The Long & Winding Road: Jeep

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Jeep is the granddaddy of the SUV. The Cherokee and the Grand Cherokee were the first cars that came to signify a sector. But what do you do now that there are no longer two rivals but 66? When even Porsche has an SUV? What you do, says BBDO/Detroit ECD Bill Morden, is sell "the mystique" of Jeep. What you can never do is ever leave the Jeep space, because too many rivals are waiting to drive into it. How many SUVs borrow from Jeep's language of the outdoors, escape and ruggedness, yet, as we all know, move only from the suburban driveway to the suburban mall and back every day? The Cadillac Escalade, a mini cultural phenomenon in its own right, is one of the few to stake out a different turf - urban cool. Though this positioning was thrust upon Cadillac by association with the rap community rather than originally sought.

Jeff Bell, Jeep's VP-marketing, clearly has a mantra. It is "Jeep as a 4x4", not an SUV; neither truck nor car. Jeep has employed distinctive and fresh advertising for years, first at Bozell and now with BBDO/Detroit. But it has shifted away from the 100 percent client focus to become more human. Bell talks a lot about the "DNA of Jeep." He trots out his four themes for Jeep advertising: "mastery," by which he mean 4x4 capability; "authenticity," which includes Jeep's World War II heritage and its use today by armed services; "freedom" - Bell says Jeep is one of the few brands for "the military and Woodstock"; and "adventure," which is, of course, the bold notion of exploring that is the aspect of Jeep advertising most copied by so many rivals.

"We have stayed true to who we are," says Bell. "You might ask what does all this matter when so few people go off-road, but 25 percent of Jeep owners actually do go off-road. The other owners can associate themselves with that possibility. Jeep's capabilities also allow people to be day-to-day heroes or lend a helping hand. There's a basic, primal instinct that is fulfilled in the general SUV category, and that's 'I can beat you up.' With Jeep, it's more about harmony with nature, and heroism."

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