By on November 29, 2009

TTAC did not file a full Chrysler Zombie Watch from the launch of Chrysler’s five year business and product plan, but two major points dominated our coverage. The first was this graph that shows 2009 as a trough year for Chrysler sales, with 2010 heralding a major and sustained turnaround in Chrysler’s fortunes beginning next year. Underlying this rosy projection is the second main point of Chrysler’s turnaround, a product/branding strategy that we summarized as “refresh and market like hell.” But refreshes take time, which is something that Chrysler simply doesn’t have. While the automotive world waits for the crucial Fiat-fettled refreshed Chryslers (due to begin arriving at the end of 2010), the “market like hell” portion of the plan is hitting America’s airwaves first, in the form of new ads aimed at reviving “consideration” of Chrysler’s damaged brands. But now that we’ve seen the opening salvos in this $1.4b war on consumer apathy, it’s becoming clear that Chrysler’s journey (no pun intended) of a thousand miles is beginning with a stumble.

The very first of these ads debuted the evening after Chrysler’s seven-hour Powerpoint-fest, introducing the American consumer to the already-infamous tagline “my name is Ram and my tank is full.” For attendees of the seemingly interminable five-year plan presentation, the “my tank is full” line was a piece of inspired humor that generated gales of laughter in the line for the restroom. Within days it was clear that the humor worked even without the toilet-humor angle. Parodies flooded onto Youtube, poking fun at the ad’s meaningless recycling of every truck ad cliche.

This inauspicious start was made doubly so by the fact that the new Ram brand is one of Chrysler’s strongest. Indeed its spin-off has been justified by the fact that the Ram image had overwhelmed the entire Dodge brand. Moreover, unlike Chrysler’s other brands, Ram has/is a product that actually competes in the mass market.

And yet any mention of this product or its real attributes was left out of the Ram spot in favor of the kind of rhetorical flourishes that scream style over substance. “My Name Is Ram” is more internal propaganda for firing up the troops and dealers than anything that might motivate a consumer to consider buying a Ram pickup. With so many staggering challenges facing Chrysler’s brands, Ram marketing should have been the only easy layup. Instead it became a joke that Chrysler could ill afford.

In contrast, the Dodge brand has no recently-released products to highlight, and faces deep existential questions about what it stands for without its horn-headed logo and truck halo. Dodge CEO Ralph Gilles’s presentation at the five-year plan ceremony did nothing to shed light on what exactly Dodge is supposed to stand for, and neither has the brand’s first ad titled “Amplify.”

Autoextremist Peter DeLorenzo initially identified Dodge’s brand image as “being all things to all hip people,” and the Amplify spot confirms this weak brand focus. Needing to explain the positioning of its least-plummeting brand, Dodge’s first ad merely highlights a few attributes of the weak-selling Dodge Journey juxtaposed with images of young hip people “Amplifying” their existence with a staid mommy-mobile. Should any consumer feel moved by the ad to check out a Journey, the only thing they will find “amplified” is their sense of disappointment with the Journey’s weaknesses and the fact that the 25 mpg advertised is not attainable with the AWD option highlighted in the spot.

Though defining Dodge as a hip and youthful brand is a major unmet challenge, bringing perceptions of the Chrysler brand upmarket is by far the toughest hurdle for the Fiat-led Chrysler Group. Attendees of the five-year plan were treated to a video montage expressing the values of Chrysler’s upmarket aspirations that was far more convincing than the Dodge, Ram and Jeep brand presentations. A blend of traditional Chrysler values and European flair, the video worked on the emotional level, probably by failing to show any of Chrysler’s moribund products in favor of models and celebrities exiting mysterious scissor-doored supercars.

But the other indication of Chrysler’s luxury ambitions, fancy new model brochures printed on heavy stock, showed how deeply Chrysler’s fate balances on style over substance. The faux-leather carboard cover of these brochures brought back echoes of “Rich Corinthian Leather,” while the content merely reminded readers that when it comes to Chrysler products, there really is nothing new under the sun. For the next 12 months or so, Chrysler will work to raise expectations of its brand image while rewarding actual shoppers with the same old dead-in-the-water lineup, enhanced only by a few cynical “special editions” to debut early next year.

So perhaps it’s a good thing that Chrysler is not broadcasting Laurence Olivier’s video in advertisment form. After all, its traditional luxury appeals would only have hurt Chrysler’s credibility with shoppers. Instead, the opening shot in Chrysler’s image makeover is its Town & Country spot titled “Beaches,” featuring five female models driving a single child to the beach where a surf-dancing party breaks out. Combining the vacuity of “My Name Is Ram,” with vague lifestyle imagery of “Amplify,” the “Beaches” spot creates a wholly unbelievable scenario which speaks to nobody in the market for a minivan.

Similarly, the Jeep brand’s “Reality” and “It’s Only Hair” spots are so focused on increasing consideration among non-traditional buyers that they create impressions that only serve to confuse potential Jeep buyers. “Reality,” is an edgy statement against America’s voyeuristic consumerism, that ends with the confusingly adamant statement of vicarious living “i live. i ride. i am Jeep.” “It’s Only Hair” makes the same confused point (spending money on your image is stupid if it’s spent on your hair and not your Wrangler) with the added confusion of bringing salon-bopping young ladies into the rugged ouevre of Jeep marketing.

These ads are not merely the missteps of any automaker’s failing campaign, they are the only things standing between Chrysler’s unchecked sales slide and its projections of a turnaround of several hundred thousand units next year. And with a 2010 ad budget set at $1.4b, Chrysler knows it. Any attempt to turn brand perceptions around in the current market environment, especially without new products, is bound to be tough; in this sense, GM’s relatively deep portfolio of newer, more competitive products makes it look incredibly well-positioned by comparison. But Chrysler is already slip-sliding as it climbs its five-year mountain, putting several weak feet forward from the outset. If things don’t fundamentally improve in this respect, Chrysler will be facing a tiny market share, poor consideration and a huge credibility deficit by the time its new products finally arrive.

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48 Comments on “Chrysler Zombie Watch 9: Brand-Aid...”


  • avatar
    RedStapler

    Its not just a Jeep issue with having very different groups of customers sharing the same brand.
    Jeeps marketing has always had the Bi-Polar split of selling Wranglers to those who think of themselves as adventerous off-roaders and luxerious truck based station wagons like the Cherokee, Grand, Liberty, Patriot etc.
    Chrysler with the Wrangler much like Ford with the P71 Panther has a product that owns a market segment with little serious competition that they can let the marketing slide as long as the product delivers the goods.
    Subaru has managed to sell their Forrester & Outback reincarnation of Saab/Volvo Wagons to urban liberals  and their STi Turbo Hotrods to Ken Block wanntabes for quite some time.

  • avatar
    Jeff Puthuff

    “Beaches” is trying to sell me a minivan? I thought it was selling a ride to the beach. If those shots of the T&C were of any shorter duration, they’d be subliminal.
    Carmakers and their ad agencies: If you want to sell a car, show the f*ck*ng thing, rev the engine and let me hear it without cheesy music overlaid. That is, after all, why I like cars.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Apparently, someone took the old “first sell the sizzle, then sell the steak” maxim to heart.  Cars, however, are not steak, they are a higher form of sizzle, and when you don’t emphasize the product, product, product, and sell only the sizzle, or the deal, this should be a red-flag that the product is an also ram, uh, also ran.

  • avatar
    MBella

    The Chrysler ad above uses the same song as one of the new Jeep ads.

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    If you can’t change the product, change the ads. I don’t know that they’ll achieve anything, but at least it’s not more of the same (ads anyway…).

    How many people remember that Marlboro was a women’s cigarette – until they changed the marketing? 

     

  • avatar
    seabrjim

    Oh my, no males in the ad? So they’re targeting single moms and lesbians? They really are after Subaru’s piece of the pie.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    In theory, Fiat’s takeover of Chrysler would seem to have a much better chance of success than Renault’s failed attempt in the 1980s to use AMC as a beachhead to invade the American passenger-car market.  Alas, thus far Fiat seems to suffer from a tone deafness toward American car buyers that is second only to its arrogant, “we know what we’re doing” attitude.
    The core of Fiat’s problem is that it doesn’t seem to have a realistic sense of what it will take to achieve its goals, e.g., moving Chrysler significantly up market.  Um, yeah, Fiat — Fiat — is going to succeed at a game that Chrysler utterly failed at for decades with its ill-fated Imperial. Alfa Romeo would have made a far better candidate as a luxury brand, particularly since it brings a European style that has been absent in the US since Jaguar jumped the shark.
    I also don’t get the spinning off of Ram trucks.  Changing a brand name represents the automotive version of the nuclear option — you’ve got to have overpowering reasons to make a change, and you’ve got to have the time and money to get through the always unsettling transition.  Even if separating Ram from Dodge made sense — and I don’t think it does — Fiat really can’t afford it.  All they are doing is creating buyer confusion and undercutting the standing of the Dodge brand — which may very well be one of the top three or four strongest American brands left.
    Given all that, whether the first round of ads are successful may not matter all that much.  This bus looks like it is heading for the cliff — quickly.  However, Edward’s critique makes a lot of sense.  With the economy so fragile people are making more “rational” car-buying decisions, so such a lopsided focus on style over product attributes seems highly questionable — at least for those Chrysler products that are competitive.  Of course, to be fair, time will tell whether the psychographics Fiat is targeting with each brand will have a more positive impact on sales than the gearhead punditry expects.

    • 0 avatar

      I would agree with this except for one pesky detail: I don’t think the Dodge brand is long for this world. The only vaguely rational reason I can see for separating Ram from Dodge is that Fiat intends to keep the trucks after eliminating Dodge as an automotive brand (they could just as easily leave Dodge as a trucks-only brand, which is why I say “vaguely rational”). It feels like Fiat is probably going to cut it down to Chrysler and trucks, and all this vague marketing hooey about Dodge signifies only that they aren’t ready to ax it yet, possibly for political reasons.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    I don’t know much about marketing, but I do know several women who drive Chryco minivans.    Invariably they are older than the people in the ad, married (to men) have 2.4 children and a large slobbering dog.   And, like all modern parents, they can’t go anywhere without schlepping 375 lbs of support gear.
    I think I’d be emphasizing stow and go seating and otherwise showing how roomy the van is, and how easy it is to load the soccer team and their gear.     Bikini clad models are not really the target market.
    When your only chance is marketing, you’ve really got to work to get it right.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      Absolutely, Stow and Go is the only thing this thing has over the competition, and they should market the hell out of it.

    • 0 avatar
      cdotson

      They’ve had Stow-n-Go since MY2005.  They marketed the hell out of it back then.  Swivel-n-go is their “new” (for MY2008 anyway) gimmick and I see no indication that it’s caught on.
       
      While Chryco’s vans have the fold-down 2nd row seats, the competition all has available 8th seat for a 3-passenger 2nd row.  My family fits the Dynamic88 generalization to a tee and my wife wants a 3-passenger 2nd row dammit…preferably one that folds into the floor.  Which no one makes.  So we continue to wait…marketing only has potential to work to people who are in the market.  It’s impossible to sell to market non-participants.

  • avatar
    Boff

    I think the “Beaches” ad is effective. Utilitarian ads for utilitarian products will get you nowhere…your ad should place the shopper where they want to be, not where they are. This is a classic ad aimed at women…dreamy and nary a man in sight, the women care-free and self-indulgent. Self-pleasuring, almost (that’s the province of dessert and yogurt ads, though). Here, the schlepping of dogs and kids is what is sublimal. 

  • avatar
    Boff

    Speaking of great minivan ads, as a complement to “Beaches” they should bring back the old spot showing a series of men using their vehicle to demonstrate their manhood…there’s a man by a Lamborghini, there’s another by his Viper, and finally a man by his minivan with a pretty wife and 6, count ‘em, 6…kids. With his sly smile and little shrug, we know who the REAL man is… 

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    The RAM commercial has all the production quality of a highschool graduation powerpoint, and it is filled with fatuous hyperbole that falls flat; ‘I’m not built to achieve but to over achieve, my tank is full’   Dear Chrysler, or whatever your name is;  I get it, I get it, it’s not a Dodge Pickup anymore its a RAM.  Now go away and spend your 1.4 bil on some decent ad copy.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    The Town & Country. If you need a rental that can seat more than 5, this is basically all there is. Now that would be a realistic commercial.

  • avatar
    ponytrekker

    So if I buy a Chrysler mini vans I can run around with near-naked skinny MILFS?  I’m sold.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    I’ve got nothing against pretty women in bikinis.  I suppose the ad does show off the features of the van.  It has a side mirror, a stereo and  “swivel-n-go” seats with table.  If they showed anymore, they’d have to show that there is absolutely no legroom for two people to sit facing each other with the center seat swivelled backwards.  Buyers were quick to pick up on this problem, and the take rate of the swivel seats hasn’t been very high.

    • 0 avatar
      davey49

      Do you think the lack of room for swivel and go was the issue or was it that everyone wanted stow and go?
      Swivel and go also requires you to buy the most expensive trim of Grand Caravan or T&C
      If you spend $30K plus on your minivan it means you’re still living in the EZloan/creditcard era.

  • avatar
    supremebrougham

    I think that if Chrysler wants to play the luxury game, then they need to lux it up, American style.  I think they need to bring back the New Yorker Fifth Avenue, and give it the kind of swagger and style that screams American Luxury!  As for the Town & Country, it should be nothing less than a fully loaded Limited model, much like it was when it debuted in 1990. The Sebring? Well, just start over, with a completely new, Buick LaCrosse killing mid size model, premium all the way. Oh, and let’s not forget new levels of class-leading quality. Then, they MIGHT have a chance again…

  • avatar
    George B

    So am I paying for these Chrysler ads?  If so, I want my money back!
     
    The Ram ad is stupid, but the product is good enough to sell in spite of it.  The Town & Country ad doesn’t seem to fit the product, but at least it doesn’t annoy the viewer.  However, marketing the Dodge Journey as an alternative to a Kia Soul, Scion xB, or Honda Element isn’t credible.  I have never seen a Journey with aftermarket wheels, audio equipment, lighting, or suspension mods that would suggest youth sales.  A Journey is a small minivan without the sliding doors.

    • 0 avatar
      tpandw

      I agree with George.  I want my money back.  The only Journey in my neighborhood is driven by an elderly couple who’ve probably never bought anything but Chrysler products and bought this oddity because they’ve always had something that said ‘Dodge’ or perhaps ‘Plymouth’ on it.  Pathetic is the word that comes to mind.

  • avatar
    Libertyman03

    Could just ONE media outlet give Chrysler a break? How can you fault a company that is only trying to work with what they have? Do you suppose it would be better if they had just liquidated? If their new owners can’t bring all those cute little Italian cars here yet, what did you expect them to do?? Yes, I agree that the ads are kinda stupid, and yes, as a former Chrysler salesman, I KNOW the cars aren’t competitive with others on the market (well, most of the models anyway). But what car company doesn’t have stupid ads? Have you ever seen a car commercial that wasn’t just a tad far-fetched? I can’t think of one. At least Chrysler is TRYING.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      Do you suppose it would be better if they had just liquidated?
      Yes!  I believe it would have been better and cheaper to liquidate Chrysler and sell the Ram, Jeep, and possibly the minivans to some other manufacturer that has competetive cars but lacks a pickup, serious offroad vehicles, or a minivan.  I believe that there are too many competent car manufacturers and too few buyers for Chrysler to survive, but the Ram, Jeep brand, and the minivans are still competitive in 2009.   Does anyone here really believe that combining Fiat small cars with Chrysler will generate sales volume and profits sufficient to make a self-sustaining business?
       
      Maybe I don’t understand marketing, but I would assume that the best Fiat/Chrysler can do is make great advertisements like
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88UjLPMW4Gw
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ox655_y_S8Y
      for their short list of competitive products to drive showroom traffic and offer price discounts on the leftover less desirable cars.  However, these latest Chrysler ads not even good.

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    TRYING what ?

  • avatar
    RNader

    Maybe offer a new ” lifetime power train warranty ”  (just like the one they ditched!).

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    With his sly smile and little shrug, we know who the REAL man is… 

    The guy with the ‘Ghini who had sex 6 times last night, not six times in the last 2 years?  Who doesn’t have to change diapers, fight with a mommy-unit, worry about how to put all those kids through college?

    Just kidding.
    Sort of…

  • avatar
    NickR

    Dr Lemming, is that a real lemming in your hand?  I thought they were bigger.

    Anyway, wrt the Ram, as long as ‘the Village People enter a Japanese game show’ spots are gone, I am happy.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr Lemming

      Nick R, that’s not my hand.  And about me, it’s not the size of the boat….
       
      Libertyman, if car ads are supposed to be stupid then why waste money on them?  If you go back in automotive history you can find some really good ad campaigns that pushed a brand to a whole new level.  Think VW beetle.  Chrysler could use some blockbuster ads right now.  Alas, it’s difficult to put lipstick on a pig.
       
      Chrysler needs something game changing that they can introduce immediately, like a 1o-year warranty.  That would give the ad copy writers something more to work with than lipstick.

  • avatar
    zoneofdanger

    Bikinis and the same person that sings for the iPod ads, what could be bad?  Chrysler has a long way to go to repair their reputation, but this was a great ad (too bad the Town & Country has a terrible reliability record).

  • avatar
    Jerry Sutherland

    I wasn’t there for the Chrysler game plan but from what was reported here, I gathered that they admitted to past mistakes-including quality issues . Addressing that seemed to be a major part of the business plan (again, according to published reports)-perhaps more than the “minivan full of models” ad.
    Maybe this ad campaign is simply buying time until they format the quality standards strategy, but I’m pretty sure they’re thinking  about something more complex (long term) than a “babes at the beach” commercial.
    Again,I’m relying on published reports here and elsewhere,but I never got the impression that this 5 year plan was a simple ad campaign.
     

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    I look forward to the discussion about the sequel to this ad. I’ve heard it will be called “Sons of Beaches.”

  • avatar
    mtypex

    I didn’t know that anyone cared about these kinds of commercials.  I don’t even notice them on TV.  The only ones I see are the “winter sales events” such as Lexus’ “December to Remember.” Now THAT is real soft car porn.

  • avatar
    NickR

    They sell Journeys hand over fist around here.

    The best thing Chrysler could do is somehow find a way to dissuade people from pimping their 300s and, to a lesser extent, Chargers.   I can’t remember a car that’s been afflicted with so many hideous aftermarket cosmetic mods.  I honestly think it scares some customers away.

  • avatar

    Geez, at least give ‘em a little credit. They won’t have anything new until next year. So they’re trying a little image advertising for each of the brands to drum up some interest and set up for the coming product revisions.
    THY DN”T HV NYTHNG LS T WRK WTH RGHT NW! CT THM SM SLCK!

    [Staff edited this comment.]

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    My name is RAM…. 

    I got nothin’.

  • avatar
    mjz

    OK, I’ll admit the commercials look like they’re done on the cheap and manage to infuse every ad cliche you can think of in each spot, but for some reason, they are oddly memorable. Sergio and Co. want you to at least THINK about Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep and RAM when you are heading to the motormall for you next auto purchase. In that respect, I think they might succeed.

  • avatar
    NickR

    I wonder sometimes if it wouldn’t pay to just throw caution to the wind. Seriously, show a 60 second commercial 40 seconds of which is close ups of tanned, defined, beach babes in thongs.  And spray them all with glycerine first for full effect.

    Let the feminists bitch and the do gooders file complaints blah blah. Guys would love the commercials and Chrysler would get credit for not pussying out. That would work as well as anything I think.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    “For the next 12 months or so, Chrysler will work to raise expectations of its brand image while rewarding actual shoppers with the same old dead-in-the-water lineup, enhanced only by a few cynical “special editions” to debut early next year.”
    What” More spring specials? Boy, talk about reaching into the past. The fanatics of old Mopars all know that if you see a 50′s or early 60′s Chrysler product with odd-ball trim pieces that don’t seem to show up anywhere else it’s probably a spring special. They tended to be on the low-line cars for the most part. I wish I had saved photos of some of those I saw twenty or thirty years ago.

  • avatar
    davey49

    I like the beaches and hair ads
    Toyota ads are much worse.

  • avatar
    ihatetrees

    Wasn’t it just last year that Rams were driven by burly dudes thru explosions and fire and bombs at (evidently OSHA-challenged) construction sites?
    Or am I (mistakenly) flashing back to a bad videogame?

  • avatar
    NickR

    “This is a classic ad aimed at women…dreamy and nary a man in sight, the women care-free and self-indulgent. Self-pleasuring, almost”  – Boff

    I hear Carrie Prejean is looking for work.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Never in my adult life as a consumer has a TV ad motivated a car purchase, or even contributed to helping create the shopping list……I have never known anyone who purchased a car and said they were influenced in the slightest by a TV ad…..probably could have saved the $1.4 bill and put it where it matters…..product.

    That said, IF I were in the market for a new vehicle (I’m not….my A6 and my wife’s Montero will continue to suffice us for another 3 years or so, thank you….) the VERY LAST place you would find me is on the showroom floor of a Chrysler dealer.  “Buying a Chrysler Product” is code in my neighborhood for “my credit is so wrecked I couldn’t get a loan anywhere else.”

    And, yes, it would have been better, MUCH better, for Chrysler to assume room temperature, go Tango Uniform, pick your pithy bon mot…..better for the BELEAGUERED AMERICAN TAXPAYER!


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