Dodge gets raunchy in new Durango spot

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Dodge is getting involved in the debate over whether size matters with an R-rated commercial that has some dealers cringing.

The Chrysler Group unit plans to air the spot for its 2004 Durango sport utility during late night TV shows and on theater screens showing R-rated movies. A single execution in an otherwise typical campaign, the spot, according to dealers who previewed the ad, shows two men at restroom urinals talking about size as a third man listens, puzzled, inside a stall. What the third man doesn't realize is they're talking about the bigger Durango because a poster of the SUV hangs on a nearby wall.

"It's one bad boy," the narrator says. Omnicom Group's BBDO, Troy, Mich., handles Dodge's general market ads but the spot is said to have been created by GlobalHue, Southfield, Mich.

"It's an adult ad aimed at a very specific audience," said James Kenyon, Chrysler Group spokesman on marketing matters. He said most Dodge dealers who saw the spot, called "Poster," gave it the thumbs up. "More dealers like it than don't."

But the spot that will air is a toned-down version of an earlier commercial, originally called "Bathroom Humor," that offended some dealers. "We voiced our concern about it and they revised it," said Jim Arrigo, chairman of Dodge's national dealer council. He called the second version, which includes "language changes," "tremendously different and a lot better." The original spot showed two black men, and, according to a dealer who saw it, one said to the other, "mine is 7 inches longer." The new Durango is 7 inches longer than the 2003 version. The revised version of the spot features one black man and one white man.

Mr. Kenyon said the changes involved "minimal tweaks," and the revised spot was tested and scored well.

repeat performance

The spot is one of at least four in the Durango campaign. Two goofy actors from past Dodge Ram pickup spots star in at least one new spot. The pair appeared in a 2003 Super Bowl commercial for the Dodge Ram in which one chokes up chewed beef jerky on the windshield.

Chrysler Group has had to change or pull several TV spots since late 2001 after viewer complaints. In 2002, Dodge altered a spot after Midwest state transportation officials complained it encouraged drivers to illegally pass snow plows, while Jeep pulled a spot that sporting groups claimed vilified deer hunters. Chrysler revised a Concorde spot in 2001 after consumers objected to its sexual nature.

Dodge has pushed the ad envelope before. Last October, it broke an ad that showed an animated character urinating on a rival truck's logo.

Durango's launch is key to Chrysler Group since Dodge is its best-selling nameplate and Chrysler is recuperating from a $1 billion-plus loss in the second quarter. Dodge's nine-month vehicle sales slid 4% from the same period last year to 953,912 units. Sales of Durango rose 2% during the same period, to 85,308.

Teaser TV spots break late this month.

Wes Brown, an analyst at consultant Iceology, said Dodge is trying to differentiate itself, but that if the edgy strategy backfires, "it can do more damage than good."

One dealer agreed with Mr. Brown. "We've got enough problems at Chrysler. We need to sell the benefit of our products."

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