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GM Marketing Materials

("There she is ...A real dream buggy")

GM developed a number of brochures, advertisements and even a TV spot for the 53 and 54 Corvettes. Original and reprint copies of most of this stuff is readily available on ebay. It doesn't take much time or money to build a collection of 53 to 55 memorabilia. And Noland Adams Book - Corvette (American Legend) The Beginning Vol 1 - contains a great deal of marketing information as well.

But reviewing old contemporaneous newspaper stories and ads is perhaps the most interesting way to track GM's attempt to market the Corvette. Looking thru old newspaper accounts is a breeze by using NewspaperArchive.

I'm fascinated by the marketing issue GM faced - a completely new domestic product, wildly successful prototype screening at Motorama, limited production ability for 6 to 9 months, undeveloped manufacturing process, and the first real use of fiberglass in a car. Taking all of these factors into account, GM decided on a novel marking plan containing these essential elements:

1. Build up pre-production demand for the cars thru heavy advertising and shows featuring the Motorama cars

2. Sell the early production cars to well-known individuals (like John Wayne). GM thought - if the public saw the rich and famous driving the cars, the public would want the cars even more.

3. As GM started to produce the cars, GM staged a Media Day in September 1953, where GM let well-known car commentators have at the cars and the manufacturing process.

4. GM put 8 or 9 finished cars on a traveling circuit to dealerships across the country in Sept 1953 to March 1954 to let the public finally see the finished product, hoping that would stimulate demand even more. GM and dealerships bombarded newspapers with stories and advertisements for the traveling roadshow.

5. GM ramped up production significantly in the spring of 1954, and had ample cars to sell. Every thing should have been in place - hot new product, great brand awareness, great styling, etc.

But the cars did not sell. Why?

GM has taken a lot of grief for its early marketing of the Corvette, especially for focusing on the rich and famous. But I think GM did everything right, or close to right, from a marketing perspective. Given the circumstances (a completely new domestic product, wildly successful prototype screening at Motorama, etc), I think GM executed on a really sound marketing strategy in general. GM had the public primed to buy a really spectacular car.

I think the car failed to sell for two basic reasons:

Mistake #1 - GM thought the target audience for the car was well-heeled business guys who wanted to cruise the blvd on sunny days. Take a look at the Mid-1954 Sales Campaign materials below. GM spells out the target audience in great detail in these materials. GM was looking for 45 year old guys who made more than $10k per year (big money back then) and who already owned an upscale car. The GM mistake - wrong audience. The real market was a younger sports car enthusiast, who wanted performance (live a V8 and 4 speed). Zora and others spotted the mistake early on, but could not correct the mistake until the 1956 production year.

Mistake #2 - The 53 and 54 cars built by GM did not sufficently appeal to the target audience (45 year old well-heeled guys). The cars leaked like sieve, the softtop was nearly impossible to put up, and had side curtains instead of windows.

Simply stated, GM aimed at the wrong audience, and built the wrong car for the audience it did aim at.

The most interesting GM marketing item - relating to a mid-1954 sales effort - is not readily available however. Chevrolet sent the marketing materials to dealers in a format designed to be played by special equipment. I converted the materials to digital video and audio, so that more collectors would have the opportunity to see and enjoy the mid-1954 sales effort materials.

The Mid-1954 Sales Campaign

GM and Chevy Management expected to sell about 1000 Corvettes a month. By mid-1954, sales of Corvettes were in the tank, however. Inventory was high, and demand was low. In response, Chevrolet launched a marketing campaign aimed at Chevrolet dealers. The campaign appeared to have 3 basic goals:

1. Create excitement about the car at the salesmen level

2. Give the salesmen enough info about the car to sell it

3. Train the salesmen on how to sell the car (who to target, how to built excitement, etc).

For goals #1 and #2, Chevrolet created the "Fun on Wheels" campaign. For goal #3, Chevrolet created the "Cash In On Corvette" campaign.

History teaches us that this dealer-focused marketing campaign failed as well. Nonetheless, the campaign provides a fascinating view of Chevrolet's view of the car, and who Chevrolet thought would be buying the car.

Fun on Wheels

The Fun on Wheels campaign featured a brochure aimed at consumers. Chevrolet thought that consumers would want a Corvette because it was "fun" to drive. The dealer could either mail or give this brochure to a potential buyer.

The Fun on Wheels campaign also featured a 13 minute slide show (with audio) aimed at the sales force. The movie provides a fascinating glimpse at Chevrolet's view of the Corvette. The movie also provides some very interesting pictures of early 54 Corvettes. (Based on these pictures, I believe that a revision or two might be in order for the NCRS 53 to 55 judging guide). I converted this movie to digital format - the movie is 7.5mb in size (320x240). The movie:

(7.5mb movie - Safari browser users need to download the movie to your hard drive via a left click.)

For some close-up pics that might be of interest to the restorer (click on the small pic to get a much better view):

Cash In On Corvette

The Cash in on Corvette campaign featured a 6 minute slide program (with audio). What a hoot!. The campaign was designed solely to train Chevrolet dealers and salesmen how to sell the 54 Corvettes. The campaign focuses on target profiles, taking a proactive approach, how to set the hook, and how to close the deal. The digital movie is 3.5mb in size (320x240). The movie:

(3.5mb movie - Safari browser users need to download the movie to your hard drive via a left click.)

For some close-up pics that might be of interest (click on the small pic to get a much better view):

One amusing note - I fit Chevrolet's target profile PERFECTLY when I purchased my 1954 Corvette (45 years old, professional, etc).

For 53-55 Corvette Owners - Special Offer - Get These Movies on a DVD

Russ Uzes
Mill Valley CA
Russ Email

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