Hard to believe, but Chevrolet's Corvette celebrates its 66th birthday this year. It is one of the longest running U.S. car models. And as sports car enthusiasts and car lovers will tell you, the fiberglass Vette is still one of the best deals out there.
While Chevy has revamped the vehicle many times over six plus decades, most of these changes have been evolutionary – until now.
The new C8 (as the new platform is called) is a radical change from the recent models – but still captures the essence of the car. The new Corvette features a mid-engine design (a first), but still “remains faithful to the brand promise,” according to GM's president, Mark Reuss.
The new design – priced under $60K – walks that fine line between tradition and the future. Like Vettes of the past, its design is inspired by fighter jets. And as Reuss points out, it's brand essence continues to be shaped by “performance, functionality, and attainability.”
In many ways, the Corvette is reminiscent of iconic radio stations – those that have been around for 40, 50, or more years – retaining their formats and positions in their communities, while hopefully evolving in the process.
And as I watch more and more rock stations celebrate these milestones, it's a reminder how they need to remember their heritage, while keeping an eye to the future.
Of course, great brands that dare to push the boundaries almost always have a visionary at the top. In the case of the Corvette, Reuss tells Entrepreneur how he started at GM in 1983 as a student intern. His dad (also a company employee) owned Vettes, and Reuss has fond memories of driving around Metro Detroit in this quintessential example of hot Motor City wheels.
Like a veteran program director who intimately understands the brand, the market, and the audience, Reuss is perfectly suited to steer the Corvette through this critically important evolution phase. While committed to protecting the brand, Reuss also realizes the imperative to evolve this American icon:
“If we remain true to Corvette's brand mission and deliver innovation and performance at an attainable price, we will maintain our advantage.”
That sensitivity to what the car has always stood for while keeping an eye on how to keep the Vette relevant and buzzworthy is what great radio PDs bring to their products as well. It's another reason why the most iconic radio brands require a wise, savvy steward acting as “showrunner” for the brand – essentially the role Reuss is playing with his beloved Corvette.
In many ways, Chevy's investment in the C8 is a great example of newism – which speaks to our fascination with the new. While we often talk about the powerful pull of nostalgic music and radio in this blog, there's no getting around our cultural lust for what's new…on Netflix, on the floor at CES, new smartphone apps, and of course, what's in our driveway.
When you're stewarding a traditional brand – whether it's KISW or the Corvette – it's essential to continue innovating without breaking the brand's promise.
A case in point is KLOS – celebrating its golden anniversary – with a unique twist on its ubiquitous racetrack logo. The station learned many years ago it owns that shape. And that's given it license to use the black center to promote its core artists, area sports teams, and anything else that resonates with its culture and lifestyle – even without the call letters.
Earlier this year, PD Keith Cunningham and promotions maven Wendy Davis came to jācapps with an idea that smacks of “newism” – a web feature that allows KLOS fans to make their own personal statement using that iconic logo. It's a great example of “radio newism.”
You can see the KLOS logo generator on their station website – it's a simple, but elegant application that is in keeping with KLOS's heritage, while using today technology to provide personalization, socialization, and of course, buzz. You can make your own KLOS logo here.
And finally, it always fascinates me when marketers emulate heritage brands. Thinking about the Corvette, you may recall perhaps the biggest, baddest promotion of all time.
In 1989, Vh1 was faced with the challenge of creating a bigger-than-life stunt. At the time, former radio vet Jeff Rowe was Vh1's head of programming. The big idea was to give away 36 Corvettes – one from each year since they first rolled off that Detroit assembly line – to one winner.
The entire contest was summed up in 6 words:
Thirty-six Corvettes. One winner. No kidding.
Jeff explains how the contest came together:
“I knew Jim Cahill, former promotion manager for Styx (and ex-radio guy), who at the time was marketing movies at Universal for filmmaker John Hughes. VH1 was a music channel for Boomers at the time and I asked Cahill for ideas that could be ‘mushroom cloud BIG,' targeted to our precise demographic.
“Cahill told me there's one American icon that shadows Boomers perfectly and it was the Chevrolet Corvette. There were Vettes for the Elvis years, the Beatles years, and the Eagles years – a Boomer icon extraordinaire. The Corvette was always hot, full of sex appeal and aspirational. Separately, but related, Jim and I were big fans of (radio programmer) Jack McCoy, and we designed the on-air campaign to be play as BIG as ‘The Last Contest' played on KCBQ.
“There are two people who deserve credit. Jim, of course, and Jarl Mohn (now CEO at NPR). At the time, Jarl was EVP GM of MTV/VH1 and he gave us the okay with this piece of advice:
‘Buy all of the cars right away, because if someone from finance analyzes this, they may kill the idea. But if the cars are already purchased, it’ll be too late to stop us.'”
Crazily, 30 years later, that Vh1 outsized Corvette promotion is still throwing off sparks. In the 1990s, pop art genius Peter Max bought the collection from the Vh1 winner, but the cars ended up rotting in garages all over New York City. Now, a collector is restoring the collection and auctioning them off for charity. Here's the story that ran just last month in AutoBlog.
So, the lesson in all this? Freshen, update, modernize, and innovate with your heritage radio station.
Just don't break the brand promise – or the budget.