The Power of Positioning

My first car was a ’53 Chevy which a friend of mine unceremoniously totaled on New Year’s Eve a couple of weeks after my 16th birthday.

Not an auspicious start.

The ’53 Chevy was followed by a ’54, which stood me in good stead until I took down a telephone pole with it during a race with a friend on a two-lane country road in my hometown.

I was able to get the ’54 fixed, but later sold it before leaving for college.

During the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of college, I worked as a busboy at Disneyland. I would body surf the wedge at Newport Beach during the day, and head back to the park and work the tables from four in the afternoon until midnight. And do it again the next day. California dreamin’.

I was making enough at Disneyland ($1.62 an hour—good money in those days) to come up with the down payment for…another Chevy—a ’51. The car cost me $300 and after rent, food, gas, etc., I could afford $50 a month in payments. The payments were no problem when I was working, but the job in The Magic Kingdom ended with the beginning of the school year.

I couldn’t get the car paid off with only a couple months of summer work remaining and so I stayed out of college for a semester and went to work digging gas line ditches for PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric for those of you not of the clan San Franciscan). I still handle a pretty mean shovel. When I got the car paid off, I went back to college at San Jose State. Me and my ’51 Chevy.

So you see, my love affair with the Chevy runs long and deep.

Sometime in the 80s the love affair came to an end. Something happened to my chauvinistic viewpoint of the American auto industry. And, God forgive me, I started driving foreign cars.

But the quality of American made cars seems to be on the rebound and their marketing has improved dramatically.

Tonight, I caught a powerful Chevy commercial.

It starts with two young boys sitting on the porch of a typical Midwestern home.

They’re brothers.

The older of the two, who may be six, says to his younger brother, a couple of years his junior, that he needs to hold his right hand up to just above his right eyebrow. He is teaching his younger brother how to salute.

The little brother tries it a couple times and then the two boys look out onto the street where a new Chevy SUV pulls up to a stop.

A handsome Army veteran in army fatigues carrying his duffel bag steps out of the SUV. He takes a couple of steps and pauses and looks toward the house. The four year old runs across the lawn, stops a few feet in front of the soldier and looks up at the man we now realize is his father returning from military duty. The little boy salutes his dad and gives him the most engaging smile imaginable.

The dad bends down and picks his son up.

Fade to black.

Then a slogan appears on the screen with the voice over: Chevy, bringing warriors home for over 40 years.

The truth is, from a marketing perspective, it is a little bit of a stretch positioning Chevy with a returning veteran. But I must tell you that this commercial is so well done, it is so engaging, the scene between the father and his son is so heartfelt and uplifting that the affinity of the moment carries right over to the car and it works. I think it works very well.

The subject of positioning in marketing and PR is fascinating in the extreme and is covered brilliantly in a January 30, 1979 article by L. Ron Hubbard called Positioning, Philosophic Theory. Mr. Hubbard developed a whole technology for positioning, but here’s a quote from the article, which can help guide your next marketing piece.

“Positioning takes advantage of a fact that one can compare the thing he is trying to get the other person to understand with desirable or undesirable objects. Desirable objects are now more commonly used in advertising. Undesirable objects are more commonly used in propaganda. By comparing this unfamiliar thing or the thing he wants to sell to another desirable object or by comparing something he wants people to detest to an undesirable thing, he can achieve a rapid communication and comparison….”

“A common use of positioning in advertising is to take a product which, by reason of advertising, is familiar to the public and is regarded by them as the leader in the field and then positioning a new untried, unfamiliar product above it, with it, or just below it. Thus the new product gains a sudden spurt in sales by being compared to the leader.”

Hope this helps drive your sales and income to new heights.

Bruce Wiseman

Bruce Wiseman

Bruce Wiseman is the President & CEO of On Target Research a market research and survey company founded in Los Angeles, in 1987, now with offices in Toronto and Moscow (
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