How's this for a new episode of Mad Men: the client doesn't need the ad agency's creative director because the celebrity star of the ads is going to take over. That'll work out well, right?
That's exactly what happened in real life when Chrysler handed over the job of creating its new 70-ad/video-video effort for the Dodge Durango to comedian/actor Will Ferrell, who inhabits his Anchorman character Rob Burgundy character in all the ads, which will run on TV, online and even in print.
The effort kicked off over the weekend and will run through the end of the year. Each ad and video not only features the Durango, or Dodge's whole showroom of vehicles, but they also promote the December 20 opening of Paramount Pictures "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues."
Ferrell joins a list of surprise celebrities and public figures enlisted to pitch cars and Chrysler's and Fiat's brands by Olivier Francois, the global chief marketing chief of Chrysler and CEO of the Fiat brand worldwide. Eminem, Jennifer Lopez, Clint Eastwood, Carla Bruni and even Burmese dissident leader and Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi have all played in Francois marketing efforts.
It may sound like a familiar recipe: star plus car equals attention and Youtube hits. But the sheer volume of this effort makes it stand out. Most of the 70 ads are written and directed by Ferrell and his team at Paramount Pictures. All will run on either TV or digital spaces like Youtube, as well as a purpose-built site, www.BurgundyDodge.com. Some videos were specifically shot with sexual innuendo with the intention of only running them on Ferrell's www.funnyordie.com website. Print ads have also been produced with Burgundy as Dodge pitchman and Dodge as movie pitch-brand.
Portland, Oregon-based Wieden & Kennedy is the Dodge ad agency. Writers there, say Chrysler officials, sent Ferrell's team scripts, and then they worked with them, but in the end did mostly their own takes.
The videos focus on a variety of messages, from the Durango's fuel economy (25 mpg highway) and 360 horsepower, to the fact that both rows of back seats fold flat.
It's not the first time that an advertiser, let alone a car company, has given over some creative control for ads or videos to an actor/comedian. In 2011, Volkswagen launched a series of webisodes starring Saturday Nigh Live castmember Bill Hader, who had a strong hand in writing and executing the scripts. That effort didn't seem to make best use of Hader's comedic stylings.
The Burgundy videos, though, should hit the right chord with fans of Ferrell and the Burgundy character.
In the Durango campaign, Francois, who until recently had never seen the original Anchorman, said it was the right fit. The 2014 Durango is not an all-new vehicle, though it has just had a refresh, and is improved on several levels. It hasn't received any advertising support to speak of in two years. "There is a lot of up-side for us if we can get people's attention and get them to engage in finding out more about this vehicle," says Francois.
"If we run spots with rolling footage of the vehicle and some stats, that is just going to get lost and not engage people."
[See David Kiley's review of the 2014 Dodge Durango here.]
Tim Kuniskis, president and CEO of Chrysler's Dodge brand, says he was drawn to the "cult" status of the Ron Burgundy character.
"If we run spots with rolling footage of the vehicle and some stats, that is just going to get lost and not engage people," says Kuniskis, who drove the idea with Francois.
The improved Durango is one of Chrysler's two big model pushes this holiday season -- the other being an all-new Jeep Cherokee. If Chrysler can increase sales of the SUV, it will mean bigger profits heading into the company's expected stock initial public offering early next year. Not only are auto sales moving along at a healthy clip, but SUV sales in particular are strong as gas prices stay below $3.50 per gallon in most parts of the country.
According to Francois, no money changed hands to get Ferrell to do the ads and videos. It was a deal cut between Chrysler and Paramount to have the movie character in each ad and video, and tag each one with the message that Anchorman 2 opens on Christmas. A tie-in between a car and a fictional movie character on this scale is unprecedented.
"Ron Burgundy as the new Dodge Durango spokesperson brings together two iconic American legends," said Josh Greenstein, CMP of Paramount Pictures. "This campaign was an unprecedented opportunity to collaborate with our filmmakers to create new original content and distribute it worldwide in advance of the long-awaited 'Anchorman' sequel."
Chrysler's Francois has been shaking up the ad scene in the U.S. since he arrived in 2009 with the takeover of Chrysler by Fiat. Memorably, in the 2011 Super Bowl, he ran a two-minute ad hailing a new positioning for Chrysler, "Imported from Detroit," featuring Eminem and his song, "Lose Yourself." It garnered, by far, the most buzz of the game. A year later, he surprised viewers with a half-time ad starring Clint Eastwood giving a pep-talk to America. Again, the ad broke the buzz meters.
For the Italian Lancia brand, Francois has aligned the brand with an annual gathering of Nobel Peace Prize winners, and cut an ad spotlighting the plight of then-jailed dissident Aung San Suu Kyi. To launch the Fiat brand in the U.S., he tapped into a Jennifer Lopez music video, and got the actress/singer to cut an ad for the Fiat 500 that tied into the video.
Online views of Chrysler, Fiat and Lancia videos and ads are of keen interest to Francois. The Burgundy shorts that Chrysler put up over the weekend got 500,000 views on Youtube after the executive showed the ads at an industry conference on Friday. Traffic to the Dodge website spiked over 200 percent. "Online views means people went looking for the work," he said. "When they run on TV, you never who know who is seeing them." Chrysler expects to dribble out 70 ads in to the marketplace in the next three months will break records for online views of one campaign in that time period.
In a previous interview with AOL Autos, Francois defended his penchant for frequently using celebrities: "These may be ads in one sense, but we are in the business of engaging people, telling stories, taking people by surprise and giving them something to think about and talk about ... somewhere in all that we hope that it makes them more curious about our brand and products."