SELLING SUBSTANCE, NOT SIZZLE FOR CHRYSLER'S LUTZ, THE KEY IS CAR 'PERSONALITY'

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Chrysler Corp. President Robert Lutz is known as driving force in the automaker's development of stylish new carsand trucks, With Chrysler rolling out the Neon subcompact, the former VP of BMW AG and Ford of Europe chaiman shared his views on marketing with Advertising Age Detroit Bureau Chief Raymond Serafin.

Advertising Age: Chrysler gets high marks for revamping the way it designs and builds cars. Has your marketing side improved as much as the rest of the company?

Mr. Lutz: The whole company has moved very far from where it used to be. None of the company-not manufacturing, not engineering, not styling, not marketing-is where we'd like it to be.

There's no question the transition to the new way of doing business and looking at customers-and the new product ethic that focuses more on European attributes of ride, handling, fun to drive, clean, uncluttered styling-came first in the design and technical community.

Marketing at times harbors some fairly conservative elements in a company, people who have been successful doing it a certain way for a considerable number of years. It's the opposite of what you might expect.

I think the progress is very encouraging. I was very happy with the advertising we had on the LH by all three brands [Chrysler Concorde, Dodge Intrepid and Eagle Talon sedans]. The Dodge Ram pickup was a terrific campaign.

AA: Has it helped to have marketers involved in the cross-functional platform teams that now develop Chrysler products?

Mr. Lutz: Yeah, if you believe product development is an ongoing process rather than an event. When the car comes out, the marketing process for the next model starts all over again. Marketing isn't only communicating about current cars but gettingfeedback on why a car is successful. The first fix we did was in engineering, in creating the platform teams, which very quickly extended into purchasing and supply. Finance joined them, manufacturing and the future source plant joined. Marketing got on the train a little bit late. It was a matter of "Here's the product, now we're going to have a say in how it's communicated."

... It's extremely important you have right-brain, product-oriented people in marketing. You've got to have guys on that platform team who are not cookbook marketers and nose counters, research specialists who try to left-brain the thing into "63% of rejecters said this, therefore we have to do that." Which can lead you to some really bad answers.

The ultimate example was back in the Ford days when they looked at two-passenger Thunderbird rejecters and they said, "Well, if they only had two more seats." So they made a four-passenger T-bird, which was a really nice car but it wasn't a sports car anymore.

Marketing is a lot like moviemaking. It's partly left-brain and scientific. But if we think that marketing and advertising and product creation can be dealt with in a totally left-brain way, we're kidding ourselves; we're failing to recognize it is a right-brain creative process.

AA: For a number of years, there's been a consensus that importers were doing better marketing and advertising than Detroit.

Mr. Lutz: Sure they were. Absolutely.

For a long time, Honda was doing sharply focused, very simple, no-nonsense advertising with an overlay of humor. It was very self-confident, totally consistent with what the company was doing with the product and with the audience they were selling the cars to. BMW has done consistently good advertising that contains a clear and consistent message that speaks to the people.

What the importers had, and what we're getting, is making the basic assumption that the customer is intelligent and interested in what you have to say about your product, rather than coming up with advertising that made the assumption that the customer was stupid, understands nothing and wants above all to be entertained.

My pet peeve with much of Detroit advertising, including our own in the past, was the assumption that we were selling sizzle and not substance, resulting in highly emotional, quick-cut rock music, a 10th of a second shot of a girl stepping out of a phone booth with a thigh exposed, and flashing images of a fender of a red car.

We're at a point where consumers are so discriminating, good advertising depends on good product. Good informative advertising can seize on strong points, convey them in a very positive way and show respect for the customer's desire to be informed of the facts.

AA: The Neon is one of the most talked-about new automotive products this year. How does the marketing plan fit into Neon's success?

Mr. Lutz: I don't think you're ever going to be truly successful in the launch of any car if the car doesn't have a personality. The unpaid media, what you do with the press, has to be consistent with that personality. And then, what you do with your paid media has to be highly consistent with that direction ...

You cannot divorce the product itself from the marketing mix. Unlike toothpaste or shampoo, once it's bought, the product doesn't disappear into a person's house never to be seen again. Cars and trucks are mobile billboards. Every one you put on the road is an advertisement.

AA: Chrysler adopted BBDO Worldwide's proposed Neon campaign without any major changes. Is that unusual?

Mr. Lutz: It's not unusual with us anymore. What we've tried to eliminate is this endless sequence of meetings where it goes up the ladder to top management, top management says, "I don't like it. Change it," so it goes back down.

Now, we have one strategy session ... We discuss things like target groups and the tonality of the ads. We talk about what the strong points of the car are, whether it's value or safety or performance, and we do a verbal description of what the points are we want to get across on the vehicle, and who the demographic and psychographic target is. We look at who the competitors are ...

Then the question is one of execution. There might be an early review with me ... and then a final review that involves [Chrysler Chairman] Bob Eaton.

Mr. Lutz: It's a chicken and egg thing. If we hadn't had the change in culture, we wouldn't have started doing different advertising.

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