Interactive Marketer of the Year: Chrysler

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Chrysler Group sees marketing's future and it's interactive.

The marketer of Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler vehicles has built interactive into its marketing strategy and backed it with heftier budgets over each of the past few years. At the hub of it all is the desire to pull consumers into a voluntary, on-going dialogue.

Whether encouraging people to nominate the Dodge Dakota Ultimate Guy online or prompting consumers to register and play the Snowboard Super Jam video game at, Chrysler's moves in the category have been innovative.

It's that innovation in and financial commitment to the Internet, from an advertiser operating in a traditionally conservative, TV-centric category, that makes Chrysler our Interactive Marketer of the Year. The Detroit giant seems to have an adventurous spirit when it comes to interactive media-and what's more it's getting sales results from its pioneering work.

Jeff Bell, VP-Jeep and Chrysler brands, says the marketer dialed up its interactivity early for three reasons: the splintering of media, relative affordability and more measurable return on investment.

"We get 40,000 [sales] leads per month from our sites and third-party sites" that are forwarded to dealers, says Mr. Bell.

He became an online video game believer after tinkering with them in early 2002 as VP-marketing for Jeep. More than 1,000 people who opted in for the free 4X4 Evo2 Wrangler Rubicon game bought the SUV. "We just really think about experimenting with new ideas," he says. "If they don't work, we're not embarrassed."

Mr. Bell says more than 10,000 new vehicle sales can be linked to the about 3.5 million people who have downloaded the marketer's 42 online games across its three brands. More than 120,000 consumers have opted in for the latest Dodge Charger "Unleash Your Freak" online promotion, featuring four different "freak" characters tied to a characteristic of the car.

The Internet is the lead medium for Charger's launch, says Julie Roehm, marketing communications director at the DaimlerChrysler unit. With the effort, she says, "we are hopefully creating a longer opportunity for sales by getting people excited about the vehicle and getting some influencers."

The automaker increased online ad spending by 20% this year vs. 2004 when it spent $36 million online, according to TNS Media Intelligence. The money is being moved from other media, George Murphy, Chrysler senior VP-marketing, told Ad Age earlier this year. Chrysler spending should be around $43 million online this year.

Chrysler Group says October marked its 18th straight month of improved sales, while its vehicle sales through October rose by 7% to 1.955 million vs. the same period a year ago.

While Mr. Bell admits Chrysler Group's online impressions have declined in the past year, its click-through rates are up. "We think that's because people are doing more searching instead of browsing."

That's one reason Chrysler added a search feature on its brand sites in 2005, says Bonita Stewart, director-interactive communications at the automaker. She says the marketer's buy rates stemming from online searches have been "quite high," declining to give specifics. Online searches of Chrysler Group inventory rose by triple digits this year compared with `04 and, she says, "the number of names we are capturing from online has increased significantly year-to-year."

Colleen DeCourcy, executive creative director at Organic, the automaker's interactive shop, dubs Chrysler's "Spring Sales Event" this year as a "watershed moment" for online advertising. Each of three brand sites used customer testimonials in videos. "Engagement went through the roof," with each visitor spending an average of 8-10 minutes on the sites, she says.

Just rolling out for Jeep: "The Mudds," an outdoorsy family of five whose story will unfold in coming weeks on "The person interacting with the media is fundamentally more engaged and has a more emotional experience," says Ms. DeCourcy. "When it comes to price wars, whoever has that little edge may just net out ahead."