Chrysler hits right buttons to unveil novel PT Cruiser

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MARKETER: Chrysler Corp.'s PT Cruiser
AGENCY: FCB Worldwide, Southfield, Mich.
RATING: 3 stars

Ok, yeah, 3 stars. Big deal. This is like giving Moses 3 stars for his presentation of the Ten Commandments. Sure, the writing is vivid and economical, and the stone tablets were a nice design touch, but with a product like that . . .

Still, give credit where credit is due. Except for one overwrought spot about Satan, FCB Worldwide has done a wonderful job in its five-step process for unveiling the stunning new PT Cruiser from Chrysler Corp.

1)Show the vehicle.

2)Demonstrate its roominess.

3)Dramatize its versatility.

4)Show the vehicle.

5)Show the vehicle.

Have you seen this vehicle? It's a truck--combining elements of a minivan, an SUV, a London black cab and, most of all, a '38 Chevy Tudor sedan. It is the most striking looking ride on the road.

Oh, and it's affordable, between $16,000 and $19,000.

Chrysler could have put a bigger engine in it, slapped some leather on the seats and sold it for $35,000. But instead the target seems to be all those young singles and marrieds who currently own Volkswagen Golfs, Ford Focuses, Honda Civics and all sorts of other excellent little cars that couldn't transport, say, a washing machine for all the chai in Starbucks.

Minivans can accommodate a washer, of course, but Generations X and Y regard minivan ownership as a sign of death. The PT Cruiser is exactly the product for them. Chrysler won't be able to manufacture enough of them to meet demand, at least not before President Gore's second or third special prosecutor.

Watch the path beaten to Chrysler dealers' doors. This thing is the better mousetrap. This is the New Beetle, only more practical. This is positively the coolest thing on earth since Bobby Darin keeled over.

And what the ads mostly do--in a very thoughtful, sometimes very stylish way--is not screw it up.

The Satan spot is about some rich guy being claimed by the Prince of Darkness. The lost soul tries to bribe his way out of it, and fails with everything because the devil has seen it all--except the PT Cruiser. Bingo. Add this vehicle to the likes of Volvo, the New Beetle and Toyota in claiming to save your soul.

Alas, that the most elaborate spot is by far the worst. The best shows a freeway traffic jam, which every few seconds unjams, then seconds later rejams. That's because a louvered billboard shifts from an image of a gorgeous babe (when traffic moves) to one of a PT Cruiser (when traffic stops). The commercial borrows concepts from a 1999 Mercedes SLK print ad and the 1998 McDonald's swinging baby seat spot, but who cares? It's brilliant.

So is a spot called "Swiss Army." It's set at a pocketknife assembly line. The inspector opens one blade and tool after another on one knife after another. Then down the line comes the PT Cruiser. He checks out the vehicle's fold-down/removable seats in exactly the same way.

As clever as the seat design is, the knife metaphor is cleverer--vividly communicating the practical versatility (or is it the versatile practicality?) of the PT Cruiser. A spot called "Tollbooth" shows off the same features from the interior with less impact, but more detail. Between them, they convey design excellence and ease of use.

Oh, and they both offer plenty of time to ogle the exterior.

Which is, in case we had neglected to mention this, mind-blowing.

With this introduction, Chrysler may well have carved itself another milestone in automotive history.

We can't actually claim the introduction of the PT Cruiser will be more significant than the Ten Commandments. What we're quite certain of is that people will pay a lot more attention to it.

Copyright April 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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