Chrysler Takes Pro-Detroit Ad Campaign On The Road

Ads featurig Dr. Dre, designer John Varvatos and Detroit Lion Ndamukong Suh pick up where Eminem left off in Super Bowl

Three months ago, Chrysler took the highly unusual step of advertising its Detroit roots during the Super Bowl. The campaign has drawn a lot of attention, as well as mixed reviews for its effectiveness. As the spring car selling season gets into full-swing, though, the automaker is doubling down on its "Imported From Detroit" ad strategy in hopes that car buyers on the coasts care about what comes from The Motor City.

The Super Bowl ad featured rap legend Eminem, as well his song, "Lose Yourself." The ad also starred the city of Detroit in video postcards -- gritty neighborhood scenes as well as athletes, working people and a gospel choir. The idea advanced in the ad is that Detroit, despite a steady diet of bad headlines and disrespect, is where the best designed and performing vehicles come from.

A new batch of three ads feature celebrities with ties to the Motor City -- rap artist and entrepreneur Dr. Dre, New York fashion designer John Varvatos and Detroit Lion second-year standout Ndamukong Suh -- each driving a new Chrysler 300 sedan.

But rather than selling Detroit, the new ads are set in New York City (Brooklyn), Los Angeles and Portland, Ore., where each of the celebrities have connections. Each one is the star of their own story depicted in the ad, and is seen driving the new 300 sedan. The message: The Chrysler 300, "Imported from Detroit," belongs anywhere in the U.S., even in import brand-heavy Los Angeles and New York.

"The individuals in these commercials represent more than success stories," said Olivier Francois, President and CEO of the Chrysler Brand and head of marketing for Chrysler. "They represent a brand of determination that Detroit has come to stand for. These are true stories of people who worked hard and are now able to enjoy the luxury they deserve; and luxury feels better earned. These three individuals define the target customer for the all-new 2011 Chrysler 300."

In past, U.S. automakers were sheepish about stating their connections to the city of Detroit because the city has had such a bad name -- high crime, high unemployment, terrible school system, corrupt local government officials and, in 2009, two bankrupt automakers in Chrysler and General Motors.

Francois, French-born and running marketing for both Chrysler and Italian automaker Fiat, which has a controlling stake in the Michigan automaker, says he sees the city, and metropolitan Detroit, through the eyes of an outsider.

"I have seen that this is a real city with great talent, hard working people making great product, with a tremendous work ethic and values that I think will be embraced by people all over the country of we can tell the story right," he said.

In the ad starring football star Suh, the young defensive lineman is driving his 300 through the streets of Portland where he grew up. In the ad starring Detroit-born Varvatos, the designer is seen rummaging through a record store in Brooklyn perusing MoTown music legends, and then driving through a neighborhood in his 300 sedan, passing by clubs and people before arriving at his studio and working into the night to the sounds of Detroit music artists.

Dr. Dre's Chrysler ad, which won't be released until June, is specifically meant to push the Beats by Dr. Dre sound system featured in the 2012 300S. The hip-hop impresario is seen driving through the streets of LA, eventually arriving at a music club. In an homage to the Super Bowl ad in which Eminem said, "This is The Motor City. This is what we do," Dre says, "This is LA, and this is what we do."

The idea of taking the ad out of Detroit and into other parts of the country is a must if Chrysler wants this campaign to resonate outside of the Midwest, which is already Detroit's strongest selling markets. Disrespect for U.S. car brands in California, New York, Washington D.C., Boston, Miami is well documented with tiny market shares for Chrysler, Chevrolet and Ford passenger cars. Dodge (a Chrysler brand) pickup trucks, along with Chevy and Ford trucks, sell well because Detroit dominates the pickup truck market. But cars are a different story.

"Detroit is a tough sell out here, no question about it," says Los Angeles-based marketing consultant Dennis Keene. "I would say that some of what Chrysler has done the last few months is starting to generate a bit of curiosity, but only about the 300 sedan, and it is going to have to stay committed and spend a lot of money out here for it to stick and take hold."

Overall Chrysler brand car sales were up 41% in April versus a year ago, well ahead of the industry as a whole. But it's the earliest of days after the launch of the 200 sedan in just the last few months. The real test of whether "Imported from Detroit" is making people curious enough about Chrysler's story to plunk down actual greenbacks will be in early 2012, with a whole year of pitching the pro-MoTown message behind the automaker.

By that time, it is expected to be gearing up for an initial public offering of stock in a company that, by spring 2012, should be more than 50% owned by Fiat and U.S. government ownership a thing of the past.

Chrysler, like GM, was bailed out with taxpayer funds in 2009. The company was owned by private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, which hit a financial wall with Chrysler when industry sales plummeted in the wake of the meltdown of the financial markets. The government stepped in to help finance the takeover of Chrysler by Fiat rather than let the company fall into receivership, worsening the economic picture and jobless picture of Southeast Michigan.

Through April, Chrysler's market share stood at 9.2% of the U.S. auto market, up from 9.1% a year earlier. That includes its Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands.

Bottom Line: Chrysler is taking a big chance with its "Imported From Detroit" ad campaign. The new 300 and Town & Country minivan have been done extremely well. The 200 sedan, upgraded from the Sebring, is a much better piece of work than it was, but still lagging cars like Ford Fusion and Honda Accord by light years. If the campaign is to work in garnering curiosity about Chrysler vehicles, the company is going to have to keep up a steady diet of clever events and ads, not just run this campaign for a few months and abandon it because it didn't click right away.

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