Chrysler sticks with Dion for fall launches

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Despite the failure of ads featuring Celine Dion to achieve the hoped-for sales of Chrysler's Pacifica, the automaker said it will again turn to the French-Canadian chanteuse to market new models later this year.

In particular Daimler Chrysler's Chrysler Group will use Ms. Dion to market the PT Convertible and the Chrysler 300, according to a top executive at the automaker.

Ms. 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 and not her image, but Chrysler says she will return in the fall.

big launches

"We have big launches in the first quarter next year, the new Chrysler 300, we have the new PT Convertible," said Tom Marinelli, exec VP marketing, Chrysler. "So 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, whether it is her music, her image, or new elements with her Vegas show. We are exploring some key personal appearances with major product displays where she would do a performance."

Mr. Marinelli's comments come amid a rising chorus of complaints from some dealerships that the "Drive & Love" branding campaign featuring Ms. Dion, which launched Jan. 19, did more to sell the singer than it did the specific attributes of Crossfire and Pacifica (AA, June 2).

"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, New York. "Instead of showing Celine Dion in a car, show her putting a stroller in the back of a Pacifica. ... Instead, they just want to show Celine Dion going down the road." Mr. Tatta said his dealership sold its first Pacifica today. The cars first went on sale in March.

"The advertising isn't selling cars," agreed Pete Knoblock, sales manager, Dade Jeep Chrysler Plymouth, Miami.

Dealers sold only 4,828 Pacificas in its first three months in the market. At that rate, Chrysler will fall far short of hitting its target of selling 60,000 this year. It expects to sell 100,000 in 2004, a full year of production.

Hoping to drive summer sales, the automaker recently changed tactics, unveiling a Pacifica ad without Celine and a print ad for the Crossfire sports coup that focuses on the car and its European technology. The new campaign 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 Mr. 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 new product, like we are now ... she doesn't overwhelm," Mr. Marinelli said 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" portion of the campaign, with Ms. Dion.

"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, New Jersey. "I don't think they did anything to help sell Pacifica, but I know they put an attractive face on Chrysler." Mr. 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."

Arnell stays

Mr. Marinelli said Chrysler is also staying with the shop that brought Ms. Dion on board, Omnicom's Arnell Group. Mr. 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," he said.

"We call it the smell test," said Mr. Marinelli. "We say, `Call Peter [Arnell, CEO], let's have him look at this and see if it passes his smell test. Is it the right direction for our brand?' He is helping me get the Chrysler brand back to the glory days. Helping me build the premium position we once had back in the `50s and `60s before we lost our way a little bit."

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