Last Decade a Tumultuous One for Chrysler and BBDO

A Look Back at the Final 10 Years in One of Detroit's Strongest Bonds

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Last week's announcement that BBDO would shutter its Motor City office dealt a devastating blow to the nearly 500 employees that for years serviced Chrysler's marketing needs, and also signaled the end of a decades-long, storied marriage between the carmaker and BBDO.

The shop -- then known as Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn -- first joined the Chrysler roster in 1943 to handle the De Soto brand. In the 1990s, BBDO's parent, Omnicom Group, acquired Ross Roy Communications, an agency started by a one-time car salesman whose Chrysler/Dodge relationship dates back to 1926.

Here we'll take you through the highs and lows over the past 10 years of one of Adland's most-watched relationships.

November 2000 Possibly the biggest coup of Omnicom Group head John Wren's career. Chrysler consolidates its global advertising account for its Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge brands under one agency, BBDO, which sets up a special entity named PentaMark Worldwide.
2002 PentaMark Worldwide drops the name in the U.S. in 2002.

BBDO Detroit launches its "That thing got a Hemi?" campaign. The wildly popular commercials feature two guys in endless pursuit of Hemi power, and various iterations of the spots over the next two years turn the Hemi engine into a piece of pop culture.
2003 DaimlerChrysler ranks the No. 5 national advertiser in the U.S., with ad spending of $2.3 billion, up 14.1% from 2002, according to Advertising Age.
Summer 2005 BBDO turns rap star Snoop Dogg turns into a Chrysler pitchman for the Chrysler 300 with a series of humorous spots co-starring former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca. The two men golf, and Snoop talks slang, saying things like "Fo' shizzle."
December 2005 Jeep launches its own mobile phone channel with MobiTV, a medium few marketers are devoting resources to at this time. The carmaker says the attempt is meant to harness mobile phone TV as a major branded entertainment medium, and connect with a younger demographic.
January 2006 A 35-year-old Julie Roehm leaves her post as director of marketing communications at Chrysler to take on a senior VP-global marketing role at Walmart. We all know how that turned out.
Summer 2006 A gimmicky campaign dubbed "Dr. Z" is met with criticism and fails to fend off the automaker's 17% sales slump. Despite the campaign's steep $225 million price tag, consumers are unmoved by DaimlerChrysler Chairman Dieter Zetsche's emphasis on "German engineering" and overwhelmingly believe he is a fictional character.
Spring 2007 Chrysler hands brand advertising for Jeep to Omnicom's Cutwater, after a pitch. It's a blow for BBDO, but kudos to holding company head Wren for managing to keep the car brand within the family.

To change perception of Chrysler cars as low quality, the company shifts messaging to a theme of quality and introduces the tagline "Engineered beautifully" to replace the 3-year-old "Inspiration comes standard."

Private-equity group Cerberus Capital Management agrees to buy the carmaker in a $7.45 billion deal.
Summer 2007 Cerebrus calls on former Home Depot CEO Bob Nardelli to take over as chairman-CEO of the now-private car company called Chrysler. BBDO Detroit launches an ad blitz to acquaint consumers with the "New Chrysler."

Chrysler in August taps its first-ever chief marketing officer, former Ford and Toyota marker Deborah Wahl Meyer.

A plucky youth in BBDO's Netherlands shop creates an online ad for Dodge Nitro in which a doggie that urinates on the tire gets, well, killed. Chrysler explains the viral ad is meant only for distribution in the Netherlands, forgetting that the internet knows no bounds. The company apologizes and the ad is yanked.
Winter 2008 Post-Cerebrus cost-cutting leads to 80 staffers at BBDO Detroit being let go. The positions cut are mostly administrative, leaving the shop with 675 employees.

Chrysler breaks the "New Day" ad campaign from BBDO. The spots use third-party testimonials to tout warranty and value.

Adland elicits a collective "wuh?" as Peter Arnell (the same one Chrysler dumped for creating spots featuring Celine Dion) is brought on as acting chief innovation officer at Chrysler.
November 2008 BBDO for the second time in a year announces it will cut staff in Detroit, but this time the agency takes a major hit. A whopping 22% of staff -- 145 positions across all functions -- are eliminated as Chrysler bears down on costs and shrinks the scope of ad assignments.
December 2008 Chrysler shakes up its sales and marketing ops, leaving top marketer Meyer out in the cold. She'll later land on her feet at home-building company Pulte.
January 2009 Chrysler strikes a global alliance with Italy's Fiat to boost the global reach of Dodge, Jeep and Chrysler outside of North America. Chrysler will help Fiat re-enter the U.S. market, which it left in 1983 after 20 years.

Chrysler moves its Jeep account back to BBDO from sibling Cutwater in San Francisco.
April 2009 Despite the government's best efforts, Chrysler officially files for bankruptcy.
August 2009 After sticking with the automaker through its bankruptcy, BBDO gets a slap in the face. Under Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne, Chrysler looks beyond the shop for advertising, initiating a series of "jump ball" pitches.
October 2009 Michael Accavitti, president-CEO of Dodge, and Peter Fong, president-CEO of the Chrysler brand, are ousted.

Cracks in Chrysler's relationship with Omnicom grow deeper. The automaker begins reaching out beyond PHD, the media agency of record for all three of Chrysler's major car brands, Chrysler, Jeep and Dodge.
November 2009 BBDO Worldwide President-CEO Andrew Robertson tells BBDO Detroit staff the agency hasn't negotiated a new contract with Chrysler, and the office will close at the end of January -- marking the end of the agency's Motor City presence and leaving 485 employees to find new work.
Sources: Ad Age data, BBDO.

Contributing: Brad Johnson

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