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From Virgil to John Cusack, Building the Modern Chevy Silverado Commercial


IDEA: This isn't your father's pickup truck. But then, you're not your father. "These guys are much more involved in their children's lives than their fathers were," Leo Burnett strategist Matt MacDonell said of today's truck owners. "The male role has expanded, and the pickup is deeply involved in that."

This is memorably illustrated in "Convert," the third ad in Burnett Detroit's first campaign for Chevrolet's Silverado. The protagonist isn't an anti-hero riding into the hills alone, à la '50s Westerns and '80s truck ads. He's a true hero—a family man whose pressing problem is a teenage son buried in his smartphone.

"In talking to truck owners, we weren't hearing stories about bravado or rebellion or cowboys. We were hearing about a code for living," said MacDonell. "A pickup is symbolic of a set of values and a really soulful purchase. It's an extremely soulful category that lacked a soulful narrative."

Quiet and poetic, "Convert" has plenty of soul, as the father opens his son's eyes to the world—contemporizing the Silverado for those who would do more than throw dry-cement bags into it.

COPYWRITING: At least 15 scripts were considered for the first batch of spots. The writing in "Convert" is spare and precise. The voiceover, by John Cusack, begins: "A man. A man and his truck. And his son, who would rather play computer games than go camping."

Over 60 seconds, the glum kid lets down his guard (and his hoodie), won over by the grandeur of nature while driving, fishing and hiking with his dad. Cusack slowly describes the scene: "And a mountain … and a valley … and a river … and a forest … and the stars." The boy is finally seen gazing upward in wonder, his face aglow in campfire light. "And a new convert."

The writers were inspired by Greek and Roman poetry, particularly Virgil's Aeneid. "The first line is, 'Arma virumque cano.' 'I sing of a man, and arms.' That kind of beat, that stately progression—rolling thunder—was just wonderful," said Burnett executive creative director Steve Silver.

They pared the copy back to mostly nouns. "We wanted the sentences like two-by-fours—posts driven into the ground," Silver said. Finally, they put their faith in the viewer to embrace the lines, which can sound like a riddle. "You take a little Virgil and a few two-by-fours and a helping of respect, and you end up with this," said Silver.

Cusack concludes: "The all-new Chevy Silverado. From one generation to the next. Strong. For all the roads ahead." The ad wraps with the Chevy logo and global positioning line, "Find new roads."

FILMING/ART DIRECTION: French director Frederic Planchon filmed the three spots on a nine-day shoot in Montana and Wyoming. Visually, the storytelling is nonlinear, moving around in time and offering fractured visions rather than a clearly sequential story, yet realizing the emotional arc from skepticism to belief. The lighting and color grade vary within the spot as well.

Planchon ran two cameras simultaneously. "The camera didn't sit still very often," said Burnett chief creative officer Steve Chavez. "I wouldn't call it a handheld approach. Each shot is beautifully art directed and well composed. But within the parameters of that, he always had energy and humanity in his shots."

TALENT/SOUND: Planchon found two actors who could carry the weight of the story while having no dialogue to work with. (He also convinced the agency that the boy should be older—he was originally written as pre-teen.)

Burnett had to use Cusack, who's the global voice of Chevy, though the agency was a bit skeptical at first. "We requested that he drink the night before and come in with a cigar in his mouth," Silver joked. "He brought the life into the scripts that we were looking for."

An atmospheric guitar track by Earhole Studios leaves plenty of room for the voiceover.

MEDIA: National broadcast and cable.

Client: Chevrolet
Model: Silverado
Spot: "A Man and His Truck, Convert"
Agency: Leo Burnett
Chief Creative Officer, LB Detroit: Steve Chavez
Executive Creative Director: Steve Silver
Art Directors: Jack Crifasi, Dave Ayriss
Copywriters: Steve Silver, Cameron McIntosh, Ron Saltmarsh
Senior Producer: Adam Simmons
Production Company: Anonymous Content
Director: Frederic Planchon
Effects: MPC
Editorial: Work Post
Editor: Rich Orrick
Music Company: Earhole
Director of Photography: Patrick Duroux

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