Marketing Misfire: Chrysler dealers win broader ad role

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Chrysler Group, recently under fire by consumer groups over its ad creative, will let key dealers have more say in developing national and regional campaigns.

The move was sparked by an Arizona meeting in late February with Chrysler-Jeep executives, members of Chrysler-Jeep's national dealer executive committee and agency executives of Omnicom Group's PentaMark Worldwide, Troy, Mich. "I think we'll be playing a much larger role" in developing ads, said Tom Barenboim, a Methuen, Mass., dealer who attended the meeting. Dealers at the session told the auto and agency executives they want to see proposed ads in storyboard form, not "when they're done, on the shelf and in the can," he said.

Dealers want ads that give more information about vehicle benefits while balancing that with product value and the deal, he added.

Jeff Bell, VP-marketing communications for all Chrysler brands, said the marketer will seek input on storyboards from the dealers. Dodge will also work with key dealers on its national panel in a similar manner. The Dodge meeting will be held in April or May. The key Chrysler-Jeep dealers should be called in to see storyboards within 30 days, he said.

The automaker's ads have angered various consumer groups and individuals, whose complaints resulted in Chrysler pulling three TV spots off the air for fixes. A fourth was completely yanked from the schedule within weeks of airing.

Among the problem ads: A Dodge Ram spot that began running shortly before Sept. 11 showing a jet flying above the pickup as both approached a city. Two months later, the marketer changed the ending of a regional Chrysler Concorde commercial after complaints; in the original, a mom tells her daughter that her younger sibling was named Concorde after the place she was conceived. In early January, sportsmen's groups complained a national Jeep Grand Cherokee commercial vilified deer hunters; later that month, state highway officials complained a regional spot that showed a Dodge Caravan minivan passing a snow plow would encourage dangerous driving.

Some Dodge dealers complained that last fall's launch ads for the 2002 Ram pickup heavily featuring the band Aerosmith didn't explain the model's total redo or its product benefits.


"We want our dealers to tell us with consumers," Mr. Bell said. "It has been our intention to get more involved with our dealers."

Chrysler Group, which hasn't been profitable since the third quarter of 2000, hopes to break even this year. The carmaker spent $1.2 billion on measured advertising for its Dodge, Chrysler and Jeep brands last year, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

Peter Rhein, a Chrysler-Jeep dealer in Port Jefferson, N.Y., who attended the Arizona meeting, said dealer input into Chrysler-Jeep advertising has changed over the years as different vehicle-brand chiefs changed.

"In the last couple of years, we lost focus how to get products out." He credited Mr. Bell and his boss, George Murphy, senior VP-global brand marketing, and Tom Marinelli, VP of Chrysler-Jeep global brand center, with responding to the dealers in Arizona. (Mr. Murphy and Mr. Bell are newcomers, joining Chrysler last year from Ford Motor Co.)

When asked whether Chrysler-Jeep dealers are happy with the advertising, Mr. Ryan responded: "When business is good, everyone likes the advertising. When business is bad, it's advertising's fault."

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