PETER BROWN

It was a great ad, but will it pay off?

Peter Brown is publisher and editorial director of Automotive News

So I'm watching a football game from a hotel in San Francisco. (Yes, the Super Bowl is just a football game.) And I see the two-minute commercial from Chrysler, featuring Eminem, gritty views of Detroit, a poetic paean to the fine and tough people of Detroit, and an interesting tag line: "imported from Detroit."

Immediately, my Blackberry lights up. It's an e-mail from a friend at Chrysler. What did I think of the big spot?

I didn't respond. But by coincidence, I ran into him as I was leaving the hotel.

"Well ...?"

I gave my marketing-analyst answer. The commercial was a great tribute to Detroit, but I have observed that appealing to patriotism has never sold many cars. The pitch usually needs to be to the customer's self-interest.

I thought he was going to punch me for my cynicism. This beautiful piece of work was the start of a rebirth of a great city, he scolded, and I should be grateful and proud. And, he said, the commercial was the start of a discussion.

Well, it turns out that he was right, at least on that last point.

Moments after I fled my disappointed friend, I got an e-mail from my 24-year-old son in Chicago, a wizard at social media. It made me feel cynical. Here's what he wrote:

The Chrysler ad was incredible (and apparently the unanimous Best of Show). I had countless text messages, Facebook messages, and saw tons of Twitter posts praising the ad. I watched the game at an apartment with a bunch of people from Michigan, and when the ad was over, everyone in the room was high-fiving each other. Hope you saw it.

What a great reaction.

A couple of days later, I got an e-mail from my old friend Fred, a Prius owner, who lives in Oakland, Calif. His wife Nancy hails from the Detroit area. Wrote Fred:

Did you see the Chrysler commercial during the Super Bowl?? Almost made me want to move back there! We toured the Fox Theatre when we were in Detroit a couple of years ago. It is fantastic. Nancy was very proud of her home town when that commercial was showing.

At some level, the commercial connected strongly with some folks.

Oh, and five minutes after his first e-mail, my son sent a follow-up:

It should probably also be noted that nobody knows that the ad was for the Chrysler 200. It was the “Eminem/Detroit/Chrysler” ad.

Time will tell if the discussion started by Chrysler has a payoff, for Chrysler or for Detroit.

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