How Chevy Finds “Real People” for Its Commercials

chevroletFor the past few years, Chevrolet has ran a series of ads that feature “real people, not actors” staring in awe as they look at and listen to facts about Chevy cars. These televised focus groups are filmed on sets outfitted with enormous doors and spinning elevators that reveal the vehicles in grand fashion. All the while a friendly host tells the onlookers about how many J.D. Power awards Chevy has won along with other details about the brand. Whenever he asks his audience a question, they almost always respond with positive comments.

Chevy insists these statements are delivered by real people who are simply voicing their honest opinions. Some observers aren’t convinced, however, leading to widespread criticism on social media and even a series of parody videos that went viral. But according to a recent interview with a man who allegedly participated in one of these focus groups, Chevy executives are telling the truth when they claim the company isn’t hiring actors. Instead, this anonymous individual says he was approached by someone on the street who asked if he wanted to earn $200 by taking part in some market research. He agreed and then showed up the next day at the Los Angeles Convention Center, which he thought was a strange choice for a focus group.

He and his fellow market research subjects soon discovered why the company picked this enormous and unusual venue. After walking through some dark, empty hallways, the group ended up in a huge room filled with cars shining under bright lights. Standing among the autos was their host who eventually extended a greeting. He then began to ask simple questions about Chevy as colossal walls moved to reveal more and more cars to the stunned group. The anonymous interviewee says the walls were so loud and humongous that he couldn’t help but appear shocked. His colleagues apparently felt the same way as they replied with reverence to the host’s questions about Chevy and its many awards. Once the filmmakers had what they needed, the group signed appearance releases and non-disclosure agreements before heading home.

The anonymously interviewed man claims that neither he nor anyone else in his group knew that they would be in a Chevy commercial until they saw the cameras and cars. And though he admits that it was a strange and surreal afternoon, he doesn’t regret doing it. “It was a funny experience that was well worth the $200,” said the unnamed focus grouper. “I’ll see the commercial, and it’s so funny to look at this guy and not hear the doors opening and this grinding, super-loud sound and just the awkwardness of it. To see it all beautifully edited and whatever, and to see my back in it for a split second… It’s pretty cool. I get to say I’ve been in a Chevy commercial.”

Questions:

  1. Which do you think is a more effective strategy for an ad campaign: using testimonials from “real people” or a celebrity spokesperson?
  2. What effect do you think Chevy’s enormous doors and spinning elevators have on the focus groupers in its commercials?

Source: Spencer Kornhaber, “The Reality of Those ‘Real People, Not Actors’ Ads,” The Atlantic, August 15, 2016; Marah Eakin, “What’s It Like to Be One of the “Regular People” in Those Chevy Commercials?” The A.V. Club, May 23, 2017.

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