Automaker positions model as American-made import killer

Chrysler spot pitches the 200 and the workers who make it

Automaker positions model as American-made import killer

The 60-second and 30-second commercials have a similar look and feel to previous Chrysler spots.
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NEW YORK --  Chrysler will market its all-new 200 as a car with "swagger" and "soul" in a new campaign breaking Saturday that focuses not just on the car, but the people who make it.

Two new TV spots from Richards Group will use the Bob Dylan track, "Things Have Changed," and Chrysler's marketing strategy for the 2015 model underscores how the automaker has changed its approach.

Chrysler unveiled the new campaign earlier today.

When Wieden & Kennedy created its two-minute "Born of Fire" Super Bowl spot to first introduce the 200 sedan in 2011, Chrysler positioned itself as a plucky underdog battling to survive bankruptcy. And it painted struggling Detroit as the soul of the auto world.

Now, Chrysler is confidently positioning the 200 as an American-made import killer ready to steal customers from the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Nissan Altima and Hyundai Sonata as well as the Chevrolet Malibu and Ford Fusion.

"Our core target possibly will end up skewing a little bit male. But we think there's also an opportunity here to appeal to independent-minded women," said Marissa Hunter, head of Ram Truck brand advertising and director of brand advertising for Chrysler Group.

Other consumers targeted by the new campaign: young professionals ("not necessarily millennials," she said); older drivers who might want something "a little smaller" than a SUV or full-size sedan; and young Hispanic families. The 200 is in showrooms now, selling for $22,695 including transportation.

The advertising theme of the 200 campaign will be: "Born Makers."

The copyline refers to the idea that only the "strong backs" and "callused hands" of American workers in Detroit could produce such a mixture of quality and attitude -- compared to better-selling, but more vanilla imports that have all the style of rolling appliances.

Detroit visuals

The 60-second and 30-second commercials have a similar look and feel to previous Chrysler spots. They show the usual visuals of the Detroit skyline and beauty shots of the sleek new 200 gliding through the gritty streets of Motown. But they also offer a long look at Chrysler's Sterling Heights, Mich., assembly plant. Once slated for closure, the plant now boasts a new assembly area and fully-robotic body shop. The message: both Chrysler and Detroit are back.

Gravely-voiced Detroit native Kevin Yon (who also voiced "Born of Fire") narrates the commercials while Detroit singer MoZella handles vocals on a remixed version of Dylan's "Things Have Changed."

"From blood, sweat…and gears. All the things that make a Born Maker…made this," says Yon. "A car with swagger. Intelligence. Soul. A car that proves a well-made sedan doesn't have to cross an ocean to be worthy of American driveways. We are Born Makers. We made this."

The spots end with the tagline, "America's Import." That tag succeeded the previous "Imported from Detroit," which Chrysler used for three years.

24: product placement

The new campaign will feature TV, print, digital, social media and in-theater ads. Chrysler also has a product placement deal to give the 200 a role on Kiefer Sutherland's new series, "24: Live Another Day." The car will be featured all season and integrated into an episode airing June 9.

The ads will break June 6 before kicking into high gear on June 9, Hunter said. The media buy heavily favors sports programming, including the NBA Finals, Major League Baseball and the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil.

The upcoming 200 campaign will focus heavily on craftsmanship and quality. So is Chrysler making a subtle dig at rival Detroit auto giant General Motors in the wake of the company's recall scandal? 

"That's not the intent of this campaign," Hunter said.

Chrysler CMO Olivier Francois often likes to give Chrysler shops such as Richards, Wieden, GlobalHue and Doner a shot at new creative assignments, then pick what he feels to be the best work.

Wieden & Kenneday, Global Hue and Doner all pitched in creative ideas for the 200, but Chrysler thought Richards' "Born Makers" idea would be a "nice extension" of the Dylan spot from the Super Bowl, Hunter said.

With the current model winding down, Chrysler sold 37,833 units of the 200 through the first five months of 2014, down 40 percent during the same period in 2013, according to Automotive News Data Center. The Toyota Camry and Honda Accord ranked as the No. 1 and No. 2 best-selling cars through May, with sales of 181,876 and 152,949 respectively.

Jessica Caldwell, a senior analyst at Edmunds, said that although Chrysler does not have the volume of a Honda or Toyota, the automaker is trying hard to chip away in the important mid-size sedan market.

"Any car company that wants to be serious, mainstream automaker needs a very competitive car in this segment," she said. "You're seeing the domestics go this way. They've always been truck and SUV-focused. But now you've got Ford with the Fusion -- and Chevy with the new Malibu. That shows they're taking this serious too."


You can reach Michael McCarthy at mmcarthy@adage.com.


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