Heartbreak of America: For Naked Cowboy, Chevy takes the lost highway

Naked marketing Naked Cowboy Times SquareIt's always bothered me that the Naked Cowboy, the iconic street musician in Times Square who wears little more than briefs, a cowboy hat, and a guitar, isn't quite naked. Oh, I doubt I'd enjoy watching a guy play guitar with an occasional view of private parts -- but still: he's called the Naked Cowboy, and he isn't.

Similarly, the 2007 Super Bowl spot for Chevy's HHR, a car nobody was too excited about to begin with, is not quite naked, not quite hot, not quite what it says it is. "It's getting hot in here!" goes the strip-club soundtrack, as men in Times Square rush toward a car filled with youngish women to perform a Paris Hilton–style shirtless carwash. "Guys can't keep their hands off it," the commercial wishfully proclaims.

Sadly for Chevrolet, guys could keep their hands off the HHR (for "Heritage High Roof"), a compact wagon that made so little splash in the marketplace that, two years after this expensive ad buy, I had to ask my husband what an HHR was. And he didn't know either: "Must be a hybrid," he mused, blankly. The commercial, which won a college ad-writing competition, made a rather insignificant splash as well. The nakedness was part cute, part creepy. And fans of the Naked Cowboy felt that his appearance at the tail end of the spot was all too, um, brief.

While the ad won points for not being sexist, and for being not at all exploitative, it lost points for the creepy factor (an older guy in nothing but briefs and, for a while, tie was especially cringe-worthy) and for its very loose connection to the selling points of the HHR. Its tall "retro wagon styling" is supposedly an echo of the Chevy Suburban of 1949.

Its sales didn't seem to be affected by this ad; in fact, they started really spiking once Chevy added ethanol capacity. Yep: it had to be a hybrid to get guys excited. As naked marketing goes, this could have been a lot better.

To see all 10 of Sarah Gilbert's top 10 best and worst naked advertising campaigns, click here.

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