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Chrysler Corp.'s estimated $100 million marketing effort for its new minivans might not be as maximum as originally planned.

Because of slumping car sales and a slow minivan production startup, Chrysler will postpone TV advertising for several weeks while the company focuses on clearing out growing car inventories, said Theodor Cunningham, exec VP-sales and marketing for the No. 3 automaker.

TV time originally intended for the minivan introduction, including sponsorship of the NBA finals on NBC, will be used instead for product and incentive advertising for the Dodge/Plymouth Neon; the Dodge Stratus and Intrepid; Chrysler Concorde and Cirrus; and Eagle Vision.

Chrysler is going ahead with its print and direct marketing efforts for the minivans. An eight-page insert for the Chrysler Town & Country ran May 19 in USA Today, with similar inserts to introduce the Dodge Caravan and the Plymouth Voyager following.

Chrysler also will go on with promotional tie-ins to the Walt Disney Co. movie "Pocahontas."

Mr. Cunningham, who declined to discuss spending plans, said minivan ad budgets could be restored to original levels if car inventories are brought under control.

"This is a short-term reallocation," said Mr. Cunningham, who blamed the car inventory increase on the overall slump in auto sales. Through April, industry car and truck sales are off 5.5% compared with a year ago.

The minivan launch won't suffer major damage because publicity already has generated a high awareness of the new products, Mr. Cunningham said.

The timing is bad, however, because Chrysler faces the stiffest challenge to its dominance since it brought out the first minivans in the 1984 model year.

In April, Ford Motor Co.'s trio of minivans-Ford Windstar and Aerostar and Mercury Villager-outsold Chrysler's minivans for the first time, 37,841 units to 34,718.

Chrysler's production changeover to the new models was a decisive factor. Increased brand differentiation is a key to Chrysler's minivan marketing efforts (AA, March 6).

Playing off the Dodge theme line "We changed everything," the Caravan will be pitched as "Just as original as the original" in advertising from BBDO Worldwide, Southfield, Mich. Starting with June titles, Caravan ads will run in publications like Time, Sports Illustrated and Parade.

Plymouth Voyager will be presented as the value choice for first-time buyers. Town & Country will be positioned as "The ultimate," as Chrysler tries to attract buyers who would otherwise turn to a luxury car or a high-image sport-utility vehicle.

Bozell, Southfield, created both the Plymouth and Chrysler brand campaigns.

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