Chrysler Group CMO Olivier Francois likes to roll the dice when it comes to marketing. But Mr. Francois may be taking his biggest gamble yet by casting Will Ferrell's fictional "Ron Burgundy" character as pitchman for the 2014 Dodge Durango SUV.
Since giving ANA attendees a sneak peak on Friday at the spots in which Mr. Ferrell reprises his character from the 2004 comedy "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," Chrysler broke the campaign on "Saturday Night Live" and ran it during NFL football telecasts this weekend. That's just the first installment in a campaign by the Detroit-based auto maker and Paramount Pictures to co-promote Durango and the sequel, "Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues," which hits theaters Dec. 20.
In an interview, Mr. Francois was typically enthusiastic about the spots and Mr. Ferrell's performance. The Detroit-based auto maker and ad agency Wieden & Kennedy turned over almost full creative control to the Mr. Ferrell and his Hollywood creative team, said Mr. Francois.
Chrysler and Paramount proudly say it's the first time a marketer and movie studio have used a star -- in character -- to create original long and short-form content. But will consumers get the joke within the joke? Could this campaign become Mr. Francois' "Heaven's Gate," an expensive flop that tarnishes his almost spotless track record?
The ironic ads could also go over the heads of consumers who haven't seen the original "Anchorman" (or didn't think it was funny). Then there's the decision to have Mr. Ferrell stay in character as the blustering 1970s news reader who doesn't understand what terms like MPG means. Or recognize all the newfangled technology in today's Durango.
Mr. Francois doesn't sound worried. He said the outside-the-box Burgundy idea is exactly what's needed to shake up consumers, who have preconceived notions about the Durango nameplate. He chuckled over one video in which Burgundy thinks the voice coming from the modern navigation system is a real woman trapped within the dashboard.
"We need to be super-engaging. But we also need to be very entertaining. Otherwise, you run the risk of being boring, speaking about the horsepower, the Uconnect system and the fuel efficiency," Mr. Francois said. "We're super-proud of our 25 MPG for our SUV. But is it the most engaging and entertaining story? No. So the idea of the campaign is very simple…Hiring a guy who comes from the 1970s. And he's going to look at our advanced technology through the eyes of a guy who comes from the '70's. That was the creative design. That was the big idea."
What marketer wouldn't turn over creative control to Mr. Ferrell and longtime collaborator Adam McKay, asks Josh Greenstein, CMO of Paramount. Wieden and Dodge collaborated with Mr. Ferrell, Mr. McKay and their team at "Funny or Die" to create the campaign, he said.
"These guys are comedic geniuses. When the camera starts rolling, just let them do their thing. They're that good."
Whatever the results, Chrysler got its money worth from Mr. Ferrell, according to Mr. Francois. The actor-comedian generated 70 commercials (rather than the three to six originally envisioned). He and his team wrote the scripts, hired the crews and pretty much "ran the show."
With so much content from a major Hollywood star, Chrysler will likely end up airing a dozen different TV spots -- and show the rest online at the Dodge brand's YouTube channel and on Funny or Die.
The huge number of spots were just the ones personally selected by Mr. Ferrell. "There were probably more -- but 70 was what he came back with. … They are all absolutely amazing," said Mr. Francois.
The new Burgundy/Durango spots will run across a number of networks, including: ESPN, E! Entertainment Television, MLB Network, MTV, NBC Sports, Spike, TBS, TNT and AMC. There will be also national print ads featuring the Burgundy character. Those will have the look of Dodge print work from the '70's.
Mr. Francois and Mr. Greenstein declined to comment on the ad spending behind the cross-promotional campaign. Chrysler spent more than $20 million on Durango advertising in 2012, according to Kantar Media. Dodge's sales grew 3% in September, and 18% over the first nine months of 2013, according to Automotive News Data Center.