Enforcing Dodge Law is serious business.
So the brand turned to muscle car enthusiast Richard Rawlings of Discovery Channel's "Fast N' Loud" to restore order in an ad campaign that launched this month. But even with Mr. Rawlings' expertise in resurrecting vintage rides at his Gas Monkey Garage in Dallas, he needed a partner with a little attitude.
Enter the Gas Monkey, his no-nonsense sidekick.
Mr. Rawlings and his computer-generated pal bust drivers for numerous "offenses" in four commercials that are running across the country, including "possession of a fancy pastry in a Charger" and wearing bronzer while driving a Dart.
The ads, created by ad agency Doner, are aimed at getting people into dealerships right away instead of building emotional connections like the "Dodge Brothers" campaign or the "Wisdom" spot that ran during the Super Bowl after being a viral hit last year, said Olivier Francois, global chief marketing officer of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, in an interview.
Using a CGI, or computer generated imagery, character in a commercial is new ground for the automaker. Tippett Studio, the animation company that brought a wisecracking teddy bear to life in the 2012 movie Ted, developed the monkey with Dodge in a process that took around four months.
Mr. Francois said he enjoyed watching how the monkey was gradually integrated into the commercials, going from basic animations in early edits of the spots to realistic movements.
"Then we started seeing his hair grow because he was a naked monkey not so long ago. That was very funny," said Mr. Francois, who didn't realize how time-consuming it was to create animated characters. "It was always the same commercial with little evolutions, but every time I could see this monkey become more real. It's fun. We normally don't do that."
Mr. Francois added, "Now that we figured the monkey out, we can almost use him as a real, physical creature."
While the commercials are cute, it isn't all fun and games. Mr. Francois said the campaign's goal is to increase consideration by highlighting key attributes in the Dodge lineup, whether it's the Challenger's Hemi V-8 engine or the Durango's seating for seven.
"We had to do it in a Dodge way," Mr. Francois said of the Dodge Law spots. "What is the Dodge way? It is to be entertaining, humorous, edgy or irreverent. At the same time, there is one objective: driving action to visit a dealership, and do it now."
Dodge first worked with Mr. Rawlings last year in several spots in spring and summer sales pushes, which Mr. Francois credits with helping Dodge become the most searched automaker from July through October on Google.
Mr. Rawlings' passion for muscle cars and huge following made him a natural choice for Dodge. The Gas Monkey Garage Facebook page has 2.6 million fans, while Mr. Rawlings himself has a Facebook fan following of 1.1 million.
Plus, his motto wouldn't sound out of place in a Dodge ad: "Bottom line, if we're gonna have fun, it better have a motor!"
The viewership for "Fast N' Loud" episodes on the Discovery Channel, among the highest-rated TV shows among men ages 25 to 54, often reaches 2 million.
In November, Mr. Rawlings hosted a loyalty event for Charger, Challenger and Viper drivers at his Gas Monkey Live concert venue in Dallas. Heavy metal band Motley Crue performed during the event.
"There is a great crossover between the Dodge brand and the Rawlings audience," Mr. Francois said. "He is probably the most recognizable muscle car enthusiast in the world."
Future of the monkey
So what about Mr. Rawlings' furry new partner?
Mr. Francois isn't sure what the future holds for the Gas Monkey, but he's leaving the door open for a return if the monkey becomes more popular than expected.
Mr. Francois said, "If this goes beyond a sales event campaign, who knows? Never say never. He might come back."
--Vince Bond Jr. is a reporter for Automotive News