Plotting a comeback at Chrysler

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[detroit] During a June 27 meeting at Chrysler Group headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., a roomful of executives kicked around ideas for a celebrity TV pitchman. Marketing chief Joe Eberhardt made a stunning nomination: Lee Iacocca.

"There was a silent pause," said Gary Topolewski, chief creative officer at BBDO Detroit, Chrysler's ad agency. "Everyone looked at each other and thought, `Wow, that would be talked about. Can we really do that?'

"Then it was like, `Yeah, let's think it through.' There were no naysayers. We loved that."

Chrysler Group executives looked last month at the huge sales increases General Motors Corp. was racking up with its "Employee Discount for Everyone" promotion. They realized Chrysler might have to "ride the wave" GM had created, George Murphy, Chrysler senior VP-global brand marketing said.

"The first question was would he do it?" Mr. Murphy said. "It wasn't, `Would he fit the creative?' Because when his name came up, everyone harkened back to the fact that he could give a convincing sales pitch."

Mr. Iacocca became a household name in the early 1980s when he made TV commercials for Chrysler's K-car. He challenged consumers: "If you can find a better car, buy it."

Mr. Iacocca had grown estranged from many Chrysler executives in the mid-1990s, when he backed an unsuccessful takeover bid for Chrysler by billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian. But Jason Vines, Chrysler group VP-communications, said Mr. Iacocca was receptive to the idea.

Mr. Vines and BBDO sent Mr. Iacocca and former "Seinfeld" actor Jason Alexander scripts for the proposed commercials. "Lee seemed very willing," Mr. Topolewski said. "Down deep he bleeds Chrysler."

--From Automotive News

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