Chevron – Talking Cars (@Y&R)
Chevron was lagging in retail gasoline sales due in large part to a lack of product differentiation and a high price at the pump. Claims of superior chemistry weren’t moving the needle. How could they engage car owners on a more emotional level? And do it in a way that wasn’t yet another testosterone-driven performance ad?
The truth is that people have a relationship with their cars. They treat them like they’re part of the family. Some even name them. So why not take that truth in an arresting, entertaining direction by bringing cars to life? Besides, who better to introduce the benefits of Chevron with Techron’s cleaning additives than the ones benefiting the most – the cars themselves?
Partnering with Charlie McQuilkin of Young & Rubicam, who proposed the idea, we created cars with the personality and attitudes of real people. Taking a cue from Aardman Animation’s Oscar-winning animated short Creature Comforts, the voices of the cars were created from live, spontaneous conversation with car owners about things that mattered to them. Nothing was scripted. The spots were painstakingly edited together, and, with a follow-up recording session that added the product’s name, we ended up with 30 seconds of natural, heartfelt opinions from Chevron’s Talking Cars.
It was shockingly different from what was being run by Chevron’s competitors and broke through the clutter.
For a glimpse of the magic, visit our Oscar™-winning friends at Aardman Animation (I spent seven years on the television campaign. The Mechanic spot shown here was one of mine):
Testing revealed one thing we were confident would happen: consumers loved Chevron’s Talking Cars. But we found something else: these same gasoline customers were attributing technological superiority to Chevron with Techron, even though the cars were simply expressing how much they liked it, and doing so in a way that wasn’t loaded with “sell.” Sometimes, it’s not how much you say but how you say it.
Now, the premium pricing of Chevron with Techron was working for Chevron, not against them. And taking the high-touch, human approach to expressing their competitive difference did something that was quite rare: it made a big oil company approachable.
The Chevron Talking Cars campaign was cited as a “Campaign of the Decade” in the 1990s by Adweek. Toys were made. Disneyland incorporated the Chevron cars into their classic “Autopia” ride. The campaign, now decades old, has yet to run out of gas.
Sometimes, meeting one challenge gives rise to another. We had created a visually compelling animation for the Chevron Talking Cars. Now what about radio? The obvious approach was to have voices claiming to be cars talking. But the introduction of this campaign deserved something more surprising, still stemming from a truth. So . . . what if the cars did talk, for the very first time? Who would know? The people who heard them. And truth be told, they would be a bit unsettled. In its own quirky fashion, the radio also broke through the clutter, winning the London International and a few other ad industry awards along the way.