Celine and Arnell Get Chrysler Vote Of Confidence

Marinelli says automaker sticking to its guns

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%%STORYIMAGE_RIGHT%% Despite all of the sturm and drang about the effectiveness of DaimlerChrysler's Celine Dion campaign, mostly in the form of bitter complaints from auto dealers who can't move the new Pacificas off their showroom floors, the automaker remains committed to using the French Canadian chanteuse in ads for the first quarter 2004 launches of the PT Convertible and Chrysler 300.

"I preach organizational patience, because you don't reposition a brand overnight," said Tom Marinelli, exec VP-marketing of the Chrysler brand and one of the champions of the Celine partnership. "You don't do it in one quarter, or in one ad campaign. You don't even do it in one year. So you have to have consistency, and I think that's the track we are on. So far, so good."

Dion, who signed a $14 million, three-year deal to hawk Chrysler models earlier this year, has been conspicuously absent in current broadcast and print campaigns for Crossfire and Pacifica, which feature the singer's music but not her image. She is, however, expected to return in the fall.

"The opportunity is there in the fourth quarter to get back to brand building for a six- or eight-week period. And rest assured, Celine will play a key role in that," said Marinelli.

Dealers gripe that the "Drive & Love" campaign featuring Dion, which launched in January, was vague and purposeless and did more to sell the singer-- "One Heart," her new release, went double platinum in April--than it did the attributes of Crossfire and Pacifica.

"They show a commercial on TV with Celine Dion going down the road in the Crossfire and they never even talk about the car," said Jack Tatta, assistant sales manager, Towne Chrysler, Hamburg, N.Y. "Instead of showing [Celine] in a car, show her putting a stroller in the back of a Pacifica and loading up all her kids in the car so people can see what you can do with the car. Instead, they just want to show Celine Dion going down the road. That don't sell it." Tatta said his dealership just sold its first Pacifica, which first went on sale in March.

Overall, dealers have sold only 4,828 Pacificas in its first three months on the market. At that rate, Chrysler will fall far short of hitting its target of selling 60,000 this year.

Hoping to drive summer sales, the automaker recently changed tactics, unveiling a Pacifica ad without Celine and a print ad for the Crossfire sports coupe that focuses on the car and its European technology. The new campaign even has a new slogan: "Dreamed in America. Crafted in Germany."

"We want to make sure in all cases that the cars are the stars," said Marinelli, "That has always been the plan. We wanted to use Celine heavy upfront, and then sustain the image attributes that she brings, but make sure, particularly when we are launching a new product, like we are now, that cars are the stars and she doesn't overwhelm." Marinelli says that although the product attributes will now be front and center, they will still incorporate the "brand language" of "emotion, romance, passion, sophistication and elegance" that was introduced in the "Drive & Love" Celine campaign.

Some dealers agree with that approach. "I think the Celine ads put a face on the Chrysler brand, which is good," said Phil Dattola, general manager at Warnock Nissan and Don's Chrysler Jeep in Morristown, N.J. "I don't think they did anything to help sell Pacifica, but I know they put an attractive face on Chrysler." Dattola is not selling many Pacificas, but he doesn't believe that has anything to do with the advertising. "They made it too complicated of a vehicle. There are too many options. Too many ways to order the vehicle."

%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% The Pacifica has a base price of $31,230, including destination charge, for the front-wheel-drive version and $32,980 for the all-wheel- drive.

Marinelli says not only will Chrysler keep Celine, but it is also staying with the shop that brought her on board, Omnicom's Arnell Group. Marinelli said rumors that Chrysler will be dropping the shop are "complete bullshit."

"We are very pleased with the work Arnell has done with us." According to Marinelli, Arnell, which works closely with BBDO, Detroit, is involved in every facet of the Chrysler brand, from promotions and commercials to designing showroom modules.

"Everything is on strategy from the original plan," Arnell Group CEO Peter Arnell assured. "Think about Chrysler in December vs. Chrysler in February. We are on track with our strategic road map. Our job was to breathe new life into Chrysler and we've done that. We set the stage correctly."

Tatta isn't convinced. "You gotta show people the cars, and they are awesome, awesome cars," said Tatta, a 14-year Chrysler veteran. "Chrysler's been bragging about the millions of dollars they are going to spend in advertising over the next three months, I'll tell you what, they are spending it wrong. Up until this year, they've done a great job. Now they are absolutely horrible."

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