Can Chrysler Ride the Music to Upscale Stardom?

New Deal With Celine Dion Bets on the Power of Pop Songs

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DETROIT ( -- Chrysler Group plans to make its Chrysler brand more upscale with assistance from Canadian chanteuse Celine Dion.

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"Chrysler is now a mainstream brand" competing with its own sibling Dodge as well as General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet and Ford Motor Co.'s Ford brands, said George Murphy, senior vice president of global brand marketing at Chrysler Group. "Our challenge now is to move the brand up" to the level of car lines such as Ford's Volvo and American Honda Motor's Acura, he said.

Appears and sings
Ms. Dion appears and sings in several executions in a new black-and-white campaign for the Chrysler brand from Omnicom Group's BBDO Detroit, Troy, Mich., and sibling Arnell Group, New York. The ads use four new songs from her upcoming album, New Days Come, which arrives in March from Sony. The campaign also introduces a slight tweaking to the automaker's tagline, now reading "Drive & Love" from "Drive = Love."

The first new ad breaks nationally Jan. 19 on CBS' broadcast of the National Football League's AFC Championship Game and later that night on NBC's Golden Globe Awards and uses Ms. Dion's first single, the appropriately titled "I Drove All Night," from the upcoming album. The commercials not only use Ms. Dion's love songs, but the mega-popular songstress also appears in the ads. For instance, Ms. Dion, along with her toddler son, Rene, appears behind the wheel of a Town & Country minivan in a 60-second spot that features the song "Have You Ever Been in Love."

She is heard but not seen singing "Love Is All We Need" in a commercial for the PT Cruiser, and words from her past hit tunes are used in print executions, including a 14-page brand insert arriving in March titles next month. The automaker also bought ad time during the Super Bowl and will feature one of the Celine Dion spots.

A boost for the singer
Chrysler declined to reveal the cost of the multiyear deal with Ms. Dion, though executives close to the automaker said it was worth $14 million. The deal also benefits Ms. Dion in other ways. The singer is returning from a two-year musical hiatus, and Mr. Murphy said "she's going to use [the partnership] to reinvent Celine." Ms. Dion will be headlining 200 shows a year at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas at a new coliseum built there for the three-year stint. Plus, said Arnell Group CEO, Peter Arnell, the cost of marketing a new CD could run hit as high as $40 million, so the campaign is another tool in Ms. Dion's promotional efforts.

The Vegas shows provide an integrated platform for Chrysler -- it is the exclusive sponsor of the concerts, and will have on-site displays, access to tickets for promotions and merchandising opportunities.

All Chrysler brand communications will reflect the new black-and-white ad format with Ms. Dion, including Chrysler's Web site, consumer loyalty programs and owner magazine.

Chrysler brand said its vehicle sales nearly quadrupled from 130,542 units in 1991 to last year's 481,000.

New models
The automaker has upcoming new models that will help shift its image. The 2004 Pacifica sports wagon arrives in showrooms in early spring with a base sticker price of $31,230. Pacifica will be followed in late spring or summer by the 2004 Crossfire coupe and the convertible version of the PT Cruiser.

"The foundation of the Chrysler brand strategy is product," said Bonita Coleman Stewart, who oversees day-to-day advertising as director of communications at the marquee. "We needed to take some drastic measures to catapult the communications to the level of the product."

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