Chrysler falling behind, hangs future on edgy fare

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Chrysler Group, in the red since the third quarter of 2000, is struggling to make 2002 just a break-even year.

That's the top priority at the unit of Germany's DaimlerChrysler-not necessarily selling more vehicles than last year, says Jeff Bell, who as VP-marketing communications is the go-to guy on daily advertising matters.

Chrysler will spend less on advertising this year than it did in 2001, says Mr. Bell. That's mainly due to cuts in the marketer's Five-Star dealer ad campaign and spending less on regional co-op ads based on unit-sale volume. So if volume slides by 10%, look for ad spending to do the same.

The Chrysler Group spent $1.2 billion in measured media in 2001, says Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

Last year it sold 2.27 million cars and trucks, or 10% fewer than in 2000, according to Advertising Age sibling Automotive News. The skid continued into 2002 with Chrysler reporting that sales in the first two months of the year fell 10.3%

Mr. Bell vows to continue edgy advertising for Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler, though since last fall, three TV spots for 2002 models had to be pulled off the air and rethought. Last November, the marketer changed the ending of a regional Chrysler Concorde sedan commercial after viewers complained it was offensive. In the original spot, a mom tells her daughter Savannah that her younger sibling was named Concorde after the place she was conceived-the daughter's original shocked look at the news was deleted. Sportsmen's groups complained that a national Jeep Grand Cherokee spot that ran in early January vilified deer hunters. The commercial hasn't aired again. Later in January, state highway officials complained a regional spot for a Dodge Caravan minivan passing a snow plow violated laws in their states. The spot was redone.

"We don't want to purposely be offensive," Mr. Bell says, "but you have to go near the edge to know where it is."

Chrysler can't afford to outspend domestic rivals General Motors Corp. or Ford Motor Co., "so we need to do ads people remember," Mr. Bell says.

Omnicom Group's PentaMark Worldwide, Troy, Mich., handles the national and regional dealer ad accounts.

Mr. Bell says sales incentives in the ads must come second to the message of "great product, great protection and great value."

Mr. Bell plans to move some ad dollars to interactive and customer relationship management.

One of his priorities this year is to integrate sponsorships with ride-and-drive events. For example, although Dodge's New York area dealers group has a relationship with the Mets and Jeep dealers have a similar arrangement with the Yankees, this season will be the first time the two brands will collect consumer information at stadiums.

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