Omnicom Agencies Invited to Pitch for Jeep Assignment

Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda Has Criticized Ads From Incumbent BBDO Detroit

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- Chrysler Group has invited a "limited number" of undisclosed Omnicom Group agencies to pitch for a Jeep brand assignment, the automaker said.
Despite a broadened lineup -- it's launching its seventh model, the Patriot compact SUV -- Jeep sold 460,052 vehicles in the U.S. last year, 3% fewer than in 2005, according to the automaker.
Despite a broadened lineup -- it's launching its seventh model, the Patriot compact SUV -- Jeep sold 460,052 vehicles in the U.S. last year, 3% fewer than in 2005, according to the automaker.

The Jeep incumbent, Omnicom Group's BBDO Detroit, Troy, Mich., can participate in the fast-track pitch, said Jason Vines, VP-communications, and a decision is expected within weeks. "We're looking at getting the best out of Jeep and are looking within Omnicom," he said.

Dissatisfaction with recent work
CEO Tom LaSorda has vocalized his displeasure with some of BBDO Detroit's work in recent months. Mr. LaSorda assumed control over marketing, ordering George Murphy, senior VP-marketing, to report directly to him after the sudden departure two months ago of Joe Eberhardt, who as VP-sales and marketing oversaw Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler advertising.

Last week Mr. LaSorda panned a Jeep ad proposed by BBDO that featured designer Ralph Giles, VP-Jeep truck, according to two executives close to the matter.

Mr. Vines declined to comment on any proposed work, saying only that Mr. LaSorda liked a lot of what he saw from BBDO.

Jeep, which had just three models in 2004, is launching its seventh model, the Patriot compact sport utility vehicle. The Chrysler Group brand has the broadest lineup in its 66-year history.

Fragmented product offerings
Todd Turner, president of auto consultant CarConcepts, said he is concerned Jeep is fragmenting its product offerings into too many pieces. The expansion is increasing Jeep's marketing costs: Jeep spent $269 million in measured media in the first 11 months of 2006 -- $2.3 million more than in the same period in 2005, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Mr. Turner said the 2007 Patriot could hurt sales of the Compass compact SUV, Jeep's first front-wheel-drive model, which is positioned as an urban vehicle. The seven-seat Jeep Commander SUV, launched in fall 2005, is eating into sales of sibling Grand Cherokee and is expected to be discontinued in a year or so, Mr. Turner said.

Mr. Vines said the automaker knew early there would be "some cannibalizing" of Grand Cherokee sales by the Commander because many loyal Grand Cherokee owners needed more room.

Sales slipping
Despite a broadened lineup, Jeep sold 460,052 units last year in the U.S., 3% fewer than the 476,532 sold in 2005, according to the automaker. Jeep's peak year was 1999, when it sold more than 544,000 vehicles. There were fewer SUV competitors then, and sales of large and mid-size SUVs suffered last year due to high gas prices.

Mr. Eberhardt opted to launch the youth-targeted Compass last summer in the general market with a blitz featuring bobbleheads in the SUV from Jeep's multicultural agency, GlobalHue, Southfield, Mich. Several dealers have criticized the campaign, aimed at 22- to 30-year-olds, for not showing enough of the vehicle's features.
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