PETER BROWN

Clint and Sergio: Can-do Chrysler's brand builders

Automotive News | February 6, 2012 - 3:08 pm EST

Clint Eastwood and Sergio Marchionne. Not, at first glance, an obvious pairing. But the two gentlemen combined for an unlikely branding value over the weekend.

Eastwood's evocative "Halftime in America" spot on the Super Bowl lit up the Internet just a day after Chrysler CEO Marchionne told America's car dealers that Chrysler and the industry would step up and meet the expected big jump in federal fuel-economy standards for 2025.

Those weekend events were related by an idea: a can-do company.

Eastwood's two-minute commercial never mentioned Chrysler, until the four brand logos showed up at the end. No need to mention Chrysler. After last year's Eminem spot, the whole country knows who owns the sentiments of gritty hard work and rebirth.

On Saturday, Marchionne addressed the wildly upbeat convention of the National Automobile Dealers Association. NADA has objected to the 54.5 mpg standard.

We can meet it, Marchionne said. And afterward he told reporters: "The standard is 14 years out. If you start giving up on projects that are 14 years out, we might as well choose another occupation."

He wasn't exactly telling NADA to "Go ahead, make my day." But he was staking out the patriotic, can-do territory.

Together, the messages of Clint and Sergio suggest a brand value for Chrysler, just as another Sergio (Leone) created the Eastwood brand with three great spaghetti westerns in the mid-1960s.

I've never believed that "Buy American" messages were worth a nickel. People will buy the things that work for them, from brands they trust.

Chrysler, "Imported from Detroit," may just be creating a nascent brand value that will lead to "A Fistful of Dollars."

Peter Brown is publisher and editorial director of Automotive News.Peter Brown is publisher and editorial director of Automotive News.

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