Patrick Grieve

Are Chevrolet’s “Real People, Not Actors” Car Commercials Fake?

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Unraveling the Greatest Conspiracy Theory of Our Time

JFK 1991 parody of Chevrolet Real People Not Actors car commercials

We’re through the looking glass here, people

If you own a television and use it with semi-regularity, you are probably familiar with Chevrolet’s latest marketing campaign, “Real People, Not Actors.” As the name implies, this series of ads makes the controversial claim that “Real People” and “Actors” are two mutually exclusive groups, while also maintaining that Chevy’s car commercials feature only the former and none of the latter.

In most of these ads, a group of real people who are real dumb are gathered together to be part of a focus group, which is led by a soft-spoken, sandy-haired man with a handy clipboard and even handier smug sense of superiority.

The latest entry is a Fargo-inspired bit called “Woodchipper,” in which our familiar focus group leader collects the smartphones of everyone present before casually dropping them into the titular power tool. If you aren’t familiar with the ad (or have only seen the 30-second TV spot, and are eager to sit through the full-length 2:23 version), check it out:

I didn’t think too much of this video at first blush, until I watched the Spanish-language version, which has the more sensual-sounding title “Conexión” (car commercials are always sexier in Romance languages). It uses the same set and premise as the English-language “Woodchipper” ad, but instead features a focus group composed entirely of Spanish-speaking real people (or rather, “persones reales”):

At the time of writing, the top comment on “Conexión” is from YouTube user 1theqtpie, who last week complained, “[these are] the same cellular phones as in the English version this [is a] fake marking reaction.”

An explosive accusation, to be sure—but was it slander, or was 1theqtpie the “Deep Throat” of YouTube commenters? I had to find out.

So I did a visual comparison of the smartphones featured in both ads, to see if Chevy was indeed recycling “props.” These were the results:

Chevy Real People Not Actors phones Woodchipper

Chevy Real People Not Actors phones Spanish Conexion

So yeah, looks like that was a pretty big waste of time. There are clearly no visible crossovers, and I’m not sure I’ll ever trust a news tip from 1theqtpie again.

However, even though I didn’t notice any cell phones that showed up in both ads, I did spy some people who were reappearing. For example, the woman in “Conexión” who screams in horror at the 29-second mark? She also screams in horror at the 33-second mark in “Woodchipper.”  Also, the man in the blue shirt who looks on in befuddlement at the 39-second mark of “Conexión” is shown wearing the same shirt and facial expression at the 32-second mark of “Woodchipper.”

Clearly, Chevy was playing fast and loose with the editing; splicing reaction shots from the Spanish-speaking focus groups into the English-speaking groups.

It wasn’t proof of false advertising, per se, but it did suggest a casual disregard for verisimilitude that encouraged me to dig deeper. I wasn’t about to end the investigation after comparing only two commercials—after all, Chevrolet has been running this marketing campaign since the beginning of 2015, so there was quite a bit of evidence for me to sort through.

After pouring over hours of film, I finally found my smoking gun: the Lady in the Blue Dress.

Take a look at this ad for the 2015 Chevy Colorado, entitled “Sexier,” which encourages men to buy pickup trucks as an act of conspicuous consumption:

Did you see the Lady in the Blue Dress who points and says “Truck” at the 12-second mark? That’s Kelsey Bohlen, who you may (but most likely won’t) recognize from low-budget films like Men in Suits, Jew in Choctaw Country Pt 3, and the television mini-series Gettin’ It.

That’s right: she’s a damn, dirty actress.

To be fair, Kelsey does also appear to be a real person. She grew up on a horse ranch in Texas, competed in rodeo events like barrel racing and pole bending as a child, was voted Best Dressed in high school, and got a degree in Broadcast Journalism from the University of Texas in Austin back in 2012—all of which sound like the kind of things that a real person might do.

But I gathered all of these facts from the mini bio on her IMDb page, which explicitly identifies her as an “Actress.” She even has a demo reel, which includes her appearance in the “Sexier” ad as a highlight of her acting career:

After making this startling discovery, I reached out to someone in GM’s Advertising and Promotions department, and got this response:

Hi Patrick,

I’m going to check, but I’m pretty sure her being an actress is a coincidence. We did the shoot in the LA area and recruited like we would for a typical focus group. Chances are likely that we’d get a few aspiring actors in the mix there.

Hmm… As much as my inner-conspiracy theorist wants to cry “cover up,” this is a fairly plausible excuse. After all, Los Angeles is filled with aspiring actors—it would almost be more suspicious if a random sampling of ten LA-area women didn’t turn up at least one would-be starlet.

But what about the other ad for the 2015 Colorado, “Pets,” in which a group of children are asked what type of domesticated animals they think a truck guy would have?

Guess what—not one, not two, not three, but all four kids in this ad are child actors!

“Norton,” the boy in the green shirt who thinks the truck guy would own a German Shepherd? That’s Norton Leufven, who appeared in the 2013 film Wrong Cops, alongside Marilyn Manson and Tim and Eric’s Eric Wareheim!

Eric Wareheim Marilyn Manson and child actor Norton Leufven

What kind of “real person” hangs out with Marilyn Manson and Eric Wareheim?

“Noah,” the kid who thinks that lame compact car drivers own pet birds? That’s Noah Kaye Bentley, who has appeared in TV movies like Reading Writing & Romance and Escape from Polygamy!

“Aliyah,” the girl who thinks the truck guy might favor a tarantula? That’s Aliyah Conley, who you probably remember from her uncredited role as “Fantasy Daughter” in the 2013 classic Baggage Claim—and if you doubt the validity of her acting career, just wait until you get a load of the flawless British accent she uses in this demo reel:

“Haley,” the girl who thinks truck guys have pet rattlesnakes? That’s Haley Lyn Gilchrist, who played Susie Rogers on the third episode of the seventh season of Mad Men—which is actually a famous show, for God’s sakes!!!

Presumably, Chevy’s excuse for the preponderance of child actors in “Pets” is that they were recruiting for kids in the Los Angeles area, and in Hollywood, the parents most likely to be pushing their children in front of cameras are hungry “stage moms” and “stage dads.”

But if the entire point of your marketing campaign is that the people featured in it are “Not Actors,” shouldn’t you go to some effort to ensure that the random focus group members you recruit are, in fact, not actors? If the NCAA was this lax about its “Real Students, Not Professionals” rule, we might see Kobe and LeBron suiting up for UK next season.

At least five confirmed actors have appeared in Chevrolet’s “Real People, Not Actors” commercials. Perhaps they were all sincere mistakes. Perhaps Chevy knew more than it let on. Regardless, I feel that a certain trust has been broken, and I can no longer watch these ads and suspend my disbelief.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Chevy… just bring back the stupid emoji commercials. At least back then I just felt like I was being condescended to, not lied to.

UPDATE: After this article’s publication, GM got back in touch with us with the following response:

Because we are calling this campaign, “Real People, Not Actors,” we were very diligent in our recruiting process and asked participants if they were actors at two separate points. Once when they were initially recruited and again when they arrived for the focus group.

The participants were recruited in the L.A. area, which increased the chance that participants had acting experience. We had each participant or their guardian sign a document that they were not currently a member of the Screen Actors Guild.

To recruit participants, we followed the same process that lots of marketing firms use to recruit for focus groups. Their responses were never scripted and they were never told that Chevrolet was the client. They were not told that their focus group would be used in a commercial until after the final cut was made.


  • Patrick GrieveEditor

    Patrick Grieve was born in Southwestern Ohio and has lived there all of his life, with the exception of a few years spent getting a Creative Writing degree in Southeastern Ohio. He loves to take road trips, sometimes to places as distant as Northeastern or even Northwestern Ohio. Patrick also enjoys old movies, shopping at thrift stores, going to ballgames, writing about those things, and watching Law & Order reruns. He just watches the original series, though, none of the spin-offs. And also only the ones they made before Jerry Orbach died. Season five was really the peak, in his opinion. See more articles by Patrick.

  • Rachel

    The fact is that if you want to get the reactions you WANT in your commercial (and you know they have storyboards or at least IDEAS of what they want), you need actors. Real people might ALSO be impressed, shocked, horrified, whatever, but real people that are not actors can also get unexpectedly awkward in front of the camera, or just not know how to play to the camera. It’s a waste of time and money NOT to use actors, unless they get to not pay the “real people.”

  • Ukiah Spirit

    In the Canadian version of the Woodchipper ad, there’s a guy named “Tex”. I’m positive I’ve seen this “real person” in an ad or TV program before. I’m sure of it.

  • JS

    Great idea recruiting for and doing this “focus group” in LA…seriously? Everyone in LA are actors.

  • JS

    basically what they are saying is that actors aren’t real people

  • UGADawg09

    I don’t believe the propaganda. You’d have to be an idiot to believe that anything in these commercials is real or unscripted.

  • Lisa

    I was in one. Welllll. Maybe. It hasn’t aired yet. But mine was real. I had no idea it was a commercial when it was happening until I told some one about my experience and they said it sounded like the not actors Chevy commercial. When I actually watched one of the commercials I realized it was the same “interviewer”.

  • LRN

    I hate these commercials! Does anyone else? “Real people, not actors” is so unbelievable knowing they had to get several takes for it to turn out right, anyway, and probably coach them on “how to act” which also takes away from the spontaneity of the reactions as well. Also, one of the first commercials asked people to do a math problem and then revealed that the truck could do it, but it wasn’t even the same math problem, neither was it the kind of math problem you really do in high school nor a useful one. I am a math teacher, so that one just drove me crazy!

  • avenger 3

    These ads are BS.

  • NiradGupta

    a friend of mine who is an actor was in one of these ads.

  • brigitte

    well, my daughter just booked this commercial. She is not an actor and works as an assistant to a large dance convention Company. She lives in Los Angeles.

  • frankelee

    When I first saw these commercials I laughed because I was sure it was filmed in LA. You know, where there are lots of “real people” and not actors whose agents know the people making the commercial.

    “Hmm… As much as my inner-conspiracy theorist wants to cry “cover up,” this is a fairly plausible excuse. After all, Los Angeles is filled with aspiring actors—it would almost be more suspicious if a random sampling of ten LA-area women didn’t turn up at least one would-be starlet.”

    This is a detective fail right here.

  • David

    The current Chevrolet commercials are the dumbest I’ve ever seen. They are an insult to our intelligence. Please make new ones. Surely you can do better.

  • rickrude22

    I want to punch that moderator actor in the face so bad. His voice enrages me every time the commercials play.

    • rockola63

      One smarmy POS

  • Ryan

    As someone who has been in one of these commercials, we are all real people with real reactions. Nothing was scripted and we weren’t even told what we were doing for the day. My group was found in different parts of SoCal all with a similar interest “trucks” .

    • DB

      Which commercial are you in and which one are you? How can you say it’s “real” when the moderator is an actor?

      • DB

        The moderator is Potsch Boyd – actor. Not even qualified to be a focus group moderator!

  • Gomez Addams

    I hate these GM commercials. Are these people really that stupid? The little geek Patrick Grieve reminds me of a leprechaun

  • Rob Higgs

    Chevy hasn’t had a good commercial since the 70’s (baseball, hot dogs, apple pie & Chevrolet). These current commercials would make me far less likely to buy a Chevy than I would be without being exposed to them every commercial break. I also tend to change the channel whenever one comes on, which should piss off every other company who buys advertising time on the same program.

  • magicdragon53

    Reality tv is not real tv either. Those people really are left in the wild with no chance of survival. The lighting people, camera people, and directors are real people and not professionals also. I am not a fan of reality tv.

  • Dave

    I also noticed they never tell you that when they bought back the stock from the govt after the bailout, they stole about 37 billion from the American people.
    I don’t buy cars from bankrupt crooked car companies.

  • Bach Nguyen

    What I don’t like about these Chevy commercials, is a problem of many commercials and shows on TV. They feature some bearded white guy in a commanding role, instructing others. In this case, all those he is instructing and “teaching” are presented as inferior, and they act like it too. Silly, airhead-sounding women and men, making idiotic comments which obviously are contrived “amazement”. I basically sick of seeing bearded, casually-dressing white guys presented as being superior or more knowledgeable than everyone else, when reality says that the opposite is true.

  • nonya

    I can attest that when being selected for the “real people” commercial, Cheys’ hired casting company iterates they will not select people with previous acting experience. For those interested in the process, here it is:

    One night I was browsing Craigslist and I responded to an ad needing spanish speakers for a focus group. Within a day I was scheduled for an interview over video. A week or so later I was called with news that I had been selected. There was no disclosure of what the subject matter was or what form the focus group would be. I show up and before I know it, with quite a bit of a build up, we were looking at a fleet of Chevy’s.

    I think there was an intent on behalf of Chevy to turn the content into forms of media; commercial, Facebook/instagram, website sponsored ads. But, we were never told upfront, for example, that we would end up in a nationwide commercial. However, weeks later, in my experience, I was asked for permission to potentially use my content in the media.

    Would I do it again? Absolutely. Did I exaggerate my responses during the “focus group?” Of course. Am an actor? Quite possibly, now 🙂