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GREGORY SKWIRA

Chrysler's T-shirt blitzkrieg doesn't make sense

Gregory Skwira is a copy editor for Automotive News

I have a small business. If people were to volunteer to walk around in public with its name emblazoned on their chests, I'd be very happy. I couldn't afford to pay them, of course -- but free advertising? Sign me up.

That's why Chrysler's ongoing T-shirt trauma is so difficult to understand. A couple of weeks ago its lawyers moved to stop a Detroit retailer from selling knockoffs bearing the "Imported from Detroit" tag line that scored so well in Chrysler's Super Bowl commercial. Days later the company stopped one of its own Jeep dealers from raising funds for charity with a T-shirt that said "Imported from Toledo," marketing the brand's 70th birthday.

"We are not trying to embarrass Chrysler," said the dealer, Ralph Malahak Jr., whose Monroe, Mich., store is just up Interstate 75 from Jeep's Toledo birthplace. "We really love Jeep here."

If Chrysler were in the T-shirt business it would make more sense. Then the $20 sale price of a T-shirt that cost a few cents to make, multiplied by a million copies, adds up. But Chrysler's trying to sell cars. To young people. Who wear -- and look at -- T-shirts.

Getting noticed, in a way that reflects positively on your brand, is part of the drill. People pay marketers a lot of money to make that happen. Walk around any skateboard park or shopping mall and see how much advertising freight is being hauled, free, in the name of fashion.

Sure, I suppose there are potential problems. Suppose some knockoff artists comes up with a T-shirt that says "Imported from Detroit" . . . surrounded with blood spatter or some other image of urban mayhem. Or a broken-down car being hauled off by a tow truck.

But:

a) Why step in until it happens?

b) Or, if it happens, so what?

It's like the cops and their stun guns: Just because you have lawyers doesn't mean you have to use them.

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