Chrysler Starts Fresh With Fallon as BBDO Partnership Winds Down

Win Marks Huge Coup for Minneapolis Shop After BMW Loss in '05

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NEW YORK ( -- The agency that has done some of the most groundbreaking auto work in the past decade with its BMW Films series -- Fallon, Minneapolis -- is finally back in the car business after four years without an auto account.

Francois Olivier, president-CEO of the Chrysler brand at Chrysler Group
Francois Olivier, president-CEO of the Chrysler brand at Chrysler Group
The news was delivered by Olivier Francois, the newly crowned president-CEO of the Chrysler brand at Chrysler Group, in a letter to Ad Age that discussed a new spot that ran in the U.S. from an Italian agency. As part of the letter, Mr. Francois noted the automaker had hired Fallon "to be Chrysler Brand's official ad agency, and they are presently developing new commercials to start airing this year."

The assignment caps a nice run for the long-troubled Publicis Groupe agency. After a rocky few years that saw the departure of top talent and lucrative accounts, 2009 -- which has proved a challenging year for many shops -- has instead been good to Fallon in terms of new business. A slew of small- to mid-size marketers have turned to the shop for help with its creative. Among the clients Fallon has added this year: Beam Global's Cruzan Rum Brand; Boston Market restaurants; General Mills' Totinos brand; Purina's dog food Alpo; and cable TV operator Charter Communications.

It's a much-needed upswing since the agency's namesake Pat Fallon stepped away from a day-to-day role at the agency over two years ago. It's also helped that Fallon has gotten a bolstering from its sibling agency Saatchi; the two will sit together in a mini-holding company called SSF.

Fallon's boon with Chrysler has been the bane of BBDO's year. The Omnicom Group agency, which has been the lead creative shop on all Chrysler brands for years, will see its contract with the carmaker run out next month. BBDO has been unable to negotiate a new contract with Chrysler, resulting in the shuttering, at the end of January, of a Detroit office that has long churned out ads for the carmaker -- putting hundreds of staffers out of work.

Branded entertainment
"We are proud to be involved with rebuilding such a great, iconic American Brand," Fallon CEO Chris Foster said in an e-mail. "This win for us is a testament to our renewed momentum under Darren Spiller's creative leadership." Mr. Spiller joined Fallon in April as its chief creative officer from Publicis Mojo in Australia.

Fallon was responsible for the high-profile BMW Films. The movies featured A-list directors and Clive Owen as a mysterious driver for hire, and were designed to reach BMW's affluent clientele, which increasingly doesn't watch TV. Launched in 2001, they set the standard for the emerging branded-entertainment field.

The agency will clearly have its work cut out for it; the Chrysler brand's new-vehicle sales in the U.S. slumped 50% to 158,893 units in the first nine months of the year compared to a year ago, according to the Automotive New Data Center.

After a four-year spell without an auto account, it'll be interesting to see what Fallon will create for brand Chrysler. The first clue will come later this month, when the agency breaks some retail work, but a full campaign isn't expected until next year.

For Mr. Francois' part, those who know the former Fiat executive say he's not averse to risky, provocative advertising. He's already stirred a bit of controversy with the release of an ad last week that -- similar to a Lancia commercial from a year ago -- called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's pro-democracy leader and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate who has been in and out of house arrest since 1989.

'Social responsibility'
In his letter to Ad Age, Mr. Francois took pains to defend the spot that began airing yesterday from Armando Testa, the ad agency for Fiat's Lancia brand. The commercial, which he referred to as an "act of social responsibility," was a "one-time execution" that was wrongly portrayed as an affront to U.S. taxpayers.

"In fact, neither the agency nor the leadership of Nobel, nor the other Nobel Prize winners in the film, charged us even a penny for it," Mr. Francois said. "The only costs were actually spent here in the U.S., to two companies to coordinate and manage the trafficking of this film.

"Hopefully, we can enjoy the freedom of having your readers in a democratic society decide for themselves if they should be upset, or whether we instead exercised fiscal responsibility in producing this important film," he added.

As for Chrysler's rapidly changing roster of agencies, more moves are afoot with a media-agency review that is expected to reach a decision imminently. Currently PHD serves as the media agency of record of all three of Chrysler's major brands, Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep, and it remains to be seen whether Omnicom Group will retain any of the business.

Richards Group, Dallas, was recently added to the Chrysler roster to do work for the Ram truck brand, and GlobalHue in Southfield, Mich., took over all Jeep brand work.

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Contributing: Jean Halliday

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