(first posted 9/22/2011) One of the best classic television shows for the car nut is the ABC supernatural sitcom Bewitched. Beyond the magical spells and campy acting was some of the best integrated marketing of any television show. As a show that functioned on a few levels as a civil rights allegory, what car could be more attuned to fitting into suburban Americana than the all new for 1964 Chevelle Malibu?
The Chevelle line was a runaway success for Chevrolet, even if it was a belated response to the 1962 Ford Fairlane. Reminding many critics and customers alike of the revolutionary 1955 Chevrolet standard line, the Chevelle naturally over time assumed its place as a classic Chevrolet.
In its first season, Bewitched ranked #2 in the Nielsen ratings. Along with making scene shots easier, convertibles play a part in the fantasy of glamorous suburban life that sitcoms wanted to portray. What’s more carefree than briskly whisking yourself through the daily drudgery of suburban life in a spanking new convertible, top down? Also, what better way to lure television viewers into looking at the showroom goods by showing off the most glamorous model in the most prominent non acting role on a runaway hit television show.
Although not the only Chevrolet, or General Motors product shown on Bewitched, the Chevelle Malibu got a prominent placing over other Chevrolet Products, such as the Impala (Chevrolet’s bread and butter at the time), Chevy II and Corvette. Although the Stephens family would adopt a Corvair for the 1966 portion of season 2, the choice of featuring the Malibu is auspicious. The all new for 1964 A-bodies were marketed to the type of American represented by Darren Stephens (30 something, upwardly mobile, college educated). It all ties together that a fictional Ad Man would drive the type of dream he was trying to sell, right?
It would explain the random adoption of the Corvair post Unsafe at Any Speed. Chevrolet wanted to prove there was nothing wrong with the Corvair. An Advertising executive would probably take home a Corvair to think of ways to spin the virtues of it out of the tailspin it was facing by 1966.
And like any failed marketing campaign, it was quickly withdrawn and replaced with the newest sensation. For season 3 The all new (and also belated response) Camaro was the latest blue Chevy convertible to take center stage at 1164 Morning Glory Circle. It also marked the last significantly new Chevrolet to take that slot. As Bewitched faded in the ratings, Chevrolet diversified and started falling flat. The concept of Chevrolet being the suburban bourgeois car of choice became as dated as the fantasy tale of a supernatural suburban housewife.
By the end of the series, Bewitched was #72 in the ratings, about as popular as the massive B-Body convertibles were in the early 1970s. The personal politics of All In The Family, and the personal feel of a Monte Carlo (or better yet, a Cutlass Supreme) were more in sync with popular tastes. And would the real Darren Stevens (that young up-and-coming ad exec of 1964) really still be driving Chevys in 1972? If so, it would probably have been a Corvette instead of this Impala.
Notably, from this point forward, automotive marketing didn’t place cars directly into shows they were sponsoring. In the “Me” decade, such direct, obvious marketing ploys turned off viewers. The grand experiment of product placement wouldn’t be as blatant for another 30 years. And not as unified in scope as the Chevrolets featured on Bewitched.