Exclusive - Chrysler task force charge: Fix marketing

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After flubbing the launch of its Pacifica, Chrysler Group formed a task force made up of dealers and executives from the company and its agency to develop more effective and efficient marketing communications plans.

The automaker also will boost ad spending by $250 million next year to promote eight new or redesigned models, which includes regional dealer spending.

"The responsibility for perfectly executed launches lies with all of us," said Joe Eberhardt, exec VP-global sales and marketing, who added that his reference includes Chrysler Group President-CEO Dieter Zetsche.

Chrysler is battling back from a $1 billion loss in the second quarter. But it posted an operating profit in the third, which it said was mainly due to cost cuts. The automaker increased media spending in the first eight months to $869 million vs. $602 million a year ago, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. That included an added $100 million for a summer-long sale.

While its vehicle sales slipped through October to 1.79 million units from 1.88 million, the automaker showed an 11% gain to 166,262 units last month vs. last October.

Chrylser named four Dodge dealers and four Chrysler-Jeep dealers to the panel, which will have its first meeting in early December, said Tom Barenboim, a Massachusetts dealer on the panel. He said dealers would work with Chrysler executives and BBDO, Troy, Mich., to determine the strongest attributes of new products. "We are probably the best consultants they have," he said. "We see customers every day."

For the Pacifica launch, Mr. Eberhardt's predecessor, Jim Schroer, hired Arnell Group, New York, which created a launch campaign starring Celine Dion. Arnell and BBDO are both part of Omnicom Group.

But Mr. Eberhardt said the ads didn't stress product attributes. "People weren't clear what this was," he said, referring to the sedan/minivan/sport utility hybrid. "You have to let the market know."

BBDO created ads that took the focus off Ms. Dion while continuing to use her music, and play up Pacifica as a family vehicle. Mr. Eberhardt would not comment on whether Chrysler will renew its contract with Arnell, which expires at yearend.

The German-born executive is making other moves to increase Chrysler's efficiency. He plans to announce what he called a minor reorganization in coming weeks, but declined to confirm an earlier Ad Age report that said he would reunite Chrysler and Jeep under Jeff Bell, current VP-Jeep, and elevate Julie Roehm to head of advertising for all three brands. She is currently director of marketing communications at Dodge.

Mr. Eberhardt said his goal is to streamline decision-making processes without disrupting the organization. "If you shake the tree too hard, the birds move to another branch. I prefer to keep them on the branch."

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