very good ad.

Posted by: Timothy at October 16, 2006 8:16 PM

But what makes it so interesting is that they aren't random--all are negatives that we had to overcome. I'd like to have seen the responses of the test groups they showed it to.

Posted by: oj at October 16, 2006 8:37 PM

Anybody remember an ad from a few years back -- it might have been for a cell phone company -- that portrayed Martin Luther King Jr. speaking to an empty Washington Mall? Then a voice says something about how you need assistance to communicate effectively, and suddenly the Mall is teeming with listeners?

I can't imagine what they were thinking. Many black folks were offended, and most everybody else just thought it was bizarre.

Posted by: Matt Murphy at October 16, 2006 8:39 PM

Americans of African and mixed African descent need to understand that being thought of as permanent mental cripples is not in their interest.

Posted by: Lou Gots at October 17, 2006 7:16 AM

Grown men shouldn't use the word "icky." This is why I can't connect with slate - it all feels like it was written by Niles Crane.

Posted by: Bryan at October 17, 2006 7:40 AM

Bryan, I agree about the word "icky".

Regarding that Chevy commerical, I don't know what it has to do with selling cars. Even though it has very little to do with selling cars, the recent VW commerical with Nigel Tufnel playing guitar is okay in my book.

Posted by: pchuck at October 17, 2006 9:48 AM

Toby Keith looks like he drives a truck. Mellencamp, not so much.

Posted by: Chris B at October 17, 2006 9:56 AM

I enjoyed reading the Slate article because the author is so disappointed that a someone like Mellancamp (a "semipolitical" guy who dislikes George W. Bush a.k.a. someone with the correct politics) is just out there to make a buck. I love it when the rock and roll myth is destroyed. Psst, John Cougar isn't making art, he is making money.

Posted by: pchuck at October 17, 2006 9:57 AM

I home they paid the licensing fees (like the one King County will be paying) for using Martin Luther King®'s likeness.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at October 17, 2006 8:44 PM