Showing posts with label Chrysler. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chrysler. Show all posts

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Hamster Car Dances with Halo-Like Warriors

A couple weeks ago at the Woodward Dream Cruise I overheard a couple talking with a friend of theirs after they parked their new Chrysler 200.

Friend: "So you bought the Eminem car." (laughter)

The driver, looking down at the ground: "I didn't buy it for that reason, but yeah it's the 'Eminem car.'"

Recalling the Chrysler 200 conversation, I have to wonder if Kia Soul owners get "is that the hamster car?" And does it leave people feeling pride or shame.

Good thing for Kia their young demographic probably doesn't remember much of the Richard Gere hamster/gerbil rumor.

I'm guessing most of it is pride since the campaign has been very well received and reading the YouTube comments on this latest ad shows people love and defend the hamsters.

Hat tip to AdWeek. Click here for their thoughts.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Chrysler Group's Mopar Takes a Page from Ford and GM

The social media road trip/rally/race/whatever is so common it’s becoming a bit cliché and in my former days listening to media companies and social agencies pitch ideas there was always some effort that involved putting celebs, comedians or everyday people into cars to share their experience across social media by giving them a car and some challenges to do.

The latest example of this model comes from Chrysler’s performance division Mopar: The event is called Moventure. Get it? They had a call for submissions for filling ten teams that would drive Chrysler division vehicles from Detroit to Golden, Colorado at the NHRA Mopar Mile High Nationals, a “full throttle drag racing series.” The team with the most points stand to win $5,000 in Mopar parts and accessories.

Each brand (Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram, and Fiat) has two teams of two with challenges all along the way to the final destination, think something similar to Chevy’s SxSW Road Trip from 2010 and 2011. It’s kind of funny that my article on the Chevy event garnered a comment stating “*waits for Chrysler to emulate Ford’s Fiesta Movement, just like GM did? ;-p” Apparently the answer is July 2011, sort of.

This is coming out of the Mopar division, not the parent company, though looking how it’s being shared on twitter the Chrysler brand twitter accounts and Chrysler PR people are Retweeting content from the Mopar teams, similar to what happened with both GM and Ford events.

Fiesta Movement was very different from this model. It was 6 months with 100 cars given out that gave time for participants to build an audience. A more likely Ford use of this template was the Ford Fusion Relay Race that used similar teams on a short multi-day road trip.

The Mopar event participation is like others who have blazed this social trail. Most of the social conversation is from the teams with the brand (or agencies) supporting the conversation through Retweets and @ mentions on twitter. There is some video content too that’s being created but as you can tell (image at right) the views are pretty low even after 24 hours since posted.

I really wonder about if these events are worth all of the effort. I’m sure blog coverage is a big win for the organizers and for this Moventure contest. So far there has been zero coverage from the top two automotive blogs – AutoBlog and Jalopnik; however, there was coverage from Car & Driver, Torque News, and CNBC (they reprinted the press release verbatim.)

What is success and what is a good amount of social conversation and who it was from is rarely discussed because no one ever goes back and evaluates their effort against competitor efforts. This I know after actively following many over the years, it’s 90%+ people involved in the effort who discuss and socially share it (team members, brand, and agencies.) There is very little spillover effect unless you really invest big dollars engaging celebrities, philanthropy and market the hell out of it – think Mercedes Tweet Race – or you do something more involved like the 6-month Ford Fiesta Movement.

In full disclosure, I have some good friends that make up two of the teams on this road trip and I really do wish them well. From what I can tell they are doing what they can to generate interest and discussion about their involvement. It’s just that no one really cares, except those participating, when it comes down to it.

I’ve seen the output reports on efforts like this and everyone shows an impressive looking number of “mentions” and a summation of all the video views/comments/tweets, and then some screen-shots of blog coverage and well that’s it and off everyone goes to the next project. I expect Moventure is no different and that's not a criticism of the Mopar effort. It's more a result of how this model historically works.


Thursday, April 14, 2011

We're Talkin' Imported from Brampton, Ontario

I had a great time last week on the Adverve Podcast (Show #71: Autobahnned) hosted by Bill Green and Angela Natividad where we discussed quite an interesting blend of topics including Chrysler's Imported from Detroit campaign, the recent Buick NCAA integration, some stuff on what I do heading social media at AT&T, and to start it all off we talked local food and gas station tacos for half of the show (checkout my latest blog: for more information about that.)

Please follow both of them on twitter and subscribe to Adverve on iTunes, it really is a great show and both Bill (@mtlb) and Angela (@LucktheLady) have a sharp wit and great perspectives on the marketing industry. I listen to their show often and can't recommend it enough.


Tuesday, February 15, 2011

"Imported from Detroit" the T-Shirt

After plenty of discussion online and coverage from major and minor media outlets, Chrysler decided to follow up their "Imported from Detroit" Super Bowl commercial with an accompanying t-shirt.

I was personally expecting black with some simple white lettering, but someone decided a winged tire would be a bit more friendly than the tone the Super Bowl ad set, which was a bit more dark and matter of fact.

You can order yours now for $29.95. Fortunately, someone was smart enough to have the shirts made in the USA; though, "Made in the USA" isn't always made in the USA (learn more here.) It would've been even better to use a local t-shirt company like Detroit GT to do the shirts.

Regardless it is a smart move from Chrysler and good to see them carry the tagline into apparel.

Here is the original ad if you were too busy watching the football game:


Friday, November 26, 2010

GM's We All Fall Down Imagery Doesn't Fit

General Motors gave thanks this holiday week to the millions of taxpayers who helped bail them out last year. The timing of the ad is at least better than Chrysler's failed attempt at thanks in 2009 when they thanked people using a full page advertisement in the Wall Street Journal and USA Today right after they received the bailout money. At least, GM had the sense to wait for a thank you the week after they went public with their IPO and return to investor financing.

I see two desired outcomes GM wants from this particular ad. One to energize people who like the brand. Second is to get people to see GM has a fighter that didn't just lay-down after it got its money. They want people who have lost faith in GM to know the brand is getting up, not giving up and wants to be seen as a survivor and champion.

The imagery used in the ad is all about not giving up. It shows several historical and socially recognizable clips when it looked over, but the people in the ad did not give up and found the strength to win.

The biggest criticism I can see from the imagery used is that all if it showcases individuals who got back up using their own freewill and not through a helping hand. No one gave the boxer a 5-hour energy drink, shoulder massage and pep talk to rise up from the mat. Sure someone helped Evel Knievel up from his accident but he got back on the bike himself and kept going.

The Henry S. Truman image makes no sense. That was just the Chicago Tribune showing how low their opinion was of Truman. There was no falling down, just miscalculation.

Perhaps Popeye is the most relevant image as he gets his boost from an outside source - spinach. But unlike Wimpy, Popeye probably didn't have to borrow the money today with the promise of paying it back Tuesday. Cynics might think Wimpy was the better image to use..?

It would be interesting to see how they tested this ad. Did GM bring in people upset with the bailout or did they focus test against people open to seeing GM as independent again. My guess is more the latter. Perhaps it has a chance of getting people 'on the fence' to see GM as a fighter and survivor.

Personally, I think they are fighting the good fight. GM has not laid down and they are trying hard to win back public opinion. Unfortunately, this ad falls down in its ability to recycle history as a way to repair GM's image. Fortunately, their new products are giving them a true fighting chance.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Jeep Summons Tiki Idol to Promote Wrangler
Islander Edition

Twitter is a very active place this month for the automotive industry: Ford kicked off Fiesta Movement 2 (#fiestamovement); Chevy ran a social media road trip contest to South by Southwest (#chevysxsw); Kia held a Twitter Party with mommy bloggers (#kiasorento); and now Jeep is getting into it with their “Jeep-Tweet-To-Win” contest.

Jeep is running a contest from March 15 to March 19 where the first person to answer the correct answer to a daily quiz Jeep-branded question “in the correct format” will win a trip to the New York auto show. The five winners will then have a chance to win a Jeep Wrangler Islander edition.

Jeep will announce each day on its Facebook fan page at 10am EST when the Twitter question will be asked. The five winners will dig in a giant sandbox for a “Golden Tiki” that wins one person the Islander Wrangler.

This connection between Facebook and Twitter accounts will attract some more fans and followers to Jeep’s social media accounts, but like all contests it is not really attracting fans, but contest participants who care only about winning not about possibly buying your brand or products. It’s a great way to build a list or add more counts in social media without really building a true fan base or solid leads.

Let’s hope the Tiki idea doesn’t further lead to bad luck for the Chrysler group. With sagging sales and a lot of promises of profitability without product to back it up; though, that may change soon enough, the Chrysler brands can use all the Tiki idol luck they can get.

However, searching for a Tiki reminds me of an episode of the Brady Bunch where the boys find a Tiki idol that leads to an episode of bad luck situations. While wearing the idol Greg wiped out on his surfboard, Peter gets an unwelcome spider crawling on him at night and Bobby is almost hit in the head by a heavy wall decoration in the hotel room. The ancient curse of the idol can only be reversed if the idol is returned to the Tiki Caves back to its resting place with the ancient island kings.

I’ll play and watch the contest this week to see how Jeep promotes the event. They have a small amount of Jeep followers on Twitter (2,307 as of 3/14 at 9:44am.) Perhaps word will get out that a free car is being given away like when Jason Calacanis tried to give away a free Tesla Model S if his @auto account became the #1 account on Twitter. That netted @auto slightly above 10,000 fans but then sputtered out.


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dodge Challenger Pokes Fun at Jerry Seinfeld's European Carry-All

In an attempt to add some macho to the brand that brings us the Caliber and Avenger comes a new ad called “Man Bag” promoting the Dodge Challenger, created by Wieden & Kennedy, the agency that recently won the Dodge business from BBDO. The ad features one of my favorite TV show characters the actor Michael C. Hall who plays the lead on Showtime’s Dexter series (he also played the gay son on HBO’s “Six Feet Under”.)

So what about the ad’s name: “Man Bag”. Well at least someone has a sense of humor. I know it’s supposed to mock the femininity of the metro sexual male, but that seems like something that was more topical in 2008 than 2010. Plus the double entendre of the ad’s title is a bit ridiculous; though, not as ridiculous as W+K’s LaDainian Tomlinson Electric Glide for Nike.

So why this approach?

It is definitely on target for the Dodge Challenger consumer, assuming product research showed tough, rugged guys mocking girly-men is where it’s at for
an American muscle car crowd. A safe assumption I’m sure. It will probably resonate, but the lack of any cool imagery or a more confrontational, humorous storyline instead of just a voice-over might have helped the concept.

Also the voice-over choice fits what Ad Age reported today, that the “new tone and feel seems to be about trying to cast the automaker as a brand associated with celebrities and social causes (two things said to be a passion of Olivier Francois, Chrysler brand's president-CEO).”

If this is a precursor to the coming Super Bowl ad from Dodge, don’t bother. It’s just too forgettable to have any change in brand perception or product consideration.

Friday, January 15, 2010

North American International Auto Show Tweetup

Back in December we had several automotive journalists come to Detroit for some product events with Ford and General Motors. This provided a great opportunity to organize a Tweetup (learn all about what a Tweetup is here if you don't know.) During the planning, one of my followers on Twitter, @Muntz_Man, contacted me about joining the event and mentioned maybe there could be another event during the auto show where the Twitter community could come to see the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in a more exclusive way.

What I soon found out is that Max Muncey is an Associate with the John Bailey & Associates Public Relations firm working with NAIAS. Once auto show week arrived, Max reached out again and there was a tweet from the @NAIASDetroit Twitter account inviting people to an event. I joined in as did some local social media and automotive people who attended to the first ever NAIAS Tweetup on Wednesday January 13, 2009.

The event was held a few days before the public opening and fell on one of the Industry Days. Industry days are basically what it sounds like, a time for people in the car business - engineers, designers, marketing people - to get a look at the cars and displays usually for work related reasons.

Some of the people who also attended: @wweidendorf, @HajjFlemings, @becksdavis, @MaureenFrancis, @kayleehawkins, @redcrew, @darealchrisree, @richardsession, @AshleySFlintoff, @freeismylife, @jennilewis

The Show

The show itself is great. Far better than last year where GM and Chrysler were held up by a shoestring as Presidential administrations were changing and George W. Bush had only given the auto companies enough to survive day-to-day.

This year the displays are bigger and better with a strong presence by Ford Motor Company and a surprisingly elaborate display from the Chrysler Group; even though, Sergio Marchionne supposedly doesn't see much value in auto show marketing.

Of course, there are not the crazy, design exploration concept cars of years back. Today most manufacturers show "concepts" that are basically 90% completed production vehicles. The one concept that did impress and was a bit more of a study than reality is the Audi E-Tron concept. It is beautiful.

Product Specialists on Twitter

One interesting note to this year's auto show is a new thing Ford, Lincoln, Mercury is trying with giving product specialists their own Twitter accounts. You can view their accounts at Sam DeLaGarza's Twitter List; Sam is the Ford Fiesta Brand Manager.

Bringing product specialists from an auto show to Twitter is definitely something new. We'll have to see if it catches on and becomes an unique way to engage with the show online; though, I do worry it also becomes a platform to be "that guy."

If you want a less corporate perspective from the product specialists, checkout a new blog and Twitter account (@DYCWTC) from an anonymous GM auto show model. Her post on "Grandpas" is an interesting take on what it's like to be trapped by the Greatest Generation.

NAIAS opens to the public tomorrow and has its final day on January 24th. If you are in town, it is definitely worth checking out. I go 2 or 3 every year and will probably even head out again for a public day thanks to some free tickets Mercedes-Benz sent me.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Cradle To Cradle Marketing: Recycling Fiat Work to Become "New" Chrysler Work

There's a methodology used in environmental design called "cradle to cradle" that approaches product design with the goal of little to no waste. It is a very compelling approach to waste reduction in manufacturing systems. It's a great idea; though, I never thought I'd see it applied to marketing. Yet, Chrysler seems to have implemented the approach in their last two brand ads.

The first example was the Chrysler political prison commercial that was recycled from a prior Lancia ad launched in late 2008.

Now Chrysler has done it again by reducing creative waste using the same concept done in a recent Fiat brand spot and applying it to the "Coming Home" brand ad produced for Chrysler by their new Agency of Record Fallon.

The good news is that the dull "Coming Home" ad is not a product of Fallon, but rather is a product of Fiat's marketing team leading the Pentagram's advertising decisions.

So what's next? A recycled Alfa Romeo commercial? If yes, I recommend this one:

CREDIT: Thanks to automotive journalist Brian Driggs for finding the Fiat commercial and showcasing it on the CarChat Blog.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Ram: I Am... Back to Normal

It was refreshing to see some new marketing from the Chrysler Group's newest brand Ram that wasn't so polarizing and confusing. The new TV ad features the Ram Ram doing truck things, like driving in mud and splashing water, but more importantly promotes the Motor Trend Truck of the Year award, a coveted industry award.

Some will dismiss this Ram spot as forgettable, typical automotive advertising. I suppose that's a valid criticism but I would argue the spot quickly conveys the strengths of the product and promotes the Motor Trend award in an effective way that works with the target truck consumer. Can it be improved? Sure, but what can't?

The good thing is that heavily criticized "I am Ram" tag line may have only entered the initial brand advertising spot and nothing else. According to an article in today's Detroit News, Chrysler's head of marketing Olivier Francois states "all ads going forward are totally product oriented." Perhaps the "I Am" ads are gone and things are back to normal?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Chrysler's New Brand Campaign Looks Back Not Forward

Chrysler launched a new brand campaign called “Coming Home” that will be featured across several College Bowl games January 1-4. The campaign is “in response to requests from Chrysler Group dealers and research conducted which found that consumers do not realize that Chrysler Group has emerged from bankruptcy and is now a different company with a new alliance partner and a healthy product plan.“

The first ad features a driver carrying a leather bag in a full range of Chrysler products through different times in history ending with the 2010 Chrysler 300 sedan. It shows no future products and is a nod to the fine products Chrysler has built in its long history. It also marks the first ad from Chrysler’s new agency Fallon.

There are two dominant approaches to brand campaigns: focus on the nostalgia of the past or go forward thinking by focusing on the future. Chrysler chose the former, which is interesting considering how survival – its biggest issue in the media and consumer minds -- has more to do with the future of the brand. Talking about great products built decades ago to recent cars with no glimpse to future product is a miss.

At minimum, Chrysler could’ve brought the coming Jeep Grand Cherokee or Fiat 500; though, the 500 may not be sold by Chrysler dealers so that's why it may not have shown up. To be forward thinking, the whole concept would have had to change or at least end with a progressive message instead of the stale “Coming Home” line.

The good news is it's at least not talking about releasing political prisoners which was way out of left field.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Fallon to the Rescue, Stat!

It's already been called the "worst car ad ever" by Jalopnik's Ray Wert. Auto Extremist Peter De Lorenzo is quoted in Ad Age saying it is "patently absurd." Chrysler was forced to make a public statement it didn't hire an Italian ad agency the day the new ad was launched.

I don't even know what to say. I can only hope Chrysler gets things straightened out and starts to realize you can't change a somewhat premium brand into a highfalutin snob brand with one cause marketing effort. Mercedes didn't become Mercedes overnight.

Also, don't even get me started on how they turned the homepage of their shopping site into a giant TV commercial with the ad as the main image taking over the main body of It's just shocking and not good shocking.

The strangest thing is that the ad is a rehashed version of the same idea (and in some cases same images) as this Lancia spot that ran last year. I've heard of platform sharing across brands from a manufacturing benefit, but never as a cost saving technique for marketing.

On the very same day the ad started running on television, Chrysler announced it has selected Publicis Groupe's Fallon agency to handle the creative work previously led by BBDO. One can only hope that Chrysler gets some better marketing direction with Fallon. I'm not sure Lancia has enough good advertising to recycle to make the brand desirable again; though, I do really like this print advertisement from Lancia:

So Fallon you have your work cutout for you. I really wish you the best of luck as a lot of us want to see Chrysler succeed. Unfortunately, it's getting harder and harder to believe success is in the brand's future.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Part I: How Cash for Clunkers Impacted 2009 Sales & Advertising to Attract Bargain Shoppers

There are a lot of articles out talking about a resurgence in automotive sales. As a recent LA Times article claims, “U.S. car sales are out of rut.” While there certainly is some very positive momentum that all started with Car Allowance Rebate System (CARS) or more commonly known as “Cash For Clunkers”, Ford posted a pretax third-quarter profit of $357 million and General Motors has improved its market share for four straight months, the market is far from recovery.

All of this talk about improvements in the automotive market has left me wondering what is really going on, since we recently crossed 10% national unemployment and little has changed with economic fundamentals.

Did Cash For Clunkers wake people up and get them interested in car buying? Or was it simply a temporary spike where numbers returned to pre-Clunker sales? Or is something else going. Of course, I’m curious if the sales momentum in late 2009 is advertising or product related or a little of both or not really a momentum at all.


Most of the analysis done by the media is year-over-year comparisons. But if this year is highly unusual and looking back at the tanking of sales in late 2008 is naturally going to provide what looks like a surge in sales, how can we judge sales performance post Cash for Clunkers?

This analysis looks at 2009 only. I looked at sales through the first six months of 2009 (January-June) and then took an average of sales for those months to obtain an average month in 2009.

The chart looks at percentage of change from a six-month average, against the months where Cash for Clunkers was active and the following two months post the end of the Clunkers offer: September and October.

The data also only looks at non-luxury automotive brands for the companies included in the analysis. Why? The legislation applied only to cars priced below $45,000. Cash for Clunkers had a negative or non-impact on luxury car sales, so I decided to exclude it in this analysis.

One company that may seem odd here is Smart. I only included them because they were running a high profile $99/month Cash for Clunkers promotion. I was curious if it had an impact on sales.

Sales During Cash for Clunkers

Honda, Nissan and Toyota saw the most significant increases in sales in August when Cash for Clunkers was at its peak. Honda had a 90% increase while Nissan increased 89% and Toyota 78% over the 6-month 2009 average.

U.S. brands Ford, General Motors and Chrysler saw decent gains, but almost two-thirds or half the gain of their foreign counterparts. General Motors led with a 60% gain, Ford saw a 45% increase and Chrysler performed the lowest across the major brands with only a 19% improvement; though, many Chrysler dealers were caught without adequate inventories.

Truck sales were one area where American brands did fairly well. “The single most common swap - which occurred more than 8,200 times - involved Ford 150 pickup owners who took advantage of a government rebate to trade their old trucks for new Ford 150s,” according to the Associated Press.

Not surprisingly, Hyundai received a nice bump especially with some low-priced value alternatives for SUV traders with significant sales of the Tucson and Santa Fe. The Elantra, their economy car, doubled sales in August as value seekers sought alternatives to the Honda Civic, Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla which all ran into availability issues.

Smart saw a negative change in July as Cash for Clunkers started, but eventually turned positive, barely, as the program peaked in August. Unfortunately for Smart, their sole product only allows for a driver and one passenger and while the 33/41 mpg fuel-economy at first is appealing, it comes with giving up a lot like interior space and concerns for safety.

The program did what most expected it to do. It increased sales and spurred a lot of interest in new car sales. Who benefited more is really more of a political concern and caused a lot of discussion as it is easy to see the Asian automakers did very well from the program.

Marketing To Clunker Sellers

There were various efforts as automakers tried their best to attract clunker sales. Hyundai was the first out of the gate by offering trades a few weeks before the program officially started, good thing for Hyundai the government accepted the early trades.

Ford Motor Company went with their “Let Ford Recycle Your Ride” site that simplified the process for figuring out if a car qualified and then returned a list of qualifying Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicle choices. The site also included manufacturer incentives. All of this made for a very easy understanding of cost in a few simple steps. Ford was the third most popular car brand that consumers visiting this website have requested calls from a local dealer.

Chrysler had by far the easiest, most effective message with its Cash for Clunkers advertising. Their program simply promoted a “Double Cash” incentive where Chrysler matched the government’s incentive. If one qualified for a $4,500 rebate from CARS, Chrysler added another $4,500 to the purchase allowing for a $9,000 incentive! It was very impressive and a clear, effective way to communicate their offer. Unfortunately, Chrysler is suffering very low consideration due to its bankruptcy and ran into supply issues even if customers wanted a vehicle.

Toyota was “proud to be part of the US government’s program.” They promoted their most fuel efficient and most dependable car company in America message in the TV spots for the program.

GM did a Cash for Clunkers qualification experience from their corporate website. The site was similar to Ford’s where one entered in their car information and it said what GM products were eligible for trade. It however did not include additional manufacturer incentive information.

Smart, as I mentioned earlier, provided a very interesting effort to gain some interest from bargain shoppers. They promoted a $99/month payment when a clunker was traded in for a new Smart car. The low monthly payment was definitely attractive and looked great in large print. Unfortunately, many were quick to chastise the offer as it came with a large $6,667 balloon payment at the end of the 36-month term. The full cost of the deal and the limited appeal of a two-seat car that looks like a death trap next to a Chevy Cobalt, probably caused most buyers to look elsewhere.

It was no surprise to see the small car; fuel-efficient leaders gain the most from the program. Truck sales were strong which definitely helped the home team along with a couple shining examples like the Ford Focus which led the program as the Number 1 buy of shoppers.

To be Continued (Article should be up no later than Dec 2):
Part II: Examining Post Cash for Clunkers

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Chrysler Joins the Up-market Movement

Here we go again… Chrysler wants to become a luxury brand. Fiat is seeing the Chrysler brand “competing in the luxury space,” according to a recent article in US News & World Report.

This isn’t the first time, nor the last time, that a non-luxury brand will try to move into the luxury segment. Volkswagen was the most recent example of a brand that wanted to move up-market by bringing products like the VW Phaeton to dealerships that also served the needs of Beatle and Golf owners. VW’s former CEO Ferdinand Piech wanted to bring VW into the luxury segment with the Phaeton. The Phaeton, a $70-$100k boat of a sedan, left the States after two years of dismal sales; though, there are some rumors VW is going to try it again.

One of the big lessons VW gave the industry is that luxury isn’t about wood grain trim and chrome rings around every dial. No, luxury is about cache and service two things VW lacked. Sure a Jetta has some cache for a recent college graduate, but when you are 40 years old and still driving a Jetta it doesn’t exactly scream you are a successful business tycoon.

Please don’t get me wrong the Jetta is an excellent car and what you drive has little do with your success, for example Jeff Bezos CEO of Amazon drives an old Honda Accord. My point is more about the perceived lift a luxury brand gives its consumer and while pulling up in VW is nothing to be ashamed of it doesn’t carry the same social obnoxiousness of pulling up in a Mercedes, an obnoxiousness people will pay a premium for.

The problem brands like VW and Chrysler have with trying to become a luxury brand is that they see their products as having similar attributes of luxury cars: wood grain, premium leather, and advanced technologies all the things that a BMW or Mercedes is doing with their products. And while the gap of what makes a luxury car luxury is certainly diminished today, the whole perception issue has more to do with luxury than a car’s materials or wiring.

Part of the confusion is how far mass market cars have come in only a few short years. Take for instance the photo at right showing the 2002 Lexus GS and 2010 Ford Taurus interiors. Which one is the luxury car and which isn’t? The Taurus looks far more upscale than the Lexus from only a few years ago, but no one would consider Ford a luxury brand.

Whether a brand deserves to be luxury or not is irrelevant. Exclusivity is a big part of being a luxury brand and a lot of that has to do with higher pricing which by definition excludes others from purchase. But you just can’t slap a $5,000 increase on the sticker and say you’re luxury. If it only it were that simple.

“Perceived value—through quality of design, materials, and manufacture—is another key component of the luxury goods equation,” writes Harvard Business School’s Julia Hanna whose article “Luxury Isn’t What It Used to Be” describes luxury’s changing landscape. The key word here is “perceived” and changing people’s minds to perceive your brand as luxury can waste a considerable amount of marketing dollars, product ideas and time. Chrysler might have an easier time convincing Boston Red Sox fans to root for the Yankees, than trying to take their brand "a notch above Lincoln, a notch above Cadillac.”

It will be interesting to see how Chrysler goes about pulling this off. Another mass-market brand, Hyundai, will be trying the same thing at the same time as they introduce a $60k plus car, the Equus in 2010.

Hyundai, which is becoming a formidable competitor to Toyota (read the Auto Extremist for more on that), has definitely improved its product line with the recent Genesis sedan and coupe, but the Equus will be the ultimate test at redefining the Hyundai brand.

One issue Hyundai and Chrysler will both have to consider is the importance service has on luxury automotive branding. VW had a big issue meeting the needs of Phaeton consumers who had to share service bays with lower end consumers and a VW service staff that wasn’t used to meeting the expectations of luxury owners.

As a personal anecdote, I used to own a Chrysler and can attest it will take a large investment to bring my local Chrysler dealership up to the same standards as the Lexus and BMW dealerships I now frequent. Service waiting area, dealership showroom and most importantly the service employees’ customer attention all need addressing. All of this is part of becoming a luxury brand and before any brand perception can change, customer service needs to be a cornerstone of the transition, more than body panel fit and finish.

Chrysler may be sourcing some products from the European Lancia brand as part of their relationship with Fiat. Lancia is a virtually unknown brand in the States and not a luxury brand in Europe, but the Lancias are seen as a more premium line in the Fiat family. Perhaps Chrysler can convince U.S. consumers that these new European products are luxury models that deserve luxury cache and hopefully luxury price tags.

We shall learn more come November 4 when Chrysler will announce its Five-Year Business Plan. Until then, Chrysler will continue to be a mass-market brand ready to leap into the challenges of brand reconstruction. Good luck.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Rejected Dealers Find Voice in Social Media

Several dealers (or is it ex-dealers?) are sharing how the recent dealership closing arrangement under GM and Chrysler’s government expedited bankruptcy proceedings are a violation of “constitutional rights”, “property rights” and “franchise laws.” Since no one is listening to the dealers, who were negatively impacted, they have offered their stories on YouTube for all to see. Since few of us watch CSPAN, this outreach may reach the intended public audience that should hear what has happened.

News stories from local media outlets and personal statements make up the Rejected Dealers YouTube Channel. It’s an interesting social outreach from a group who feels slighted that the country pretty much ignored their side of the story. YouTube is giving them a voice and organizing this content under a channel helps make the impact that much more stronger, especially if you spend some time listening to a few of the videos.

Some dealers discuss how the government’s Automotive Task Force was given wrong information about how much of a cost the dealerships are to the manufacturers. They feel this information missed the financial benefits the dealerships give the OEMs, the local communities, and the tax base.

The dealers are obviously intelligent, articulate business people who are very passionate about the business they or their families built. Each video creates a very personal connection with the dealer and how sorrowful the result of the Automotive Task Force decision is.

I know this isn’t the usual marketing coverage I write about on this blog, but it’s a compelling look at how social media can enable grassroots messages in the automotive industry. What’s on this channel is social outreach and giving people a voice beyond their normal channel. The end result is a compelling string of stories telling what has happened to hard-working people who were shafted by a rushed bankruptcy process.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

GM Resurrects Chrysler's 1980 Marketing Plan

After a successful Cash for Clunkers government induced spiff, the automotive industry is now left wondering what to do next now that the generous $3,500 - $4,500 clunker incentive rapidly faded away. GM’s marketing department has an answer: Bring back the 1980s with a Lee Iacocca wannabe and the return of the return policy. Much like when Iacocca asked America “if you can find a better car, buy it.” GM will now ask Americans, “if you bought a car from us, but found a better car between 31-60 days, providing you drove less than 4,000 miles, return our car and get the better car.” It doesn’t exactly roll right off the tongue.

Brand Quiz Show

To help with some better messaging, the new campaign is called "May the Best Car Win". Earlier this week on Gmail, several travel sites, and a variety of other placements; someone was mysteriously advertising an unbranded site and Twitter account @thebestcarwins. The site asked users to take a simple five-question quiz:
Who do you think builds the most fuel-efficient car?

Who do you think builds the safest car?

Who do you think builds the most dependable car?

Who do you think builds the best performance car?

Who do you think builds the best car?
Results displayed showing everyone’s collective response against the response the quiz taker entered. It was an interesting test to see how dominant some brands are in each category. What it showed was how difficult it is for a brand to become synonymous with a particular attribute. It took all of the brands years to become recognized for best safety, best performance, etc. Now that we know GM is the one behind the mystery site, the results of the quiz show a mountain of a task GM has to change brand perception in a category.

The funny thing is I think GM feels they can lead in all of the categories, meaning their brand or brands should be the top pick in any future quiz about best quality, safety, dependability, performance, fuel-efficiency, and overall.

Nice try. If there is one constant reason why a brand ‘won’ in this quiz, it is because they are not trying to be all of these things. If you want a great example of what I mean, check out Peter M. De Lorenzo’s recent column warning BMW not to compromise their performance brand identity for a piece of the Green pie.

Diving Into the 1980’s Playbook

The reason this is so 1980s is that all of this has been done before, over and over again. Just watch this 1984 ad from Chrysler where they were introducing two sedans that would take on and beat BMW, Audi and even Mercedes. Oh and they were getting ready to debut a small car to rival the Japanese (got to love the computer screen picture in the ad showcasing the concept.)

Someone (I think we can all guess who) is reading from the Chrysler post government bailout playbook.
  • Communicate you build the best cars, hands down
  • Tell people if they can find a better car buy it, this time with a buyer’s remorse guarantee
  • Find a spokesperson whom people can trust: Old white executive, white hair, glasses and talks in friendly voice
  • Directly challenge the foreign and domestic competition so far as to even take on anyone willing to race Bob Lutz in his Cadillac CTS-V.

The “Fine Print Effect”

The 60-day return policy is the big offer to get consumers interested in GM’s products. It’s the driver to bring people into the dealerships. But does this work? We know it’s been done before by many brands: Chrysler, Volkswagen, Pontiac, and Oldsmobile.

Past return policy campaigns didn’t change consumer brand perception. Did anyone in 1990 really think any better of Oldsmobile or Pontiac because they guaranteed the purchase?

Returned vehicles were more a result of buyer’s remorse than rethinking deep brand stalwarts like quality or safety. Instead a 1990 article in the LA Times titled Why Returnable Cars Haven’t Caught On discovered, “typically, say dealers, cars came back because someone disliked the color, or the model seemed too small for the family.”

One of the biggest issues with return policy effectiveness is the “fine-print effect”. The former Pontiac campaign brought in 5% more showroom traffic. In that same 1990 LA Times article the result of the infectiveness is that “there's so much distrust, and people may worry that it's not that easy to get in or out (of the deal), that there are probably a lot of gimmicks." So I have my doubts about the return policy being all that effective.

Whitacre to Play GM’s Iacocca

Return policy aside, the most intriguing part of the “May the Best Car Win” campaign is the spokes model. We learn that GM Chairman Edward E. Whitacre Jr., who from across a room resembles Lee Iacocca, tested well with research when GM ran the new ads featuring him.

In today’s Ad Age, Bob Lutz says the campaign will present America with a new face for GM. "What we were looking for was a highly credible spokesperson who would be a new fresh face," Mr. Lutz said, noting that Mr. Whitacre "is the new guy in town. He's tall, good looking, has impeccable white hair and has this nice soft Texas drawl and limps a little bit when he walks, which sort of gives him this old cowboy look."

Perhaps this is what’s needed, having a friendly, nice elderly man telling America this is the car to buy. It was the most effective and most memorable part of the Lee Iacocca playbook. It’s really Whitacre’s impact that will be the win or lose of this campaign.

UPDATE: The Ed Whitacre spot showed up on YouTube. View it here. Looks very similar to Iacocca walking around the factory convincing the viewer they build the best cars and can challenge any brand.

Monday, September 7, 2009

"New Chrysler" Equals More Brands

As its cross-town rival General Motors sheds several brands, Chrysler is mounting a plethora of new brands under its Pentastar. There is a lot of talk about the new Chrysler-Fiat Company bringing over Alfa-Romeo and importing the new Fiat 500 not as a Chrylser, but as a Fiat which will reintroduce the brand after a 26-year hiatus.

The strangest news isn’t the re-introduction of Fiat and Alfa Romeo into the US marketplace, we all expected that when Fiat “bought” Chrysler for zero Euros, but there is an article in this week's BusinessWeek saying Chrysler is going to pull the Dodge Ram truck from the Dodge brand and create a Ram brand.

The new Ram brand will become the pickup and commercial vehicles brand for the post-bankrupt Chrysler.

Dodge Ram is what defines Dodge

The Dodge Ram is one of the strongest products in Chrysler and moving it from Dodge to its own brand doesn’t seem like it would really impact sales much. The Dodge Ram actually defines everything in the Dodge stable. For example, if you want to know what all future Dodge grilles will look like, just look at the next Ram pickup. The current Ram’s grille has inundated everything in Dodge: Caliber, Journey, Avenger, and even the Grand Caravan minivan mimic the Ram’s grille.

Why create a new brand with all the additional cost to market and position it in consumers’ minds?

Establishing a new brand will cost Chrysler considerably. They’ll have to communicate what Ram is all about; buy ad time for two brands instead of one; and the dealer network will have to have all new materials and training.

The dealership nightmare alone is not worth the effort. It would be odd for any Dodge dealer to not become a Ram dealer too. I’m quite sure Dodge dealers would be none too happy losing their truck products and left with Calibers and Avengers on their lots.

The Problem at Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram is Product

The worse part of adding Ram as a brand is that it does nothing to address Chrysler’s elephant in the room – poor product. Not one product is recommended by Consumer Reports, product design is severely lacking behind competition, interior design is at least two product cycles behind GM and Ford, and long-term quality has been a major issue.

What the Ram brand decision says to me is that Chrysler thinks their issue is branding, not product or worse it says they can solve their product issues by re-branding. If only they could market their products better they could increase sales. Now, I’m not saying they can’t improve their marketing – we all can. What I am saying is that marketing isn’t the big problem at Chrysler. You need to have highly desirable products in such a competitive automotive market and Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram is seriously lacking products that beat or meet the competition.

Maybe Chrysler knows this and decided the only way to increase interest is to create a new brand and hope no one will notice the products didn’t change? Unfortunately, they’re only fooling themselves.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Chrysler Rebuilds in Its Rubble

Earlier this week the government’s auto industry task force slashed Chrysler’s proposed marketing budget in half. As the company is under a dark cloud of a very public bankruptcy, the government is definitely making it difficult for Chrysler to stay present in consumer’s minds and worse all the negative press is making Chrysler an even less attractive decision for shoppers. This all leaves one to ponder if the Chrysler customer is down to one type of customer – the bargain shopper.

As Business Week reported, "customers are coming into the showroom making outrageously low offers for Chrysler vehicles, expecting them to take any price just to sell a car." The bargain shopper wants a deal and not just any deal, but a huge deal. Giving them $6,000 off a $30,000 plus vehicle isn’t what they expect. They want more, like 50% off. They’re the same type of shopper who is out there looking to buy a foreclosed house at half-off or more. And Chrysler is the automotive industry’s example of a distressed sale. Much like real estate’s demise, consumers are waiting to show up and get a bargain. And if the bargain isn’t good enough, they’ll wait it out. They’re not stupid.

With today’s announcement of Chrysler eliminating over 700 dealerships nationwide, the inventory situation gets worse for a company in the droves of restructuring. So, not only are consumers questioning the viability of the company. Now prospective shoppers know the market is about to get flooded with more supply as dealerships consolidate and inventory piles up with fewer retail outlets to move product.

Meanwhile, Chrysler is trying to rebuild its reputation with their new brand campaign: We Build. In the TV spots, Chrysler promotes how it is building a new car company that they are building for us. Of course, I can hear the criticism of the anti-bailout crowd – you mean we are rebuilding your company for your executives and unions.

One hopes with Chrysler’s reduced ad budget that they can sway public opinion in their favor as the campaign promotes upcoming electric vehicles and strengthens the brand’s identity of building rugged off-road products, like Jeeps and Ram trucks, that customers have come to love.

But it will be a struggle to sway public opinion with a limited marketing campaign budget. Also the recent marketing mistake they made when they ran a full-page ads in major newspapers thanking America for their first bailout last year doesn’t help either. Many will feel any advertising is money wasted where “their money” is being used to sell them. That’s the problem with very public government bailouts and meddling government task forces, people don’t like throwing good money after bad and for a lot of America, Chrysler is a weak company with weak products. They don’t show up on Consumer Reports recommendation lists, they rank low on JD Power Quality studies, and, the worse part, everyone knows they are in this position because they make inferior products in a very competitive automotive industry.

Fair or not, Chrysler has a very hard road to travel and it will be interesting to see how the new “We Build” campaign is received. I have my doubts it will be received well; though, I’m sure some focus groups will think the ad campaign improves brand perception.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Buzz Study Releases First Social Automotive Brands Report

Buzz Study is a blog maintained by software company infegy. Their social media product, Social Radar, is a social media tracking tool. To promote their tool, they produce a monthly Top 50 Social Brands list that is now being accompanied by a first ever Top Social Automotive Brands report (U.S. market only.) The first example was published Tuesday. You can see it here.

How are brands measured? Well according to Buzz Study the Top Automotive report uses the same methodology as the Top 50 report they publish. "To create the Top 50 list, we used Social Radar to analyze millions of blog posts, news feeds, forums, social networks and Twitter posts to aggregate a list of the words and brands mentioned most frequently on the Web during April 2009. The list measures the number of unique individuals or sources that posted content about each brand during April 2009 rather than the overall number of mentions, which would be more heavily influenced by big fans who post frequently about a specific brand."

One of the things Buzz Study doesn't mention about their ranking is what significance there is of having a top ranking? There is no sentiment study posted showing if buzz is good or bad. You only simply learn if there is a lot of discussion going on across the web. In Chrysler's case, this probably isn't a good thing.

Ford came out on top in the automotive brands and #25 on the all brands Top 50 report. When your CEO is on YouTube Twittering with his Head of Social Media Scott Monty, it isn't that surprising. Plus there are some big campaign pushes in the social space, like The Fiesta Movement.

Brands with very few owners, brand advocates or an older customer will likely not improve much on this list. Also, brands with very limited marketing budgets or no new product news will place low too. That's probably why we see brands like Buick, Mercury, Lincoln, and Suzuki at the bottom.

The surprising one at the end of the list is Infiniti which has a very hot, buzz worthy pool of products like the G37 and FX. This just shows that Infiniti isn't really investing in this space and is not part of their media mix right now. One trite example I did was Google "infiniti social media", one of the top spots for the automotive brand is a enthusiast site. If you don't know, Infiniti hasn't made the G20 for seven years. Point made.

On the other hand, BMW has been very active on Facebook, iPhone (yes I knew iPhone is not social media, but doing things on iPhone generates social media buzz) and has a large amount of brand oriented blogs, even one that I run. Sorry had to promote my other blog for a second. BMW hasn't made any push into Twitter, showing that you don't need to be in every social media environment to have an impact.

It is an interesting report and could be a data point to see how large-scale social media marketing efforts by automotive brands can impact their ranking on Buzz Study's report; though, I'm sure infegy would rather you just purchase their social media tracking product to analyze your efforts.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Fiat Wants You. All Online Expressions of You

With Fiat showing up in the news everyday, I thought it would be interesting to look at how they’re marketing their key product -- the Fiat 500. The 500 campaign is “We have something to say”, but Fiat wants to hear what you have to say so they have provided a self-expression focused digital implementation.

There are several ways for Fiat 500 owners, enthusiasts, and aspirational consumers to express themselves on the 500 Wants You website.

Speak 500 on Video: Send Fiat a video of you saying “500” in your native language.

500 Jingle Video Box
: Create you own soundtrack to share on the homepage or download as a MP3 for your own use. Plus, something called “Dante” will even dance to it.

500 Questionnaire: Take a survey (you can’t now, the survey is closed) to discover how well you and the Fiat can co-exist.

500 Video Configurator: This is a build module that allows you to see your custom built 500 in a video sequence. You can send this to a friend and save it for later view.

Fiat Air Drive
: Showcase you driving a Fiat, well not a real Fiat; rather, something you created with cardboard or similar material. The videos are then shown on YouTube and 10 winners were selected. They each received 16 GB iPod Touch music players.

Feelings of 500: This allows visitors to share their thoughts on a Diesel jeans version of the 500 in 160 words or less.

500 Faces: Morphs a face with a classic image of a Fiat 500. Why? So you can send an e-card of it.

500 Wants a Mascot: Create a mascot inspired by the 500. Who won? “Dante” the dancing thing from the Jingle Video Box.

500 Wants Your Ad: Two winners were chosen from the 14 finalists selected by our professional jury out of the more than 3300 communication ideas for the launch of the new 500.

The Ad and Mascot contests had significant prizes associated with them and ended up in some relatively compelling professional content. The winners from the Ad contest were showcased at Cannes. The mascot winner collected 3,000 euros and the mascot was featured in 500 communications.

As you can tell, Fiat has turned “We have something to say” into listening what you have to say; even if, what you have to say adds more useless content to the Internet. I actually spent some time reviewing the Air Drive, Video Box, and Speak 500 content and, with only one exception – this weird guy, all of the content is disposable and should not take up a byte of data on a server.

Unfortunately, there is very little vehicle content on the 500 Wants You site. The closest thing you could call vehicle content is a 500C Private Preview that showcases a carrousel of photos with your atypical techno festival soundtrack.

The Video Configurator could’ve been useful vehicle content; instead, all it does is label each option but gives you no information about the option and pricing is absent. Of course, this is not a shopping website but it would’ve been useful for Fiat to include some integrated vehicle content to help visitors and potential buyers learn more about the Fiat 500 while browsing the content on this site.

What I do like about the 500 Wants You execution is that it fits with how the 500 buyer sees himself or herself. The 500 allows a lot of customization in its product options and it’s a cute, quirky car that interests people who want to standout, i.e. express themselves on the highway or city streets.

Fiat also extended the self-expression in an experiential way by providing a billboard in Germany that displayed text messages people sent to a number listed on the billboard. Although done before, it was a decent way to extend the self-expression outside of a web browser and webcam.

What I don’t like is that most of the content is boring and unbearable to watch, like most user generated content. Listening to someone say "500" in Romanian lacks a certain viral effectiveness and you wonder why you are watching it.

Fortunately, Fiat found a couple ways to get some quality content through lucrative prizes that engaged its creative, talented consumers. Or, at least, gave one person 3,000 euros to help buy a new 500.