Why Fiat Chrysler Showed Up Again in 'American Music Awards'

Automaker Collaborated With Record Labels on Three Custom Ads

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As most automakers fill the airwaves with ads about Black Friday deals and year-end incentives, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is once again singing a different tune.

The automaker on Sunday night staged a major presence in the "American Music Awards" on ABC with three custom-made ads tying its auto brands to music stars. The spots follow a similar approach FCA took for last year's show and come on the heels of a fall campaign linking FCA to the "Hunger Games" movie. Up next is a "Star Wars"-themed campaign that will break in December. An integration with "Zoolander 2" is also in the works.

The Hollywood approach comes under FCA Global Chief Marketing Officer Olivier Francois, whose strategy is to give each of the marketer's auto brands a distinct personality by linking them to movies and music. "Every brand has its own playlist. It has its own sound," he said in an interview." The AMA's, he added, "helps me make each brand different from the next one."

The AMA ads included a 90-second spot (above) in which FCA teamed with Atlantic Records on a remake of Charlie Puth's song "One Call Away." The new version goes for a "multi-genre twist," according to the automaker. It includes appearances by country-music star Brett Eldredge, hip hop artist Ty Dolla $ign and Latin pop singer Sofia Reyes. In the ad, each artist is shown driving an FCA car through Los Angeles, Nashville, Detroit, Chicago and other cities and landscapes. Ms. Reyes is in a Fiat along the beach, while Mr. Eldredge is behind the wheel of a Ram truck in the backwoods just as the song takes on a more country feel.

A 60-second ad was created via a partnership with Interscope Records and includes up-and-coming acts Borns, Tory Lanez, Skylar Grey and Pia Mia. A 30-second spot spotlighted Fiat and was a collaboration with Sony Music Group with the group Pentatonix featured. Each ad will not air again on TV. But FCA will post them all on its brand pages. Ad agency Doner assisted on the Interscope and Sony Music ads. On social media, FCA is pushing the hashtag "#DriveTheBeat."

For last year's awards show, Chrysler lined up big-name talent including Eminem and Imagine Dragons for ads -- and the program itself included an onstage appearance of a 1965 Chrysler 300 low-rider during a performance by Fergie. Mr. Francois suggested the automaker purposely focused on up-and-coming stars this year. Most advertisers like to use "very famous music-- something that everyone knows," he said. But FCA tries to be "more confident [and] more gutsy" with its song choices, he added.

FCA also eschews so-called "tier 2" ads that a lot of automakers typically run at the end of the year that make more rational pitches including on price incentives. On the airwaves, "everyone is screaming for a price," Mr. Francois said. FCA could take that approach, he said, but would have to outspend competitors to get noticed. So the automaker instead has sought to gain relevance by linking to big end-of-year entertainment properties, including "Hunger Games" and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

The Star Wars campaign will launch in December, he said. While cars don't play a role in those two movies, FCA has another deal with "Zoolander 2" -- which is set for a February release -- that includes a more traditional product placement. Ben Stiller's character will drive a Fiat, Mr. Francois said.

FCA partners with the "biggest blockbusters of the moment because they are relevant in this moment," he said. "If I can integrate in a harmonious way -- in a smart way -- with their message, it's a pure win win," he added. "I borrow some relevance from them," he said. "And for them clearly it's about giving them more visibility and incremental access to media."

Here are the other two FCA ads that aired during Sunday's show:

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