When I was in college, a professor once asked me to name two commercials that were currently on the air – one that was effective and one that was ineffective. I chose Chevy’s then-new “Like a Rock Campaign” and Isuzu’s “Joe Isuzu” campaign.
“Like a Rock” was brilliant. It used a familiar song, and conveyed a very strong branding message for their trucks. The message, the masculine voice over, and the visuals all conveyed one clear message – Chevy was tough, dependable, solid… Chevy was like a rock.
“Joe Isuzu” was very creative and captured immediate attention. It positioned Joe as a pathological liar who made outrageous claims about Isuzu cars. “It has more seats than the Astrodome”, “I just used my Isuzu truck to carry a 2,000 pound cheeseburger.” They were attention-grabbing, they were funny, and they had people talking around the water cooler.
At the time, both campaigns were new. During that class, I had no idea how sales were tracking for either company, but my beliefs were solid. “Like a Rock” effectively conveyed the brand and its promise. It sold Chevy as a tough, dependable, working-class brand. “Joe Isuzu” made outrageous claims which could in no way be justified. “Joe Isuzu” was certainly more creative, but it was also infinitely less effective. Rather than building the brand’s integrity, it degraded it. It made its own features, its own attributes, and its own promises a punch line.
So, I chose “Like a Rock” as the most effective, and “Joe Isuzu” as the least. “Like a Rock” ran for twelve years, and was immensely successful. Today , it is seen as one of the most effective campaigns in history. “Joe” was off the air within two years, ultimately underperforming expectations, and some would say degrading their brand value in America. By 2008, they ceased all sales of passenger cars in the US.
As the president of the Random Agency, I always keep Joe Isuzu in the back of my mind. Our campaigns are among the most creative around, but they always, always, deliver our clients’ message and brand in an effective manner. There’s no point in grabbing attention if the message you are delivering is flawed.