By on July 19, 2011

Despite signs that the horsepower wars are over (or have at least been refined), nobody would argue that the American market lacks for high-powered offerings. Except, apparently, Dodge and its crack ad team at Wieden + Kennedy who have based the latest Durango ad around the idea that performance is dead in America. This canard is so preposterously misguided and thoroughly misinformed that I can’t even bring myself to lay out the all-to-obvious critique piece-by-piece. Instead, let’s turn to the legendary auto ad-blaster, the Autoextremist himself to point out why this may well be one of the most stupid car ads in a long time.

The former GM marketer Peter DeLorenzo notes in his “On The Table” for this week:

First of all, while showing dilapidated and abandoned old race tracks, the premise of the spot revolves around the fact that we’re living in a downtrodden era that is deprived of automotive performance and that people have even forgotten what real performance is all about. Really? In an era of 550hp Cadillacs, 400hp+ Mustangs and Camaros, 400, 500 and even 600hp Corvettes, 600hp Mercedes, 400 and 500hp Audis and BMWs and 300 and 400hp trucks, we’re living in an era deprived of performance?

…and to make matters worse, the punch line of the spot suggests that the new Dodge Durango is the answer to all of our performance ills and that it puts the “sport” back into SUV. Huh? This spot smacks of everything I absolutely loathe about modern car advertising, clueless ad agencies and the marketing people responsible for such dismal trash. Not having a clue is one thing, but to flaunt that fact with malicious, abject stupidity while actually thinking you have got it goin’ on is criminal. And in case you’re wondering, even if they had used the Challenger or Charger the premise would still be fatally flawed. We’re currently living in what will be considered to be the Golden Era of high-performance in the not-too-distant future, an era likely never to be repeated again (and even if we do it will be exponentially much more costly), so, when I see such blatant disregard for the facts, a stunning lack of awareness and such utter cluelessness such as this, it just makes me cringe. Flat-out inexcusable.

Preach it, brother! In fact, the only point I would add to DeLorenzo’s takedown is that even if Dodge were right and performance were “dead,” this ad would simply be saying “we build vehicles people don’t want to buy.” Unfortunately, as the Autoextremist points out, the situation is even worse than that.

In its time as Chrysler Group’s lead agency, Wieden + Kennedy has has made a single ad that I found truly compelling, and put out one other spot that got a lot of attention (although I wasn’t much of a fan myself). Otherwise, the clearly-talented agency has put out one stinker after another. At this point we can only look on an ad like this one as a cry for help… but given the brilliance of some of Wieden’s other automotive work, it seems like the problem may be more on Chrysler’s side of the table.

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44 Comments on “Truth Versus Advertising: Dodge’s “Long Lost Performance” Edition...”


  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Are we perhaps giving too much credence to commercials?

    I like better Jack Baruth’s idea of a racing series for the Dodge Avenger. That would be some advertising.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    I suppose the people defending Chrysler’s drunk and stoned workforce now have the evidence they need to show that substance abuse isn’t reserved for the folks hanging out at the UAW hall.

  • avatar
    Boff

    Perhaps the original voice-over had more to do with “the car company you thought was dead” but then they chickened out at the last moment.

    On the other hand, we all know (even Screamin’ Pete) that car ads have never, are never, and will be never grounded in any sort of car guy reality; rather they try and capture a zeitgeist experienced by everyone else but car guys. In this case, they may be hoping that the non-car guy sees malaise all around him/her and extrapolates that to autodom.

  • avatar
    2ronnies1cup

    Good God – just look at those things bounce and wallow.

    Aren’t adverts supposed to make the product look GOOD?

  • avatar
    rudiger

    Car commercials, in general, suck ass. They usually fall into the typical, secure, nothing special type, or they miss by a wide margin.

    Kia seems to be doing a good job of late with the Soul ‘hamster’ commercials (and others).

    But you have to give credit to Chrysler for at least trying to think out of the box.

    In fact, one of my faves was the commercial for the Grand Cherokee SRT-8 a few years back. It was the one with no initial narration but just a shot of a couple of yellow birds lighting on what appeared to be some sort of perch. Then a couple more beneath them, followed by another pair until, the last pair are green. You knew something wasn’t quite right because the colors were off, then the camera pulls back, and it’s a dragstrip Christmas tree with the SRT-8 taking off.

    Now, that was a classic.

  • avatar
    Z71_Silvy

    God DeLorenzo is a blowhard.

    And that Durango is a fine looking machine…no matter what the setting.

    • 0 avatar

      He gets paid pretty well for it. Anyone paying you for your opinion?

      • 0 avatar
        joe_thousandaire

        Glenn Beck gets paid well for his opinion too, that doesn’t mean it has any actual value, same for “The Autoextremist”. The guy is just a bag of hot air.

      • 0 avatar
        Type57SC

        It’s getting harder to take him seriously. A few weeks ago, he ripped on the Ram branding decision too. I think that was dumb, but their share is up vs Ford, so I guess I’m wrong or at least Chrysler doesn’t look wrong. Point is that he’s getting very predictable in bashing Chrysler and praising Ford’s marketing geniuses but it’s starting to look like Chrysler’s doing a whole lot more right that he gives them credit for and Ford’s marketing might have had more to do with no bailout stigma than social media cool factors or their crappy ‘fiesta in the street’ Fiesta commercial intro. Seriously pete – Tv ad for TV ad, chrysler is batting about .333 and Ford is .000. GM might be .050 considering that Corvette ad (great) and the Cadillac mood piece (ok).

        I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he gets some ‘influencer’ money from Ford and got turned down by Chrysler.

        And i’m not crazy about this ad (needs an SRT version to be the hero car), but the super bowl ads for the last two years, johnny cash jeep ad, 1/2 the Dodge ads including those parking lot christmas ones and the GW world cup one. those were pretty good.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Since when was advertising supposed to reflect reality? Do you honestly think most consumers are well informed enough to realize we’re in ‘The Golden age of Horsepower’? No. As long as someone out there watches that ad’ and thinks “Wow, Dodge are making fast cars in a recession, that’s awesome” and promptly walks into a Dodge dealership, then it’s mission accomplished.

    • 0 avatar
      Z71_Silvy

      Exactly.

      Does every Pillsbury product have a doughboy inside of it?

      Do bears really wipe with Charmin?

      Is there really a rabbit that eats Trix?

      Does a small lizard work for Geico?

      Does the Kia Optima really bring you to all of those places?

      This article is just a tool to create an opportunity to rip on Chrysler.

    • 0 avatar
      tedward

      +1 Yes it’s obvious to all of us that the premise is patently ridiculous, but damn have they got the mood thing down pat. I loved the George Washington ad and some, if not all, of the Cherokee ads too. The deliberate score, the manly and unhurried v/o, all of this matches Chrysler’s better product to a “t”, it encourages an us vs. them perspective and it leaves plenty of space to make the product look good visually. I bet the dealers love it despite the brand emphasis, I mean that’s a lot of metal porn (even if no numbers).

      FWIW, the Durango is pretty bada__ in person. RWD, V-8, and one of the best towing capacities in it’s class (7500lbs right? only the Touareg does slightly better and that’s a different price point and bag of hampsters). I call a win for Chrysler on this one.

      Yes the agency people have no idea what they are talking about. This is true of all ad agencies selling vehicles, but I’m sure they have one or two experts on staff saying, “what the…” Really, who cares what they think, because they are out there buying used cars and projects like the rest of us.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        the Durango is pretty bada__ in person.

        You have a point — in the flesh, it’s fairly aggressive. But in this ad, it’s remarkably blandtastic and underwhelming.

      • 0 avatar
        PenguinBoy

        The ad works for me. I don’t think it is intended to be factual, but rather to evoke a mood – which I think it does quite well. The derelict stock car with “42″ is a nice tie in with Dodge’s performance history – wasn’t #42 one of Richard Petty’s hot Dodges?

        I think the folks that find this ad ridiculous wouldn’t be in the market for a Mopar under any circumstances. Personally, I think a number of the recent Chrysler group ads are effective: “Jeep Manifesto”, “Arrive in Style”, “Imported from Detroit”, and this one.

        Chrysler group must be doing ~something~ right under Sergio – they seem to be posting double digit growth, and here in Canada they are in a tight race for second place in new car sales. I sure see a lot of new Jeep Grand Cherokees, Dodge Grand Caravans, and Journeys around.

        The comparison with the Touareg is an interesting one. Although I’m sure nobody cross shops a Touareg with a Durango, what does the gas powered Touareg offer that the Durango does not? The new Durango has a nice interior and good specs. It’s hard to imagine that ~anything~ could be as unreliable as a Volkswagon – not even a Dodge. If a diesel option was offered in the Durango, there would be no reason for a rational shopper to even consider a Touareg…

      • 0 avatar
        tedward

        PenguinBoy

        You are right of course, I can’t really imagine anyone cross shopping the two, hence my, “bag of hampsters” qualifier. The fact remains it has a higher tow rating however, and it does belong to the same class of vehicle, and they both have a German provenance.

        As far as the VW comment goes, the earlier old Touaregs had a well deserved reputation as a basket case, but frankly a lot of modern VW’s outperform their competitors in CR etc… and with more sophisticated tech as standard equipment (no secret that I like the brand but I don’t think I’m a fanboy). If we were shopping on a strict price ceiling I’d definitely take the R/T Durango over a VR6 Touareg, but give me some discretionary cash and there’s no way I’d pass up the tdi in this segment. Also, I like the new Durango and all, but the interiors can’t be compared, even when you load up the Mopar and bargain basement the dub.

      • 0 avatar
        Maymar

        PenguinBoy, much of the Grand Caravan and Journey’s success in Canada is due to price – the Caravan effectively starts around the $20-21,000 mark (especially in competitive markets), which puts it $7000-8000 less than a Sienna. Same for the Journey, which is quite a bit bigger than most cheap crossovers (and one of the few to offer a third row).

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The ad itself is decent. But it doesn’t match the product that it’s trying to sell.

    For the ad to work, it needs to have an equally pissed-off SUV to match the mood. This one looks to be a bit meh and not particularly angry about anything.

    This just adds to my wonder of what the branding relationship is supposed to be. If Ram is supposed to be the truck brand and Dodge is supposed to be the performance brand (and having Ram as a separate brand strikes me as being a questionable strategy), then sell this as a Ram. This doesn’t scream out performance or share much design language with the cars.

    I like Marchionne, but I have to wonder about some of these top-level marketing decisions. It makes me think that he’s working too hard to find some sort of justification for FIAT to be in the North American lineup and that he doesn’t quite understand the US market.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Maybe they could add on the end: “And in the name of QC improvement, we fire any workers caught drinking or toking on the job!”

      http://news.yahoo.com/chrysler-suspends-workers-caught-drinking-tv-164130619.html

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “And in the name of QC improvement, we fire any workers caught drinking or toking on the job!”

        I’m not a professional marketing guy, but I don’t think that has a very good ring to it.

        (And I suppose that “Now, we don’t get wasted until after our shifts” wouldn’t be a whole lot better…)

  • avatar
    Jimal

    While I think this ad would have been better served by a fleet of SRT’s, it isn’t the worst thing in the world. Stretching reality? On many levels, but I don’t think it is anymore misleading than George Washington and his cavalry of Challengers. No big whoop.

    • 0 avatar
      Zarba

      +1.

      Who gives a rat’s *ss about car ads? Doesn’t everyone just skip past them on the DVR?

      Chrysler’s “Imported From Detroit” ads were epic, as was VW’s “Darth Vader” ad. Both were Super Bowl Specials, meant to pull out all the stops. Only Chrysler’s ad had staying power.

      At least they’re trying to get our attention, and Chrysler needs all the help the can get.

  • avatar
    MikeD1Be

    You’re criticizing the realism of an advertisement? Really? Advertisements are meant to be out there to gain attention and now you’ve probably shown this ad to people that otherwise wouldn’t have seen it actually helping Dodge with this ad campaign.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I think the mistake here was using the words “performance” and “sport”. What they could have done is pull a Pontiac and say “Excitement, evidently is no longer a priority.”

    Or, seeing as how the Durango’s main competition are erstaz SUVs, maybe they could have gone with “Authenticity, evidently is not a priority.”

  • avatar
    seabrjim

    Right on Silvy! Im still not really sure what bears wipe with.

  • avatar
    MBella

    Yes, performance is dead. In a day when the average econo box is pushing 200HP and naturally aspirated V6s are breaking 300HP. Not to mention the fact that one horsepower today is more than one years ago. Performance isn’t dead, it’s just to readily available.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Doesn’t the Camry V6 make 60 in something like 7 seconds? So why do I need this Durango?

  • avatar

    Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

    I think the ad works, sorta, for a non-enthusiast market. The main problem is Pete’s point, that we are in the middle of a horsepower war that has reached levels that exceed the 426 Hemis of yore. A couple of years back I was walking by a Maserati press conference and the guy said “400 horsepower” and I said to myself, “big deal, 400 horsepower”. Then I asked myself, “did I just say big deal to 400 horsepower?”.

    Look, almost all of you can quote me the HP figures on the LS-9 likewise of the LSx (is it LSa?) in the CTS-V. You all probably also know the HP ratings of the V6 Mustang and maybe the V6 Camaro too. But you’re all car enthusiasts. You think the average car consumer knows that 250-300 HP family sedans are unusual? Let’s go back to before malaise and before struggling with emissions to the late 1960s when muscle was king. The truth is that apart from some very rare engines like the ZL1 or the Hemi or Ford’s Boss 429, most families drove around with engines that were pretty powerful but I doubt they realized just how powerful something like a 425 4bbl Olds engine could be. That’s what was in my Dad’s 1966 Olds ’88. I saw an almost identical car the other day (didn’t have my camera bag, shoulda used my phone) and the owner told me it had the larger Olds 455 V8. Now my dad’s Olds would spin the tires as long as you kept your foot down, even through upshifts.

    So it’s possible that to a general audience, the kind that can be convinced that S stands for sport in a SUV (yeah, I know, Grand Cherokee SRT8, work with me), it might actually work.

    Frankly, with only a couple of minor edits, the ad could have been much more effective. Instead of saying “performance” they should have used some near synonym. Maybe “excitement” but that might still have associations with Pontiac, but you get my drift. Then, when the voiceover says “the kinds of cars people are making, people are buying”, instead of showing wrecked old race cars, they should have insert shots of a sea of identical beige Camcordatas stopped on a crowded freeway. That way the somewhat ironic idea of pitching the S part of SUV might actually work. You want to contrast the Durango not with an empty race track but rather with “beige” boring cars.

    I also think the ad agency is dancing the same fine line that Mazda is doing with their ads that say that Mazda makes cars for the few. We all like to think we’re special and elite but unless your cars are truly exclusive, telling folks that you make cars that boring regular folks don’t buy will only end up being a self fulfilling prophecy. Doesn’t it make more sense to say that your cars are so great that everyone wants one? The companies that make truly exclusive cars never advertise “only a handful of folks want our cars”. No, everyone wants a Lambo, and we know they’re exclusive because they do stuff like the Reventon (or like Ferrari does with the FXX and Maserati with the MC12), which the public understands as true exclusivity.

    I think it’s got a clever kernel in there, but like Ed says, the person that wrote it betrays ignorance of the car biz.

    • 0 avatar
      Type57SC

      Nobody who buys a dodge durango over a rav4 wants a car that everybody has. reliable quality is the bland brand of Toyota and that sells to a market, but not the dodge market. We’re just not a homogeneous market.

  • avatar
    Brantta

    Durango has a V6 and a HEMI V8 engine. What about Durango’s competitors?

    Ford Explorer has a V8? – No, V6 and I4 soon!
    Chevy Traverse has a V8? – No, only V6!
    Honda Pilot has a V8? – No, only V6!
    Mazda CX-9 has a V8? – No, V6 and I4!
    Toyota Highlander has a V8? – No, V6 and I4!

    Enough said.

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      Bingo! This ad is aimed at people in the market for an SUV, for instance those who just test drove a Explorer II and walked away underwhelmed. (Proud of me, Silvy?) I think it works on that level. How else is Chrysler supposed to get on the shopping list? It’s not like they can brag about reliability or anything…this is pretty much their only option right now.

  • avatar
    Bryce

    Its only a Dodge drongo so it wont be fast sporty dont make me laugh so hard

  • avatar
    MrWhopee

    As far as car ads and ad agencies go, didn’t they once compared Ford Granadas to Rolls Royces? Dodge 600 to Mercedes-Benzes? That ought to tell any car enthusiast how clueless they were. What I can’t understand is why car company marketing executives (who ought to know a thing or two about cars) keep approving them and paying those ad agencies big bucks.

    • 0 avatar
      windswords

      The Granada (or was it the Mercury Monarch?) was compared to a Cadillac (actually IIRC, in the ad it was *mistakenly identified* as a caddy by a parking enforcement officer).

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I’m glad we’re all so happy and enthused about this ad. If it’s on TV or (insert all other media here), it must be true! Thing is, I was led to believe the Journey was the “world’s best vehicle”. Now what? I gotta buy a 10 mpg Durango? Nah…I’ll stick with my humble Chevy.

    For me, the best car commercials I ever saw were years ago in NoCal – “The Roseville Gang”, in Roseville, CA, where all the car dealers got together and made commercials as a group – hilarious!

    Also Spartan Dodge in San Jose. Jay Brown was the owner and he used to sponsor all-night movies on channel 44, showing himself in various stages of relaxation during the limited commercial breaks. It made for good TV when on all-night “CQ” (charge of quarters) duty in the day room of my barracks. Those ads were so good, my buddy and I actually made a trip to the bay area one weekend and visited the Dodge dealership. Hey, we were kids, what did we know?

    The thing is, nothing fools an enthusiast, so all comments here are dead-on. These ads are meant for the general populace, especially those easily swayed by what someone else says.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Yeah, well who does believe a car ad? OTOH, in that particular market, as Brantaa says, the Durango is a giant among pygmies when it comes to muscle. Maybe the ad is aimed at an SUV buyer in that market who’s disappointed at a bunch of “trucks” that don’t have the zip that he’s used to feeling in a car.

    But, for me, the real howler in ads featuring motor vehicles are the Viagra (or is it Cialis; I forget) ads featuring the guy who “knows what to do” ’cause he’s been around (and, by implication, “knows what to do” when he can’t get it up reliably any more — buy Viagra).

    The first of these ads — featuring a guy driving a vintage Camaro in the desert that boils over (which he “fixes” by adding a bottle of water) — is at least plausible. The current one features Mr. “Knows what do do” driving a pickup towing a horse trailer into some mud. The next shot is the pickup spinning its rear wheels and then Mr. “Knows what to do” takes the horses out of the trailer, harnesses ‘em up and pulls the combination through the mud with their help. Only one problem: the pickup is a 4wd, as you can clearly see the manual locking hubs on the front wheels . . . and Mr. Knows-what-to-do doesn’t know to engage 4wd.

    As an over-60 guy, I find this completely embarrassing! ;-o

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      It would have been easier to just drive around the mud hole, instead of Mr. “doesn’t-have-a-clue” just driving straight into it! Duh! Could’ve maybe been the Viagra giving him a headache or some other side effect that stuff warns about on the ads? I’m 60 and have more on-the-ball than that!

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Yeah, as if people looking for performance buy SUV’s, isn’t this the same company that came up with the “Man Van”?

  • avatar
    GoFaster58

    “When you think performance” you sure don’t think SUV much less Dodge Durango. When you think performance you think Mustang, Camaro, Challenger, Corvette, BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Ferrari, Porsche etc.

  • avatar
    Ken Elias

    I am not an ad guy but my take on the Durango TV spot is to entice men to suggest to their wives that the Durango would be a “cool” SUV to own for kiddie haulin’ (while Dad enjoys the power and towing). In the end, the purpose of the ad is to build consideration of the Durango ahead of its competitors (like the Chevy Traverse)… and for that the sales trajectory will tell the results.


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