We’ll get off the GM train soon, I promise, but last night I was texting with a few friends and Chevy’s Heartbeat of America campaign came up in conversation. So, that’s what’s next in this mini-series of non-holiday jingles that’ll get stuck in your head. But in doing my “research” i.e. watching every Heartbeat of America spot on YouTube, I found a little crossover (no, not the Chevy Trax) into another Chevrolet campaign from a decade prior.
Heartbeat of America
One man at Chevrolet’s ad agency, Campbell-Ewald, came up with the Heartbeat of America campaign and related jingle. Sean Kevin Fitzpatrick is the one to thank for this earworm, one that I personally think does a great job getting you in a rah-rah-America type of mood for this country and what were ultimately a pretty blasé lineup of vehicles.
‘Heartbeat’ launched in late 1986, after Fitzpatrick had been at Daytona International Speedway – based on the L.A. Times reporting, for an amateur race weekend – and saw a Chevrolet racecar with “Heartbeat of America” written down the side. The concept became one of “selling aspirations” instead of just vehicles, which seems obvious now but was perhaps less so at the time. The entire campaign came together and launched more or less alongside the Chevy Beretta coupe and Corsica sedan, two entirely-fine compact cars.
The best quality of an early ‘Heartbeat’ ad I could find is from 1988 and shows a good portion of the Chevrolet lineup for that year. A literal heartbeat kicks us off, followed by lots of running to and from cars. There’s a Celebrity, an Astro, a Monte Carlo, a Corvette, and a Camaro convertible back to back.
We then cut to a series of clips with a hotted-up two-tone Celebrity, its digital tachometer screaming to about 3,200 rpm before it is clearly neutral-dropped in spectacular fashion for a burnout as the camera pans to a woman polishing her white Chevy Nova with her bottom. There are waving flags, a small-town parade, and another woman excitedly jumping around while balancing on her Spectrum’s fender.
This minute-long spot concludes with a middle-aged couple going in for a kiss as their Cavalier convertible’s roof raises to block us from actually seeing such a thing. The entire ad is chaotic in the best of ways while sending the message that Chevrolet vehicles are everywhere, driven by people of all ages, genders and races, in a wide variety of scenarios.
The Heartbeat of America campaign continued on through 1994 and took on a few variations. Chevy created a slowed-down “Olympic Minute” variant for the 1989 Olympics, attempting to tie in “traditional American values” that brought Chevy’s “best effort, with honesty, integrity, and a will to win.” This is all in reference to the GMT400 pickups which were indeed pretty good and proved to be durable so… I don’t hate it.
My “oh wow” crossover moment with ‘Heartbeat,’ though, came with a 90-second spot that starts with a woman – who looks suspiciously like Aretha Franklin – singing to a crowd of cars and people at a drive-in movie theater. The jingle is more musical and less thumpy-club-music here but the theme continues – varied people doing varied things with the entire Chevy lineup. There are a lot of waving red… sheets? Waving red flags? Let’s ignore those like we all do in men.
This ad is perhaps even more chaotic than the first one shown above, in that what the people are doing is even more nonsensical. A woman in the desert posing with a surfboard with her Suburban towing a camper in the background? Of course. Actors in full getup posing for photos with an Astro? Who wouldn’t? Someone laying on the hood of an S-10 while a rogue fire hydrant gushes water in just the right direction to soak them? Sure. Don’t miss the gratuitous drifting Caprice cop car followed by a dog peeing on a Corvette’s wheel.
But at 1:13 in the clip, we see two toddlers walking in front of a fire department, red S-15 Blazer in the background, and the singer goes “apple pie and hot dogs, y’all” as a SWAT team deploys from a black Astro van and a man tries to kiss a woman repeatedly in some convertible.
I can’t embed this one so click here to watch it. It’s gold.
Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie, and Chevrolet
Our drive-in singer alluded to a campaign that ran a decade prior, and I hadn’t caught it until last night. In the 1970s, Chevrolet was America’s top-selling brand of automobile. The campaign that came together was intended to paint a picture of Chevrolet ownership being “as American” as three key down-home staples: baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie.
The jingle is simple and catchy. It went over well enough, apparently, that two other General Motors divisions chose to use it for their own markets, forcing regionally-appropriate words in where “Chevrolet” and “in the good ol’ USA” were originally written. First up, we have Australia with football, meat pies, kangaroos, and Holden cars. These four things go together “underneath the southern stars.”
That one works out alright, but then we take a trip to South Africa where the narrator asks residents for their favorite meal, sport, weather (?), and car. This results in loving braaivleis, rugby, sunny skies (okay, they found three syllables) and Chevrolet, all of which “go together in the good ol’ RSA:”
Back in the United States, Chevrolet chose to resurrect the campaign in 2006, claiming that Americans’ love of baseball and Chevrolet hasn’t wavered, despite both changing significantly over the years. Here they mention the icons of 2006, which include goat cheese pizza, bottled water, froyo and camera phones. This says nothing about actual baseball references, like the Los Angeles Angels’ rally monkey, stadium boxes and retractable roofs (hey, Envoy XUV), and endorsement deals.
And then while reading up on the reboot of this whole campaign, I found the wildest little bit of trivia worth mentioning. Just two years ago, Chevrolet resurrected the campaign yet again for a tie-in with Major League Baseball for their “Field of Dreams” game in Iowa in 2021… and they brought in Guy Fieri to help.
Fieri created an “apple pie hot dog” and Chevy PR sent at-home kits to some media so they could assemble this creation in time to kick back and watch the game. “My brain was trying to wrap itself around what I was eating” said Sef Gonzalez of Burger Beast.
Hopefully you enjoyed this ride that took us through several decades, two completely separate (yet equally catchy) campaigns, and ended up in Flavortown. See you tomorrow.