If you’re like me, you spent most of the weekend huddled under a blanket, half-watching television and praying for the flu agony to be over. And nobody who watched a considerable amount television this weekend could have avoided the latest flight of heavy-handed ads from Jeep and Chrysler’s new Ram brand. “My Name Is Ram” and the E.E. Cummings-inspired “i am. Jeep” campaigns are blitzing airwaves across the country as the New, New Chrysler gears up to make its wildly optimistic sales goals. After five months of total silence coming out of bankruptcy, the ads are coming out in earnest, and they’ll be running non-stop in hopes of catching up with the $100 per retail sale ad spend goal for 2009. Next year, Chrysler’s ad spending will go up to $170 per projected sale, peaking in 2011 at $210 per planned retail sale. And this increase in ad spending appears to explain why Chrysler’s sales projection charts swing wildly upwards after a dismal 2009. After all, if throwing upward of a billion bucks per year won’t change consumer perceptions, what will? Well, besides new product, anyway. There’s many a slip twixt the PowerPoint and the profit.
The major underlying concern with the latest campaigns is that there’s nothing underlying them. Sure, there’s a new Ram pickup out, but the “My Name Is Ram” ads are too busy wallowing in traditional truck-ad clichés to mention it. Chrysler’s other halfway-viable brand, Jeep, has nothing new to offer other than a long-feared selling out of brand traditionalists. What counting seconds at a joyless job has to do with the Jeep brand is nearly impossible to explain. And until the new Grand Cherokee comes out, Jeep has nothing new to reward potential customers who might be lured into a dealership by the incomprehensible spot. This is the same problem with Chrysler’s marketing-driven approach to all its brands: by putting the marketing cart before the product horse, ChryCo is hyping a nonexistent turnaround. Better to keep the powder dry and the cash unburnt until some new product hits the dealers. As it is, either these campaigns will fail to raise any interest (hardly an unlikely scenario, given their eye-rolling reception) or they will raise interest only to remind consumers how far away the product turnaround still is.
The sad part is that Ram and Jeep are actually Chrysler Group’s two most viable brands. These opening salvos do nothing but restate brands that are fairly well established in the consumer consciousness (albeit under a different name with Ram). Frankly, the money already spent blanketing this weekend’s television programming with Ram and Jeep ads were a waste. That cash could and should have been spent explaining what the hell Dodge is now that its Ram-ness has been excised. Chrysler’s ad campaign could have been kicked off already as well, since the brand needs a shot in the arm the way I need another slug of DayQuil. Of course neither of these brands have new product either, but they are far more damaged. Unlike Jeep and Ram, their very existence needs justifying. Even if the effort only brings more disappointment with its deeply uncompetitive product.
Meanwhile, the cash burn. Ad Age cites one estimate that ad spend could top $1.4B next year. If that kind of spending doesn’t translate into sales, the New New Chrysler experiment could be over before it starts.