Why Chevy stood out among the Super Bowl’s EV ads

After seeing The Sopranos tribute, Camden's John Dutton believes tapping into culture without using an A-lister hit a perfect balance.
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By John Dutton

This isn’t a review of last weekend’s Super Bowl commercials. You can get that anywhere. Instead, I’ll be skimming past the slew of star-studded electric vehicle ads to focus on one EV spot that really stood out. It breathed new life into an old brand by hitting the sweet spot where a product launch and a cultural icon authentically meet. And not an A-list celebrity in sight.

At $7 million USD for 30 seconds of airtime, automakers splashed a bowl-load of cash on ads for their EVs. Hyundai’s spot leveraged Jason Bateman’s dry humour to convey a ton of features, BMW got lols from Arnie and Selma playing Greek gods, GM revived Dr. EV-il (get it?) and his cronies, Nissan re-cast Eugene Levy as an action star, and hold on – notice a recurring theme here?

We all know that celebrity sells. But the question is, when does a personal brand overshadow a corporate brand? The risk of dilution is enormous, and the funnier the commercial, the more likely (in my opinion) that viewers will remember the ad, not the advertiser. I wonder what the mis-attribution data is for Sunday’s EV ads?

This is the tightrope that corporations walk when they meld a human being who has an actual personality with the brand personality they have spent huge amounts of time, money and effort to build. But one EV manufacturer managed to make a strategic masterstroke by partnering with a cultural icon, rather than a famous face.

Judging by the online chatter, I wasn’t the only viewer who felt a frisson as the opening titles and cool theme music of The Sopranos in Chevrolet’s commercial started playing unexpectedly among the regular ad fare. It was a 60-second commercial, the first half of which expertly reproduced the shot sequence of The Soprano’s iconic opening. As the atmospheric title song played, the ad showed a Chevy Silverado leaving Manhattan for New Jersey, passing toll booths, industrial buildings and highway signs.

Only one key element had changed – instead of the brooding Tony Soprano at the wheel, there was a woman. By the second shot of the driver, I asked the friend watching next to me, “Is that Meadow?!” and sure enough, there was actress Jamie-Lynn Sigler who played Tony’s daughter throughout the show’s run, sucking on a lollypop instead of a cigar, exuding as much confidence as her on-screen father.

As Meadow exits the vehicle, she plugs into an EV charging station and another Sopranos character appears: her brother, AJ. The voice-over announces, “The first ever all-electric Chevy Silverado. A whole new truck for a whole new generation.”

Judging by the online reviews, this was the Super Bowl’s best car ad, hands-down.

What makes it so on-point for the brand, for the product, and for the audience? There’s nothing inauthentic here. In simpler times, when the Twin Towers still featured in that famous title sequence, Tony Soprano drove a Chevy Silverado. His daughter was portrayed as a left-leaning student, so it makes total sense for a mature version of the character to choose an EV as the climate emergency intensifies 25 years later. And yet, she’s still her father’s daughter.

The Sopranos is not only widely regarded as the greatest TV series of all time and a Gen X cultural touchstone, it has been having a renewed cultural moment among millennials and Gen Z, who have been finding the series through streaming and concocting new jokes and memes about it on social.

So, a target audience that might have viewed the Silverado as an uncool automotive dinosaur now views it as “not your father’s truck.” What seals the deal and (though I’m loathe to admit) got me a little emo, were the smiles on Willow and AJ’s faces as they meet. They aren’t cheesy. These people we watched growing up are now adults who have moved on from their parents’ mistakes. They are in a different world. But they share a history.

That’s the genius of the Chevy Silverado Super Bowl ad: it hits the perfect balance between nostalgia for the world we’ve lost since The Sopranos first aired in 1997 and the harsh reality of life today. That’s the emotional tension that is sensitively and somewhat sweetly brought to the fore in a perfect pivot from Sopranos swagger to sibling love.

With a brand personality that is 180 degrees from Chevrolet, and with products in a different category to the Silverado, Polestar (another car brand that took a decidedly different creative approach, without the use of celebs) cut through the big game clutter using rational claims, shots at Tesla and Scandinavian design. But, for me, it was Chevy that scored the winning touchdown by plugging into Gen X feels.

John Dutton is a partner and chief creative officer at Camden.