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CAMPAIGN URGES DRIVERS TO SAY HELLO TO NEW NEON: ADS AVOID CUTE, 2000 MODEL GETS SOPHISTICATED

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DaimlerChrysler's Neon has grown up.

When first introduced in 1994, Neon was positioned as a cute, friendly small car with ads that said, simply, "Hi." The 2000 model, though not dramatically changed on the outside, is quieter and more stable than the first Neon, said Arthur "Bud" Liebler, senior VP-marketing at the carmaker, spurring a change in the new campaign.

"We tried to get away from cute, so the ads are more sophisticated in keeping with the [changes in the] car," he said.

ADS BREAK MARCH 15

Neon's new strategy starts March 15 on network and cable TV. The $40 million flight includes a wide range of magazines, USA Today, outdoor and Web banner ads.

As with the '94 debut, Dodge shop BBDO Worldwide, Southfield, Mich., handles the single campaign for the look-alike Plymouth- and Dodge-branded Neons.

BBDO's trio of 30-second commercials, shot in lovely settings in New Zealand, make the car the star -- the agency's trademark on the Dodge brand.

The commercials are "purposefully soft sell," Mr. Liebler said, adding that approach "was not without some level of skepticism" at the marketer. "We wanted something that would break through the clutter" of product and feature advertising. "We don't feel we have to shout every detail about the car."

VOICE OF GEORGE CARLIN

Comedian George Carlin does the voice-over, reading BBDO-created lyrics to three songs: Dean Martin's "Amore," the Lovin' Spoonfuls' "You Didn't Have to be So Nice" and the Mamas & the Papas' "Dream a Little Dream of Me."

For the first time this decade for a major launch, BBDO presented two campaigns to the client, said Dick Johnson, president-chief creative officer of the Southfield office. He said the "tricky part" for BBDO was to break away from the formula his team uses for Dodge ads, which is to drive home strong features of each vehicle. The Neon ads, especially the TV spots, "have more emphasis on the mood and attitude than characterizing the car," he said.

NON-LIFESTYLE APPROACH

Although the primary target is 20-to-34-year-olds, Mr. Johnson wanted to take a non-lifestyle approach typical of Dodge ads.

"This kind of car has never been presented as an aspirational vehicle," he said.

James Bulcroft, president of consultancy Advisory Group, doesn't think the new Neon is so different from the first model, so he said it could be difficult to upgrade Neon's perception from cute to sophisticated. He predicted "it's going to be an uphill climb to take an entry-level product with minor modifications

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