Olivier Francois on 'Game of Thrones' and Agency Tension

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Olivier Francois
Olivier Francois

Olivier Francois, Fiat Chrysler's chief marketing officer, isn't giving up on his "Game of Thrones" dream.

To play on the royalty theme of the Chrysler 300's "Kings & Queens of America" spot that launched last month, Mr. Francois wanted to use several cast members of the hit HBO series in the ad.

He said that was impossible for copyright reasons, but he was still able to secure his favorite actor in the series, Peter Dinklage, to narrate the spot. Mr. Francois, 53, wants to use multiple "Game of Thrones" cast members one day, saying that his dream is "still in the drawer."

Mr. Francois discussed the Chrysler brand's evolving message and his views on ad agency competition last month with Automotive News News Editor Charles Child and Automotive News staff reporters Vince Bond Jr. and Larry P. Vellequette. (Automotive News is a sibling of Advertising Age)

Q: Was Peter Dinklage chosen because of the royalty theme in the new Chrysler 300 commercial?

A: I wanted to use the whole cast of "Game of Thrones" in the commercial. That was the idea. We were not able to do that for lots of copyright reasons. We didn't have permission to do that. The first idea was to use these people, not all of them, but at least two, three, four. It's not possible. The thing that came first was the script, "Kings & Queens of America." It's still a dream in the drawer. I want to use this cast one day to do something.

In character?

No. As an example, I discovered that [Emilia Clarke] is not blond, she is brunette. I said OK, she will be a brunette. It's fine. It's not in character, it's them. You can use one as an endorser. But if you start using more than one, then you, rightfully so, are seen as not borrowing the equity of one endorser, you are borrowing the equity of the show. They don't let you do that.

What came first was the idea of the cast. Then what came second was the idea that if I had to have just one, it was Peter Dinklage. He's my total favorite. He's so badass. At the end, his agent said he would be very open to be the voice. That's not exactly what I wanted, but when they played the voice, oh, my God, his voice was incredible -- and unexpected.

Does FCA bid out each important job to various ad agencies?

We have a good roster of agencies. We have agencies of record, as everyone has. My concept of AORs is a little bit more flexible, but we still have AORs. Jeep is a bit different because we don't have an AOR as we speak.

What we do is we give a brief to our AOR of the brand. In 99.9 percent of the cases they come back with something we don't like. But then we keep going back and forth. It's a shared creative process. We love bouncing with ideas.

They have a period of time to deliver something we are all convinced with. If this doesn't happen, then we open the brief to any other AOR. All of them have generally 70 percent of the brand they own, and 30 percent of conquest on something else.

This is very interesting. They don't really like it, obviously. But the smartest ones like it. It's conquest. Like it or not, it introduces some tension and some competition in the system.

The Hellcat versions of the Dodge Charger and Challenger have drawn lots of attention without a dedicated ad campaign. How does FCA handle such situations -- let the hype spread on its own?

We will have a campaign. Not really that we needed a campaign, but that's very interesting, by the way. The car inspired the campaign, and then we couldn't help but do it. This being said, do we need one? No. On the other hand, if we did the Hellcat as a product, it's not for the sake of selling a few hundred more pieces. It's clearly to have an effect of pulling or raising the brand image as a whole. We created [the campaign] because we couldn't help it. Will we use it? Economically, it sounds like it makes no sense. Marketingwise, it does because you still see a Challenger and a Charger.

How does it feel to have a car that doesn't need a huge launch campaign?

It feels wonderful. We were looking for a halo. Mass marketing that is targeting volume is not marketing which is used to create a halo. This is really two different disciplines. We do different things, in a different way. What we are trying to create is a halo for Dodge in general and not push metal, really.

Talk about how the Chrysler brand message has evolved. In 2011, it was all about overcoming hardship. Now the latest campaign says the world is yours, go take it.

You're right to speak about evolution. It's not a revolution, just a logical evolution. It was Detroit against the rest of America. I'm kidding, but kind of. Now it's America against the rest of the world. It's an evolution of the approach, but to serve always the same positioning. Dodge changed over time to be totally honest because it had to reflect the change of management of the brand. When it comes to Chrysler, which has been through some changes of leadership as well, we never changed.

It's still this vision of a mainstream American brand that can deliver more than what you'd expect, and actually can compete with the best of what the imports have to offer, whether it's technology, style, quality or even value. The 200 has amazing value today. That was the vision back in 2010 because that's what we pitched for the 200 of the time and the 300 of the time.

The only thing is that today, the relevance of the Detroit story is a little bit less. It's not the same sense of urgency -- that's a good thing. But the story is the still the same. It's America's import. We loved the poetry of this tie between Chrysler and Detroit. This can't totally go, but we had to open the horizon. We can't be just Detroit.

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