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For the last several years Chevrolet has been running its “Real People - Not Actors” ads, to the point where they’ve achieved meme status. The ads, which feature groups of ordinary consumers gasping and cheering in delight as Chevrolet shows off its family cars, have been subject to multiple online parodies and even an anonymous tell-all by one of the “Real People” (and yes, they were real).

However, the brand has stuck to its strategy. Is this a case of a metropolitan elite mocking straightforward ads that ordinary Americans really like? With Ad Ratings testing every Chevy ad that airs, we can find out.

Chevy airs a huge number of ads, including both the “Real People” campaign and more straightforward product-focused commercials. Looking at them we see that the “Real People” strategy leads to a wide range of Star Ratings from our consumer panel. Several of the ads only get 1-Star, meaning they make zero predicted contribution to brand growth (the one above is a particularly poor performer). But a couple of this year’s ads scored 4-Stars, making them one of 2018’s strongest US car commercials for any brand. Here’s one:

It’s very unusual to see two executions in the same campaign perform so differently. What did Chevy do to spark this improvement? The carmaker switched things up emotionally.

In the 4-Star ad, the formula begins as usual with a ordinary consumers being educated on the virtues of Chevrolet SUVs. But then comes a twist: hidden inside the car members of their families who they haven’t seen before. It’s this emotional reunion that drives the ads higher Star Rating – not the qualities of the car.

Once Chevrolet take the spotlight off their parade of awards and onto the people who are its supposed stars, emotion soars. The gap in quality between this ad and the more standard entries in the campaign show the limits of using a purely ‘realistic’, authenticity- and claims-driven strategy for your brand. The “Real People” device has surely boosted Chevrolet’s brand Fluency – parodies are generally a firm indicator of that – but to spark emotional response you need a bit more theatre, magic and artifice.

Find out which of your ads are diriving long-term growth. Sign up for Ad Ratings HERE

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