by Byron Hurd

The pilot episode of “The Wire” opens with a scene between Baltimore City homicide detective Jimmy McNulty and a young eyewitness sitting on a stoop, overlooking a murder scene. The victim was shot after running away with the pot from a dice game. The witness explains that the victim, “Snot Boogie,” would come to the game every week and let the pot get thick, then pull a snatch and grab. Normally, the other players would chase him down and kick his ass for trying to make off with the cash, but this week somebody got tired of the routine and shot poor Snot Boogie dead. McNulty is puzzled, and asks the witness why they continued to allow Snot Boogie to play if he always ran off with the money. The witness looks at McNulty and then back at the body, then says, matter-of-factly, “You got to. This is America, man.”

And if Goodby, Silverstein & Partners hadn’t cribbed from David Simon’s series intro, the new Chevy Volt ad probably would have flown completely under my radar. But right there, buried in the middle of the voice-over (and just as deadpan the original), Chevy makes their appeal to all of us. “This is America, man.”

Even at face value, the sheer audacity of the line makes an impression. After all, it’s hardly the first time GM could be accused of pandering to the nationalistic tendencies of some of its core buyers. But when taken in the context of the above story, it’s a far more chilling appeal. The image of GM reaching its hands into the community pot and making a run for it, only to be beaten up, run off, and then allowed to return… well, if you’re still not getting it, you’re never going to.

Whether the reference was intentional or not, it’s not much of a stretch to say GM’s advertising has been asking for second chances. From direct appeals from their executives to glimpses of humility in their product advertising, it’s clear that the GM marketing balloon has been relieved of much of its hot air.

That’s to be expected when you consider that, just years ago, GM was still the biggest manufacturer with the biggest products and the biggest, nastiest, middle-finger-to-the-hippie-governmentiest ego you’d find in the American auto industry. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be bailed out by the people you call some variation of “weenies” on a daily basis. They went from “Too big to fail” to “Government Motors” faster than they could blink, and a change like that requires a shake-up in corporate culture that probably has to be seen to be believed.

What I see here is an admission and an appeal. GM is telling us, yes, we know we screwed up. We know you pulled us back from the brink of who-knows-what and have put us in a position to thrive (and with the expectation that we do so). We know you let us off easy. We know we could have ended up like Snot Boogie. Please, just give us the opportunity to make it right and we promise we won’t reach in there again.

So, regardless of how you may feel about the “Chevy Runs Deep” tagline and the general tone of the commercials they’ve debuted this week, you can take solace in the fact that somewhere, somebody in Chevy’s ad agency might have a grasp on the bigger picture. And maybe there’s a little bit more to this push than superficial flag-waving and heritage appeal.

After all, this is America. You gotta let GM play.


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Byron Hurd

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