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Post-Celine, Chrysler ad guru seeks right note

Chrysler’s Peter Arnell: “I did a phenomenal job in the creative.”
Don't call Peter Arnell's return to Chrysler — the scene of his advertising agency's biggest blowup — a quest for redemption.

Arnell rejects suggestions that his new design role offers a second chance to make good at Chrysler. The automaker dropped his agency, the Arnell Group, after the failure of a 2003 campaign featuring singer Celine Dion.

Arnell worked with Chrysler LLC CEO Bob Nardelli when the latter headed Home Depot Inc. The hope at Chrysler is that Arnell, who has the title of acting chief information officer, will sharpen the automaker's design approach and customer relations.

"This is a line in the sand where I take my rightful place as an industrial designer," Arnell says.

'Great impact or no impact'

Arnell, 49, has been on the job at Chrysler since late last year. In the next 30 months, vehicles and other Chrysler merchandise that reflect his influence should reach dealerships.

"He could have great impact or no impact at all," says Kevin Tynan, senior auto analyst at Argus Research. "At this stage of the game, Chrysler may be trying to overcompensate by bringing in all the big guns. It doesn't ensure success or guarantee anything."

Arnell sits on Chrysler's product planning council. His charge is to address design issues without clashing with Chrysler's design chief, Trevor Creed, or the company's chief marketing officer, Deborah Meyer. Chrysler says Arnell will not be involved in advertising strategy.

No turf wars

Arnell and Chrysler spokesman David Barnas dismiss concerns about turf wars. Barnas wrote in an e-mail: "Within our company, we have a wealth of knowledge and experience. Adding fresh perspectives and outside specialists is a way to accelerate Chrysler's transformation and our drive toward long-term sustainable success."

Chrysler says much of its future growth will be in international markets. The company cites Arnell's experience with helping "multinational companies on a global basis."

Arnell has visited China and attended last month's Geneva auto show. He spends two to three days a week at his office at Chrysler headquarters in suburban Detroit.

Arnell says he is unconcerned about any hangover from the work his agency did for the 2003 launch of the Chrysler Pacifica crossover in ads featuring Dion. The Pacifica campaign, which cost Chrysler a reported $14 million, was unpopular with dealers.

"I did what I was asked to do," Arnell says. "I did a phenomenal job in the creative. I was not responsible for determining the market, pricing or positioning of that vehicle."

You can reach Michael Bush at mbush@adage.com

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