Exclusive: Jeep taps 'Lara Croft' as its spokeswoman

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A lusty, powerful woman-that's just what marketing executives behind Chrysler Group's Jeep brand were looking for-the ultimate spokesbabe. With a tie-in already in place with Paramount Pictures' "Tomb Raider II: Cradle of Life"-in which the heroine drives a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon-they turned to persuading lead actress Angelina Jolie to appear in ads.

Everything was progressing smoothly until the discussion turned to the ad's tagline.

Now, officially-if anyone asks-Jeep's spokeswoman is not Ms. Jolie, but video-game heroine Lara Croft.

Negotiations with Ms. Jolie dragged on for at least five months while Jeep's team tossed around creative ideas and tried to come up with a tagline Ms. Jolie was comfortable with. She was reluctant to say, "It's a Jeep thing." This was a sticking point that worried the marketing team. Jeep was looking for a solid commitment to the brand from Ms. Jolie. What apparently persuaded her was an argument by the Jeep team that although she would be acting in the ad, the spokeswoman was really the Lara Croft character-not Ms. Jolie.

After some fine-tuning, with both Paramount and Jeep making concessions, Ms. Jolie finally recorded as a tagline "Let's see them catch me now," after she eludes pursuers in her tricked- out Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Ms. Jolie was not available for comment.

Jeff Bell, Jeep VP-marketing, was satisfied with that solution. "My own creative team wanted to make sure we didn't do something that came off as corny," he said, adding the original tagline did not flow naturally in the spot. "They didn't want it to be something like Lara Croft...jumping off a cliff into the water and she comes out and looks at the camera and says, `I need to drink this refreshing beverage,"' he said.

The deal was developed by Chrysler agencies BBDO, Detroit and the Arnell Group, both Omnicom Group shops, along with Arthur Cohen, president-worldwide marketing for the motion-picture group at Viacom's Paramount Pictures. "Everything Angelina did in the ad was consistent with what Lara Croft would do. Lara Croft would be very comfortable in a Jeep," Mr. Cohen said.

Jeep created three special Tomb Raider Rubicon vehicles for the film that will also later be used for promotions, including appearances at "Camp Jeep" events this summer. Aspect Ratio, a Los Angeles production shop, is producing the ads, a Jeep cinema ad, and the movie's trailer. "Tomb Raider II" opens July 25.

"We wanted the ad to be so natural that people will understand this is a Jeep commercial but it will have the look and feel of a movie trailer," Mr. Bell said. The ads were filmed on location at the movie's U.K. set.

director drama

Selecting a director was nearly as daunting as the tagline haggling. Chrysler originally hoped to hire "Tomb Raider II" director Jan de Bont, whose films include "Basic Instinct" and "Die Hard," and who's directed Chrysler's Dodge spots. Mr. de Bont was to do the ad until he was injured falling off a platform on set, which pushed back the film's release date and led producers to hand the ad over to Simon Crane, second unit director. Mr. Crane worked with Ms. Jolie on Pepsi-Cola ads tied to the first movie.

The push comes as Jeep sales slid 10.6% in this year's first two months to 54,731. In 2002, 459,796 vehicles were sold.

contributing: jean halliday

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