DaimlerChrysler Corp.EMPLOYEE PRICING PLAN PLUS CAMPAIGN
ENGINEERED TO BE GREAT CARS CAMPAIGN
THERE'S ONLY ONE CAMPAIGN
1000 Chrysler Dr.
Auburn Hills, Michigan 48326-2766
Telephone: (248) 576-5741
Web site: www.daimlerchrysler.com
The Chrysler Group, based in Auburn Hills, Michigan, was the American subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler, responsible for the sales, marketing, and manufacturing of vehicles from the Dodge, Chrysler, and Jeep brands. In 2005 one of Chrysler's key competitors, the General Motors Corporation (GM), had planned a major sales initiative that combined price reductions with rebates and promised to make the price of GM vehicles extremely competitive. In an attempt to head off this move the Chrysler Group developed its own program, Employee Pricing Plan Plus, slated for June 2005. The initiative combined regular rebates (cash-back programs for consumers purchasing vehicles) with 4 to 5 percent discounts on the factory price. This led to price reductions of thousands of dollars for certain vehicles.
To spread the word about this new program the Chrysler Group asked its primary advertising agency, BBDO Detroit, to develop a campaign that would alert a wide audience to the steep discounts on Chrysler vehicles. BBDO decided to reach into the automaker's past and bring back Lee Iacocca to serve as the company's spokesperson. Iacocca, who from 1978 to 1992 served as president and then as chairman of Chrysler Group's predecessor, the Chrysler Corporation, had starred in a number of successful television spots on behalf of the automaker during the 1980s. The new spots, however, featured Iacocca in situations unfamiliar to those who remembered him from earlier campaigns. Instead of seriously addressing the camera, Iacocca informed consumers about the Employee Pricing Plan Plus through onscreen discussions with entertainers, his granddaughter (played by an actress), and a television set. One particularly memorable spot featured Iacocca playing golf with gangster-rap pioneer Snoop Dogg. The campaign also used print ads, which did not feature Iacocca.
The campaign was a success. July 2005 sales increased 32 percent over the same month in 2004, convincing Chrysler to extend the Employee Pricing Plan Plus until the end of the model year. Sales for the entire year were up about 5 percent.
The Chrysler Group was a subsidiary of the Germany-based automaker DaimlerChrysler. Headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan, the Chrysler Group was responsible for selling vehicles in the Dodge, Chrysler, and Jeep brands. It was created following the 1998 merger between the Chrysler Corporation and Daimler-Benz. Daimler-Benz itself was formed in 1926 through the merger of two German automakers. While Chrysler had been struggling when it joined forces with Daimler-Benz, by 2004 the company was reporting solid sales growth. That year the Chrysler Group sold more than 2.2 million units of its Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge vehicles, a 4 percent increase from the previous year. The best-selling Chrysler Group vehicle in 2004 was the Dodge Ram pickup, 426,000 of which were moved that year.
The Chrysler Corporation was founded in 1925 by Walter P. Chrysler. Along with the Ford Motor Company and the General Motors Corporation, Chrysler was known as one of the "Big Three" U.S. automobile manufacturers that dominated the international automotive industry through much of the twentieth century. By the 1970s, however, Chrysler was in serious trouble, and it reached near bankruptcy in 1980. The company was saved from bankruptcy in part by a 1980 bailout from the federal government that was engineered by Chrysler's new top executive, Lee Iacocca.
Iacocca became president of Chrysler in 1978 and chairman of the company one year later. In addition to securing federal support, he made substantial changes to how the company operated. He streamlined its management structure by removing many of the company's executives, and he cut costs by negotiating with the powerful United Auto Workers union to institute a reduction in wages and benefits.
By 1983 the company was making enough of a profit to repay all of the money the U.S. government had loaned it in 1980. The company introduced the first minivan in 1984, creating a new market that Chrysler continued to dominate through the beginning of the twenty-first century. Iacocca also became Chrysler's most visible spokesperson, appearing in a long string of television commercials in the 1980s. Most of those spots ended with the executive's famous catchphrase: "If you can find a better car, buy it." He retired from the company in 1992.
In 1995, however, the former savior of the company alienated many at Chrysler when he joined investor Kirk Kerkorian's unsuccessful attempt to take over the company. As a result, relations between Iacocca and the Chrysler Corporation, which later became part of DaimlerChrysler, were strained for much of the next 10 years. The market pressures that Kerkorian's takeover bid exposed later helped push Chrysler to merge with Daimler-Benz.
On July 9, 2005, Chrysler introduced its Employee Pricing Plan Plus program. It was a very competitive mix of reduced prices and consumer rebates (through which customers could earn cash back from vehicles purchased) meant to compete with parallel sales that rival automakers—particularly General Motors—were offering that summer. The program was aimed at all consumers who were often more price-conscious than other buyers and especially at those younger than 49 years of age.
In 2005 the General Motors Corporation (GM) was offering a major price-incentive plan through its dealers, reducing the prices of most GM vehicles. At the time GM was the world's largest automaker as well as the top-selling automobile manufacturer in the United States. Using the tagline "You pay what we pay," GM cut prices aggressively in an attempt to convince consumers that they would get a good deal on a GM car purchased in July 2005. This put the pressure on GM's rivals to match these low prices or get left behind.
During a career that lasted nearly five decades, Lee Iacocca built a reputation as one of the most successful executives in the automotive industry. Most of that time was spent at the Ford Motor Company, where he began his career in 1947. While at Ford, Iacocca helped develop the brand's signature Ford Mustang muscle car. He became president of the company in 1970 but was forced to leave that position in 1978 after a dispute with Henry Ford II, the son of the company's founder. Soon afterward Iacocca joined the Chrysler Corporation as that company's president. He became chairman the following year.
Chrysler's subsequent turnaround from near bankruptcy made Iacocca a major celebrity. His autobiography, Iacocca (published in 1984), topped the best-seller lists, and he became Chrysler's public face, starring in a series of commercials that ran throughout the 1980s. Iacocca's public reputation was so good that many people urged him to run for president of the United States in 1988. He declined. Instead Iacocca continued at Chrysler until his retirement in 1992. He angered many at Chrysler in 1995 by participating in billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian's unsuccessful bid to take control of the company; the situation led to years of acrimony between Iacocca and an organization that many credited him with saving. Chrysler and its onetime hero executive finally patched things up in 2005, when Iacocca became the company's spokesman once again.
To counter GM, the Chrysler Group developed an offer that it dubbed the Employee Pricing Plan Plus. The program covered most Chrysler Group vehicles, including the Chrysler PT Cruiser and the Dodge Ram pickup. Planned for July 2005, the program featured discounts of 4 to 5 percent off the dealer invoice. Any existing rebates would also continue to be honored. The effect was steep reductions in sales prices. For example, the price of the Dodge Durango SUV was cut by up to $9,000 with a rebate.
The Chrysler Group decided to tout its Employee Pricing Plan Plus with a $75 million television campaign to run in July and August 2005. It enlisted advertising agency BBDO Detroit to develop the campaign. BBDO determined that the best way to introduce Chrysler's new pricing program was to turn to someone from the company's past. After a 20-year hiatus from television commercials, Lee Iacocca returned as the pitchman for Chrysler Group vehicles. Although he retired from the company in 1992, Iacocca was still closely identified with the automotive giant. He also maintained a high profile in his own right through his work with the Iacocca Foundation, a charitable organization that raised money for diabetes research. Iacocca had created the foundation in 1984, after the death of his wife. In 2005 he donated his entire paycheck from making the commercials to the foundation. In addition, the Chrysler Group agreed to become a partner of the Iacocca Foundation, pledging to help raise more than $6 million.
The campaign began with three 30-second television spots: "Desk," "Channel Surfing," and "Granddaughter." The first spot, "Desk," featured Iacocca discussing the new pricing plan with Jason Alexander, an actor widely known for his role as George on the hit sitcom Seinfeld. It aired beginning July 9. In the spot "Channel Surfing," Iacocca was shown watching a commercial for Chrysler's 2005 vehicle line. After the commercial for the vehicles ended, Iacocca pointed out that it had failed to mention the company's new Employee Pricing Plan Plus, which he than explained. The spot used Iacocca's outgoing, irreverent personality to connect with audiences.
The third spot, "Granddaughter," used a setup similar to that of "Desk," in which Iacocca was engaged in a conversation with someone about the new "Employee Pricing Plan Plus." This time it was a young girl, said to be his granddaughter (the girl was actually played by an actress). In August the final commercial, "Golfing Buddies," premiered. It depicted Iacocca golfing with famed rapper Snoop Dogg, who was one of the major innovators of the rough-edged "gangster rap" of the early 1990s. The spot's entertainment value came from the incongruousness of the sight of the hip-hop star golfing at a country club with the aging business icon. Adding to the humor was Iacocca's use of hip-hop slang during the spot. All of the commercials featured Iacocca's 1980s tagline, "If you can find a better car, buy it."
Even 13 years after his retirement, Lee Iacocca was a well-known figure who carried high name recognition with consumers. He also had the advantage of being known for his work in the automotive industry; indeed he was arguably the most acclaimed auto executive of his generation. This gave him an ability to connect with car buyers that few could match. Also, he was a proven success as a pitchman, having starred in a number of successful campaigns in the 1980s. The pairings with entertainers Snoop Dogg and Jason Alexander especially caught TV viewers' attention. Even those unswayed by Iacocca's reputation could still find humor in the scenario of the aging executive hanging out with irreverent pop-culture figures.
The Employee Pricing Plan Plus campaign also included a major three-page print spread in USA Today. Referring to the company's competitors, it featured the tagline "First, we beat them at the show. Now, we're taking it to the showroom." Similar print advertisements later ran in local publications throughout the United States. Iacocca was not depicted in the print ads.
The television spots for Chrysler's Employee Pricing Plan Plus were immediately successful. Although only 15 percent of respondents to USA Today's Ad Track survey rated the spots favorably, the commercials produced strong bottom-line results. Sales in July 2005 improved 32 percent over July 2004: the Chrysler Group sold more than 240,000 units that month, a company record for monthly sales. Competitor GM's pricing program, however, generated even bigger sales gains; it moved 41 percent more units in July 2005 than in the previous year. Although the Employee Pricing Plan Plus program was originally slated for July 2005, because of its effectiveness it was extended through the rest of the summer. For the year Chrysler Group saw U.S. sales jump 5 percent, with more than 2.3 million units sold.
The spots worked best with the young driver they were meant to target. In the Ad Track survey 18 percent of consumers aged 25 to 49 stated that they liked the spots a lot, the best of any age group. Between 66 and 74 percent of these respondents recognized Iacocca (it varied depending on the particular commercial). Older viewers, however, were more aware of who Iacocca was. Between 82 percent and 91 percent of respondents aged 50 and over recognized the famed businessman when they saw the commercials.
Clanton, Brett. "Iacocca Back as Chrysler Voice." Detroit News, July 7, 2005.
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――――――. "Hip-Hop Argot Meets Corporate Cant, All to Sell Chryslers." New York Times, August 5, 2005.
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Iacocca, Lee. Iacocca: An Autobiography. With William Novak. New York: Bantam Books, 1984.
――――――. Talking Straight. With Sonny Kleinfield. New York: Bantam Books, 1988.
Maynard, Micheline. "Openers: Suits; Generizzle, Fo' Shizzle." New York Times, November 13, 2005.
Peters, Jeremy W. "'Employee Discounts' Push July Auto Sales to a Record." New York Times, August 3, 2005.
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Guy Patrick Cunningham
Automobile advertising has historically constituted not only one of the most visible but also, in sheer dollar volume, one of the largest aspects of the marketing industry. Thus in the 1990s Chrysler, which in 1998 merged with German automaker Daimler-Benz to create DaimlerChrysler AG, had an advertising budget of $1 billion. This certainly dwarfed the budgets of most companies, but even the amount it dedicated to its Chrysler line in 1998—as opposed to other lines such as Plymouth or Jeep—was impressive at an estimated $200 million. Michigan agency Bozell, Southfield handled the entire account, which included television, radio, and print advertising, with an emphasis on television. The company's overall theme was "Great cars. Great trucks." As for the Chrysler brand itself, it replaced its 1997 campaign, "What's in Your World?," with the tag line "Engineered to be great cars."
Chrysler's 1998 advertising promoted models such as the Concorde and the LHS, the latter introduced in 1994. But the biggest news was the 300M, a semiluxury model whose design suggested earlier styles. And well it might, for the M in its name signified a return to the popular 300 "letter series" of the 1950s and 1960s. During that time Chrysler had produced a new model each year, identified by successive letters of the alphabet. The launch of the 300M also marked the return of a distinctive winged logo that Chrysler had not used for more than 60 years.
Advertising for the 300M and other lines emphasized luxury in an attempt to overcome negative images associated with the company's recent past. In the 1970s Chrysler had nearly gone bankrupt, and even under the leadership of the charismatic Lee Iacocca in the 1980s, it had been unable to shake the perception of its product as drab and utilitarian. Perhaps it was ironic then that Chrysler's 1998 advertising also stressed the theme of heritage. But in this case "heritage" suggested something much larger than the company's actual history; rather, the theme carried with it images of a luxurious past—and a prosperous future.
In 1920 the Maxwell Motor Car Company hired former General Motors (GM) vice president Walter Chrysler to turn around its failing enterprise. Chrysler became president of the revitalized company in 1923 and in the following year introduced the Chrysler model with a distinctive winged symbol as its trademark. A year later, in 1925, the company was renamed Chrysler, and in 1928 it purchased Dodge, a company that produced the Plymouth and DeSoto lines.
After a strong start, however, by mid century Chrysler began to slip. At a time when rivals GM and Ford, responding to postwar prosperity, regularly introduced new models, innovation at Chrysler came to a standstill. The company even dropped the winged symbol in the mid-1930s, adding to the impression of Chryslers as unexciting cars. Then, in the mid-1950s, the automaker showed that it still retained Walter Chrysler's ability—Chrysler himself had retired in 1935—to revive his company's fortunes.
"In 1955," wrote Jennifer Lach in American Demographics in 1998, "Chrysler needed a new icon. It had no [Chevrolet] Corvette, no [Ford] Thunderbird for young crew-cuts in blue jeans to drool over. That was the year the company found its muscle car: the C-300." Promoted as "America's most powerful car," the C-300 proved enormously popular, and during the next decade Chrysler introduced a new model every year, each with a letter attached to the end of the name. With the 300Lin 1965, however, the so-called letter series ended.
Chrysler itself fell on hard times in the 1960s and 1970s. First it introduced smaller models before the public was ready for them, and then it returned to larger vehicles just in time for the oil crisis of the 1970s. The company persisted in producing gas-guzzlers throughout the decade, and soon Chrysler was in so much trouble that it applied for and received $1.5 billion worth of loan guarantees from the federal government.
Iacocca, former Ford president, became head of Chrysler in 1978, launching yet another turnaround. During the 1980s the company paid off its government loans, beat its competitors by introducing the first minivan, and introduced a series of sturdy if unexciting vehicles called "K cars." Iacocca left the company in 1992, and in 1998 it was acquired by Daimler-Benz, a vast European auto manufacturer whose best-known product was the upscale Mercedes-Benz.
With the Chrysler 300M sedan, launched in 1998, the company made a push for mature, prosperous buyers with a penchant for luxury. The target for the 300M model, according to Jean Halliday in Advertising Age, was people 35 years of age and older, with buyers expected to be about 40 percent female. For its LHS sedan, another luxury model first introduced in 1994, the company expected buyers to be 45 years old and older, with about 30 percent female. Its appeal was to what Lach in American Demographics called the "near-luxury" segment.
Hence the emphasis on heritage, certainly not a theme a company would apply in marketing to very young consumers, along with a program of marketing in a number of venues, many of them decidedly upscale. The first print ads for the 1998 line appeared in October 1997 in Coastal Living, Food and Wine, Vogue, GQ, Martha Stewart's Living, and a number of other publications, including the more broadly based Business Week and Sports Illustrated.
Television advertising ran the gamut, though again the thrust was toward more seasoned viewers. Hence the company placed spots on ABC's Nightline and NBC's Tonight Show, as well as on ABC and CBS telecasts of college football. Other television advertising in the 1998 campaign also placed an emphasis on mature viewers. Thus in January the company ran its "Wings" spot on the telecast of the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic golf tournament, the Golden Globes film awards, and the popular show ER. Meanwhile, Chrysler eyed the demographics of the future. Chrysler executive Steven Bruyn told Lach that the company already had its eye on the 2003 market, when it predicted that what were called "personal luxury cars"—that is, two-seater sports cars—would be all the rage. "Once the kids are gone" to college, an industry analyst suggested, "[baby] boomers are going to trade in their SUVs [sport utility vehicles] and indulge in a two-seater."
On the one hand, Chrysler faced its traditional foes in the U.S. auto industry: Ford, whose Lincoln Continental line competed with Chrysler's luxury models, and GM, with its Buick Park Avenue and other models. On the other hand, there were the many upscale imports such as the Lexus and the BMW. But the theme that appeared again and again, as the advertising and automotive industries examined the "new" Chrysler—both the car and the company—was that of the company's own conflicts over image.
GETTING INSIDE CONSUMERS' BRAINS
"At first glance," wrote Jeffrey Ball in the Wall Street Journal, "DaimlerChrysler AG's new PT Cruiser looks like a massive gamble. Set to go on sale starting at about $16,000 early next year , it's part 1920s gangster car, part 1950s hot rod, and part London taxicab." Yet as Ball went on to relate, its creation was the product of a thorough and innovative new program in marketing research that would soon find imitators if it proved successful. Chrysler, which dubbed its new offering "a sure-fire 'segment buster,'" certainly believed so.
French-born medical anthropologist G. Clotaire Rapaille, who had first gained notoriety for his experiments with teaching language to children with severe autism, oversaw the studies. Using theories related to a "mental imprint," Rapaille set out to help Chrysler discover consumers' "reptilian hot button"—an instinctive, preverbal part of the brain that would show what they really wanted. The result was what Ball described as "a series of freewheeling, three-hour focus-group sessions in the U.S. and Europe."
Having shown participants a prototype of the vehicle, Rapaille presented them with questions such as "I'm from another planet and I don't even know what you do with that [vehicle]. What is the purpose of this thing?" In what Ball described as the "most bizarre—but also the most productive" part of the sessions, Rapaille "dimmed the lights, began playing tapes of soothing music, and told the group to relax their bodies." He then gave them pen and paper and asked them to write stories about the vehicle prototype. The stories revealed, in Rapaille's words, the view that "it's a jungle out there … People want to kill me, rape me. Give me a big thing like a tank."
Indeed, image problems perhaps posed the greatest competition to Chrysler. "To some," wrote Robyn Meredith in the Houston Chronicle in January 1998, "the Chrysler name conjures the image not of a car but rather of a company that taxpayers bailed out of near-bankruptcy almost two decades ago." Tanya Gazdik and Teresa Buyikian noted in Adweek at the same time that "Chrysler is hoping to change customers' perception of its brand with a new spot breaking on Jan. 11." Chrysler/Plymouth/Jeep division general manager Marty Levine admitted that "consumers still see the 'K cars' of the 1980s when they think of the brand."
With its new campaign, David Kiley wrote in Brandweek, Chrysler hoped to "boost sales of Chrysler brand, which has underperformed expectations, and close the gap between what the company feels is the reality of Chrysler brand cars and the lingering perception of dullness left over from the brand's dowdy days in the 1970s and '80s." It faced what Meredith in the Houston Chronicle called "an identify crisis, the root of which is the name the brand shares with its corporate parent."
With its 1998 campaign, which first appeared in September 1997, Chrysler and Bozell sought to firmly imprint the company's brand image in consumers' minds with an emphasis on heritage and luxury. Its overall corporate theme remained the same: "Great cars. Great trucks." But in place of Bozell's earlier tag line, "What's in your world?," the new campaign was built around the phrase "Engineered to be great cars." Advertising included television, radio, and print, but as was often the case with automobile advertising, TV led the way.
Television advertising prominently featured the "new" Chrysler winged logo—actually the old one, resurrected after a hiatus of more than 60 years. Jay Kuhnie, Chrysler-Plymouth communications manager, announced in a press release to accompany the launch that "Chrysler's winged badge symbolizes the [company's] proud heritage of design and engineering while serving as a hallmark for the brand." Three of the four TV spots were entitled "Badge," "Decisions," and "Sunbeam," and the initial launch also included six print ads. Both print and TV showed champagne-colored vehicles, which the company had selected because of their elegant appearance, and a print ad for Chrysler Town & Country announced that the car was "what a penthouse looks like on the ground floor." In total Chrysler ran 17 electronic spots and 23 print ads for all lines, including Plymouth, Jeep, and Eagle.
The second salvo of advertising appeared on network television in January, during the National Football League play-offs leading up to the Super Bowl. According to Gazdik and Buyikian in Adweek, "The spot, set to ethereal music, features a montage of winged objects, such as butterflies and airplanes, intertwined with champagne-colored Chryslers." This was the "Wings" spot, in which a voice-over announced, "For ideas to take flight they must have wings." Soon afterward the company ran a number of TV spots and print ads for the Chrysler Concorde, advertising that a January 15 press release stated would "develop the concept of 'ideas in flight.'"
To promote the 300M in May, the company brought out perhaps the most distinctive of its television ads, one it had actually begun creating more than four decades before. "Chrysler uncovered an old industrial film," wrote Halliday in Advertising Age, "with Bob Roger, chief engineer on those cars [the letter series], and many of his comments from snippets of the film appear in three new 30-second spots for the entry-luxury 300M." The new spots added a tag line to go with "Engineered to be great cars," announcing, "The technology has changed. But the soul lives on."
"Bringing a car to market is a $1 billion to $4 billion investment," Bruyn told Lach in American Demographics. "As a result, you like to be right." By the end of the year it appeared that Chrysler had been. According to information compiled by the Automotive News Data Center, in one month—August 1998—Chrysler sold nearly 4,500 of the new 300Ms. This was more than one-third of the car's total sales since it had appeared earlier in the year. Within the so-called near-luxury market, the 300M already had a 10.8 percent share, a figure exceeded only by the Volvo 70 series and the Lexus ES 300.
Chrysler appeared to be on the upswing, and increased sales spread to other models. Meanwhile, it prepared to launch its PT Cruiser, an unusual-looking entrant in the sport utility category that Jeffrey Ball of the Wall Street Journal described as "part 1920s gangster car, part 1950s hot rod, and part London taxicab." The vehicle was the product of an innovative strategy in marketing research pioneered by French medical anthropologist G. Clotaire Rapaille. Rapaille's studies with language and his attempts to teach autistic children in Switzerland during the 1960s led him to the ideas that he believed would help researchers discover consumers' hidden and most instinctive desires. Whatever the results of the PT Cruiser, it was sure to live up to the promise of a Chrysler engineer, who told Ball, "We didn't make a generic vehicle."
The PT Cruiser's unusual design was a hallmark of Chrysler's strategy: melding the best of the past with the most prominent elements of the future. Wrote Lach, "The egg-crate grille [of the 300M] harks back to earlier styles in the letter series, and simple analog dials dot the dashboard." Inside, however, the car suggested quite a different era, with plush leather seats, a climate-control system, and a nine-speaker stereo system. Given the company's interest in marketing to the future—which included changing demographics, with more and more baby boomers becoming empty nesters—Lach asked, "Is a 300 convertible on Chrysler's drawing board? Only time will tell."
Ball, Jeffrey. "But Does It Make You Feel?" Wall Street Journal, May 3, 1999, p. B1.
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Gazdik, Tanya. "Bozell Gives Chrysler New Look: Bozell Worldwide to Handle Spot TV and Print Ads for the Automaker." Adweek (Midwest Edition), September 15, 1997, p. 2.
Gazdik, Tanya, and Teresa Buyikian. "3 Automakers Unveil New Campaigns for 1998." Adweek (Eastern Edition), January 5, 1998, p. 10.
Halliday, Jean. "Chrysler Moves into 'Great' '98 Model Advertising: New Ads Begin This Week as Part of Nearly $1 Bill in Ad Spending." Advertising Age, September 15, 1997, p. 4.
――――――. "New Chrysler Sedan Looks to Past for Ad Inspiration: Snippets from Old Film Used in New Campaign." Advertising Age, May 4, 1998, p. 8.
Kiley, David. "Chrysler Set to Break Flurry of Ads for Corporate, Chrysler, Plymouth; Launches a New Ad Campaign for Its Chrysler & Plymouth Brands." Brandweek, September 15, 1997, p. 7.
Lach, Jennifer. "Boomers on the Drawing Board." American Demographics, November 1, 1998, p. 48.
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Washington, Frank S. "Chrysler Ads Stress Engineering, Power." Automotive News, September 15, 1997, p. 36.
NOTE: Since the initial appearance of this essay in the 1998 edition of Major Marketing Campaigns Annual, The Chrysler Corp. merged with German automaker Daimler-Benz to create DaimlerChrysler. The essay continues to refer to the company's former name, as that was the official name of the organization when the campaign was launched.
In the 1990s Chrysler Corporation ran a prolonged branding campaign for its four-wheel-drive Jeeps. Although Jeep was one of the oldest and best-known sport utility brands in the United States, it had encountered intense competition as the popularity of four-wheel-drive automobiles (dubbed "sport utility vehicles," or SUVs) exploded among American consumers. In order to bolster the Jeep brand, Chrysler directed the advertising agency Bozell Worldwide, Inc. to create a television advertising campaign for Jeep's product line: the Jeep Wrangler, Jeep Cherokee, and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Three of the ads, "Snow Covered," "El Toro," and "Quicksand," were designed not only to elevate sales but also to distinguish Jeep from the 40-odd other models of SUVs that were flooding the market and vying for consumers' new car dollars.
To reach its upscale target market, Jeep chose to run its ads primarily during highly rated, prime-time network television shows and special events. "Snow Covered," "El Toro," and "Quicksand" each used a combination of humor and fantasy to catch viewers' attention, and each was an element of what Bozell's managing partner and creative director Bill Morden termed "the consistent, constant visual of building the brand." "Snow Covered," a 60-second spot that first aired during the 1994 Winter Olympics, had, according to USA Today, "one of the longest runs of any TV ad produced by a car company." The commercial featured a Jeep burrowing under a deep blanket of snow as an arresting way of conveying the power and tenacity of the vehicle. Interestingly, the ad did not picture an actual Jeep model. The 30-second "Quicksand," which debuted in September 1995, showed a Jeep Grand Cherokee trapped in a tropical landscape by a massive water buffalo that refuses to move out of the way. After the car sinks down into a mire of quicksand, the buffalo ambles away. The Jeep then drives itself up out of the muck and goes on its way. "El Toro," another 30-second spot, first aired in September 1996. It depicts the romantic attraction of two animals for a bright red Jeep Grand Cherokee. The car is first pursued by a bull and drives into a river to escape. As the car emerges, dirty, muddy, and dripping, it is chased by a smitten pig.
Although Jeep could not draw a direct correlation between the television commercials and its sales figures, it pronounced itself pleased with the results of the campaign. Jeep sales rose during the period the ads were being broadcast, and polls demonstrated their popularity with consumers. In addition, the ads won a number of advertising awards, generating further publicity for Jeep and its vehicles.
The Jeep brand originated during World War II when the U.S. Army required a rugged vehicle that could master off-road terrain and the brutal conditions of battle. Partly because of Jeep's popularity among American GIs, the American Motor Corporation continued to produce the sturdy car after the war. Seemingly half-car and half-truck, the vehicle with its four-wheel-drive capacity had a reputation for being able to go anywhere. Jeep never lost the macho image it garnered during the war. It was a car for the outdoors, for the rugged individual, for the free spirit. In the 1980s, however, a growing market for "passenger-friendly" four-wheel-drive vehicles developed. Drivers wanted the robust look and image of a four-wheel drive outside but the comfort and smoothness of a sedan inside. Jeep responded by shifting its product line, discontinuing some models, and introducing new ones to conform to this trend.
Jeep Cherokee first came on the market in 1984 and quickly attained great popularity. Jeep Wrangler, a smaller and more economically-priced model, appeared in 1986. The following year Chrysler Corporation acquired the American Motor Corporation and incorporated Jeep into its new Jeep/Eagle division. In 1993 Chrysler launched the Jeep Grand Cherokee, a luxurious and premium-priced four-wheel-drive vehicle, with a slew of amenities. By the mid-1990s these three models made up the whole of Jeep's product line. The Wrangler, which in 1997 cost about $13,000, appealed to a younger market. The Cherokee, on the other hand, suited a slightly older consumer who might need more space for a growing family. Finally, the Grand Cherokee, with optional leather seats, was the four-wheel-drive vehicle for the affluent consumer who appreciated the luxury of the model but also sought the cachet of the Jeep brand.
Jeep's product line was evolving in tune with the American car market. By 1997 pickup trucks, SUVs, and minivans—all three were termed "light trucks"—accounted for one out of every two vehicles sold in the United States. Indeed, the sale of sport utility vehicles increased 74 percent in 1997 alone. According to the London Independent, analysts expected SUV sales to rise an additional 35 percent by 2006. Even more noteworthy was the fact that the fastest growing sector of this market was for the so-called luxury SUVs, which included the Jeep Grand Cherokee. The company's website explained the allure: "This vehicle is proof you can have a true off-road vehicle without giving up … luxuries and amenities."
The higher-end sport utility vehicles appealed to a far different group of consumers than the early Jeep models: the average Jeep Grand Cherokee buyer was 44-years old. Advertising Age declared that the success of the car was "largely due to the acceptance of upscale SUVs by buyers in their forties." The vast majority of sport utility vehicle drivers no longer even took their cars off-road. Rather, the appeal of the SUVs was due more to the perception that they were safer than smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. Not only were SUVs a great deal larger and heavier (they weighed about 5,000 pounds) than the average car, they also afforded the driver a clearer view of the road because they were so tall. As The Fort Worth Star-Telegram asserted, "Sport utility vehicles appeal to an aging population desperately seeking security at a time of corporate downsizing, family breakups, and crime." Moreover, by providing more cargo and passenger space, SUVs were ideal for families.
But more than anything else, an SUV-like Jeep provided a crucial intangible factor—image. A spokesperson for Mercedes-Benz told the London Independent that SUVs were "an expression of individuality, lifestyle, and an active enjoyment of life." Both men and women enjoyed the sense of power and hearty individualism that Jeep seemed to convey.
Jeep's advertising sought to reinforce that image. "Snow Covered," which did not portray an actual Jeep model, was solely a brand-building campaign. "Quicksand" and "El Toro" specifically touted the Grand Cherokee, but Bozell's Morden emphasized that "every ad we do is a deposit in that brand equity bank." According to USA Today, the three spots used fantasy and humor "to appeal to the company's yuppie target."
The commercials reached out to their target not only through humor but also through their narrative structure. Unlike the "standard" car commercial, the Jeep spots were not catalogs of features. Instead, they told a story that was intended to captivate the audience and communicate to them the values and nature of the brand. Each of the three spots played on key themes: Jeep's ability to bring the driver into nature; to afford the driver the "reach" to go anywhere and do anything in a Jeep; and to give the driver the mastery and capability the brand promised. "Quicksand" and "El Toro" were specifically designed to remind the viewer that the Grand Cherokee was not just another luxury car. According to Morden, the commercials told their target audience that "underneath all the leather, it's still a Jeep."
Jeep was not the only brand of sport utility vehicle trying to attract the wealthy yuppie with the soul of an adventurer. In fact, the SUV segment of the auto industry had become one of the most crowded. The number of SUV models surged from 21 in 1987 to nearly 50 ten years later. All told, by 1997 SUV sales accounted for 15 percent of total new car sales. "When we created 'Snow Covered' in 1994 we pretty much stood alone," said Bill Morden. "But now there are 60 or 70 commercials a week trying to do the same thing as us." Jeep's competition encroached on both the high and low ends of the SUV sector. Toyota's Land Cruiser and 4Runner, Chevrolet's Suburban, Land Rover, Range Rover, Mercedes-Benz's M-Class, Lexus's RX300, and Lincoln-Mercury's Mountaineer presented fierce competition for the more upscale new car buyer Jeep sought to attract to its Grand Cherokee. On the other end of the spectrum, Toyota's RAV4, Geo's Tracker, Suzuki's Samurai, and Mitsubishi's Montero threatened to encroach on the less affluent, younger crowd who had previously coveted the Jeep brand and purchased the more affordable Wrangler or Cherokee. By 1996 the Ford Explorer had risen to become the best-selling sport utility vehicle with an 18.8 percent market share. The Grand Cherokee was second, with 13 percent. Cherokee and Wrangler were fourth and ninth, respectively, with 6.9 percent and 3.8 percent.
Jeep's competitors also initiated their own big-budget campaigns. Lexus launched a campaign for its 1999 RX300 that used the tag line, "It's not just another sport utility. It's like no other vehicle on earth." Lexus, like Jeep's Grand Cherokee, targeted consumers in their early 40s. Both Ford and Mercury's marketing efforts for the Explorer and the Mountaineer stressed the versatility and practicality of the vehicles. Ford spent an estimated $44.3 million advertising the Explorer and Expedition in 1996, while Toyota devoted $37.7 million to the 4Runner. In an effort to prevail in this fiercely competitive market, however, Jeep outspent its competitors by a substantial margin. In 1996 Chrysler spent $76.3 million marketing the Grand Cherokee, as well as an additional $42.5 million on the Cherokee and $21.6 million on the Wrangler.
As the self-proclaimed leader in the SUV sector, Jeep shied away from overtly acknowledging its numerous competitors in the ads. "We seldom, if ever, compare ourselves specifically to other brands," Morden said. Instead, Bozell created commercials that attempted to connect consumers with the benefits of the brand on a more emotional level. "It's all personality," Gary Topolewski, executive creative director and managing partner at Bozell, told Adweek. "Cars are an emotional purchase. Bottom line, you want to feel good about the car you're driving." Few Jeep spots featured the aptly named "laundry list of features." Instead, Jeep used the narrative style ads in order to distinguish itself from other SUV campaigns.
Jeep chose to bring its message to a more "upscale, forward-thinking audience," said Morden. In order to do so, the company pinpointed select prime-time television shows to carry the ads. "Snow Covered" aired on such programs as the 1994 Winter Olympics and the 1997 Aloha Bowl. "Quicksand" was seen on shows such as ABC's 20/20 and NBC's National Geographic, as well as during Fox Network's broadcasts of the National Hockey League's conference semifinals and finals and NBC's airings of the National Basketball Association's play-off games. "El Toro" ran during popular shows like Mad About You, Murder One, and Star Trek Voyager, as well as on NBC's broadcasts of National Football League games.
"Snow Covered," "Quicksand," and "El Toro" won the admiration of the advertising industry. In 1994 "Snow Covered" won the coveted Grand Prix Award at the Cannes Festival. Analysts lauded both Jeep and Bozell for the witty and innovative ads. Certainly the polished ads helped to bolster Jeep's image as the preeminent SUV on the market. As USA Today commented, "Innovative ads get noticed."
Although Bozell was quick to assert that drawing a direct correlation between sales figures and specific ads was difficult at best, Morden did assert that "these spots continued to fit Jeep products into the brand. People saw them as being very positive to the brand's identity." Jeep sales soared 13 percent the year Jeep took home the Grand Prix for the spot. In addition, USA Today's Ad Track consumers survey revealed that it ranked as one of the ten best-liked ads of 1997; thereby proving its popularity.
THE AMERICAN APPEAL
Jeep's rugged and outdoorsy image appealed to consumers outside of the American market, too. In England, where Jeep's most direct competition was Range Rover, ads for the Grand Cherokee played up the quintessential "Americanness" of the Jeep brand. Commercials featured shots of Western landscapes filled with sunsets, open spaces, and tough dirt roads. English consumers responded strongly to these images and to the Jeep mystique.
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Jeep was a division of the Chrysler Group, a Detroit-based subsidiary of the DaimlerChrysler Corporation that was responsible for the manufacturing, sale, and marketing of the Chrysler, Jeep, and Dodge brands in the United States. The Grand Cherokee, which was introduced in 1992, was a major vehicle for Jeep. It had helped initiate the market for smooth-handling, road-friendly, midsize sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) in the 1990s and was still a leader in that category. Competition from other midsize vehicles, such as the Ford Explorer, combined with customer migration to both bigger and smaller SUVs meant that by 2000 the Grand Cherokee had to fight to hold onto its market share.
Jeep enlisted ad agency Foote Cone & Belding (FCB) to run a new campaign for model year 2001 that was intended to help Jeep stand out in a crowded field. The effort, titled "There's Only One," centered around "Shake," a humorous spot that featured a muddy Grand Cherokee shaking itself clean in the manner of a dog. First airing in the fall of 2000, it attempted to show consumers that, even though the Grand Cherokee was a luxury midsize SUV, it was still rugged and hard-nosed, just like Jeeps had always been. The campaign's tagline, "Jeep—There's Only One," subtly built on Jeep's name recognition and status as an originator of the off-road and SUV categories. The brand's greatest asset was its name; ever since the vehicle's wide use by the U.S. military during World War II, Jeep had been one of the most recognizable brands in the world. The company wanted to capitalize on this as much as it could.
The "Shake" spot was a big hit with critics and took home a Bronze Clio in 2001 in the television/film commercial category. It also helped the Grand Cherokee to be recognized—according to surveys conducted by automobile-industry data collectors R.L. Polk & Co.—as the midsize SUV with the highest degree of customer loyalty in 2001.
The Jeep name originally referred to a military vehicle widely in use by the U.S. Army during World War II. Combining elements of a car, a truck, and an armored vehicle, its durability and ability to travel made it essential to the war effort. The Jeep was developed by the Willys-Overland company of Toledo, Ohio, though other manufacturers also built Jeeps during the war. After the conflict was over, Willys began to market the brand to civilians. The High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (also called the Humvee, or Hummer), a larger, more heavily armored vehicle, later came to replace the Jeep for most military uses.
Jeep had a number of owners, including American Motors, before being scooped up by Chrysler in the late 1980s. Chrysler was one of Detroit's most profitable companies in the 1980s, but by the end of the following decade its fortunes had begun to fade. In 1998 the automaker merged with German car manufacturer Daimler-Benz (most famous for its Mercedes brand automobiles), creating the DaimlerChrysler Corporation/DaimlerChrysler AG. Jeep became a part of the Chrysler Group, a subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler that also handled the manufacture, sales, and marketing of the Chrysler and Dodge brands.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee was first introduced at the 1992 North American International Auto Show. It replaced the Grand Wagoneer as Jeep's midsize SUV. The vehicle was larger than the original Cherokee, which, along with the Wrangler, served as Jeep's touchtone vehicle. It helped create a new market for midsize, rugged SUVs. Despite its off-road capabilities, the vehicle proved popular with suburban and urban drivers, and it was one of the leading SUVs throughout the 1990s. It offered a roomier, more luxurious feel than many other midsize SUVs in the early 1990s.
In 1998 Jeep introduced the second generation of the Grand Cherokee, radically redesigning the car in the face of competition from the Ford Explorer and Chevrolet TrailBlazer. The new Grand Cherokee featured the Quadra-Drive system, which helped the driver maintain control of the vehicle even if only one wheel had traction. This improved the Grand Cherokee's offroad performance and made it safer in the snow. It also featured a powerful V-8 engine and a driver-side airbag. This second-generation model proved so successful that Jeep did not significantly alter the Grand Cherokee again until model year 2005.
Unfortunately, the SUV market was starting to get crowded. Smaller imports, such as the Honda Odyssey, had begun to make tentative inroads into the U.S. market. Also alarming from the Grand Cherokee's point of view was the rise of larger luxury SUVs, such as the Cadillac Escalade. With younger, lower-income SUV drivers buying smaller imports and wealthier buyers moving on to bigger vehicles, midsize SUVs felt a crunch. By 2001 these larger and smaller SUVs had seen their market shares rise 37 percent and 42 percent, respectively. Meanwhile the midsize category remained flat. This presented a challenge. Jeep had to distinguish itself and the Grand Cherokee from an ever-growing field of rivals within the SUV market.
The Grand Cherokee was a midsize SUV. These vehicles had proven particularly successful at connecting with image-conscious families who wanted a large vehicle to transport their children but did not want to buy a "stuffy" minivan. Also, the Grand Cherokee's size and Quadra-Drive system gave it a reputation among drivers as a safe car, one that would offer good handling in the snow and protect the driver in the event of a crash. The safety aspect appealed to suburban moms and dads. In addition, the Grand Cherokee was an imposing vehicle, and it had considerable off-road capabilities. This made it popular among males in their 20s and 30s who were looking for a rugged, fun car.
Despite efforts by Toyota, Honda, and Nissan, the primary competition for the Grand Cherokee came from fellow American midsize SUVs, such as the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Ford Explorer, and Dodge Durango. In fact, these four vehicles together commanded a whopping 72.9 percent of the midsize-SUV market share in the United States.
Though Chrysler Group stablemate the Dodge Durango also competed with the Grand Cherokee, GM's Chevrolet TrailBlazer and especially the highly successful Ford Explorer were considered to be the major competitors for Jeep. The Explorer, available in two- and four-door models, was the leading vehicle in the segment in terms of sales. In fact, the Explorer had been the top-selling vehicle in the segment every year since its introduction in 1991, and by 1998 Ford was selling more than 430,000 units of the vehicle in the United States alone. The Explorer especially appealed to families because of its smooth ride and attractive appearance. That helped the Explorer stand out in a crowded segment. Jeep wanted its new campaign to accomplish something similar for the Grand Cherokee.
THE JEEP EXHIBIT
In 2000 Jeep released its "There's Only One" campaign. The campaign's tagline underscored the Jeep's iconic status as an off-road vehicle; the Jeep was developed by the Willys-Overland Motors for use in World War II. But DaimlerChrysler wanted to recognize the iconic brand's history in a more direct way. In honor of Jeep's 60th anniversary, in 2001 the Walter P. Chrysler Museum, in Auburn Hills, Michigan, created an exhibit titled "The Mighty Jeep: A Legend Turns 60." It featured the original Jeep along with 26 other vehicles and prototypes. The Walter P. Chrysler Museum, which opened in 1999, was created by DaimlerChrysler to spotlight the history of its American vehicles. This served in part to offset the fact that Chrysler—one of the "Big Three" U.S. automakers—in 1998 came under the control of a European parent, DaimlerChrysler AG.
Jeep sought a clever campaign that would emphasize the Grand Cherokee's reputation as a rugged vehicle that could be taken off-road, while also distinguishing the vehicle and the brand from the flood of SUVs on the market. To implement its new plan, Jeep turned to Foote Cone & Belding (FCB), a Southfield, Michigan-based subsidiary of True North Communications. FCB had a long history working with the brand, and Jeep was confident in the agency's abilities. The campaign would include billboards and print ads focusing on the vehicle's rugged appearance. The key to the campaign, however, was a new television spot called "Shake."
FCB hired Gerard de Thame Films, a production company based in London, to put the spot together. It was directed by Gerard de Thame, who had previously directed music videos for the famed British musician Sting. The commercial, which first aired in fall of 2000, began with a mud-coated Cherokee pulling into a suburban driveway. After a couple got out of the Cherokee and walked toward the house, the vehicle shook itself off in a quick back-and-forth motion reminiscent of a dog. Now mud was everywhere, including all over the couple who owned the car. A voice-over then said, "Even though the Jeep Grand Cherokee is more refined and civilized than ever, it still hasn't lost its animal instincts." The spot closed with the campaign's tagline, "Jeep—There's Only One." The humor of the spot allowed the company to spotlight Jeep's rugged reputation in a subtle way. By revealing a clean-cut suburban couple to be the drivers of the muddy Grand Cherokee, the spot implied that even Grand Cherokee drivers who lived in the suburbs had "messy" wild sides.
The campaign's tagline, "There's Only One," also called to mind the Jeep's storied past. The vehicle's ubiquity in the military during the massive mobilization for World War II injected it straight into popular culture. By 1942 the vehicle merited a mention in the film Holiday Inn, starring Fred Astaire. The Jeep, with its distinctive vertical front grille, quickly became an icon and would become synonymous with rugged, off-road vehicles. Even by 2000, with SUVs a major force in the U.S. auto market, many people still referred to every vehicle in the class as a "jeep." The "There's Only One" tagline was a subtle reminder that these "jeeps" were not the same thing as a real Jeep. It also underscored Jeep's position as the longtime leader in the SUV category.
The campaign was a solid success, and the "Shake" commercial was awarded a Bronze Clio in the television/film category. A Clio was one of advertising's most prestigious awards. The Clio Awards originated in the late 1950s as a way to honor the best in advertising. Subsequent television spots continued to underscore what people loved about the Grand Cherokee. In October 2001 the Polk Automotive Loyalty Awards were announced, and the Grand Cherokee was ranked the number-one SUV for customer loyalty. The awards were given annually by the Michigan-based R.L. Polk & Co., a firm that collected and analyzed information about the automotive industry.
Despite Jeep's satisfaction with Foote Cone & Belding's work, the Chrysler Group dropped the agency in late 2000, in the interest of consolidating all of the company's advertising and marketing efforts with one firm. It awarded its account to Omnicom, an agency that had been working with other Chrysler brands. Later that year Foote Cone & Belding became a part of the New York-based Interpublic Group.
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Guy Patrick Cunningham