DETROIT -- Chrysler Group's three brands are faring poorly against their major competitors in the minds of consumers, according to the automaker's internal research.
Under new Fiat-led management, the company plans to address that shortcoming by changing the way it communicates its Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brands in advertising.
Chrysler's research shows that the three brands lag the big-selling Toyota and Ford brands in awareness, familiarity, consideration and other elements that lead customers to make purchases.
Chrysler will move away from its previous strategy that sometimes featured all brands in one ad. Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep brand bosses now have full profit-and-loss accountability. With that responsibility, they can choose their own creative ad strategies, although media buying is likely to remain centralized.
Chrysler's research suggests a shake-up is needed. Its brands fared poorly in the purchase-funnel measurement, which marketers use to gauge the success of a brand in converting consumer awareness and intentions into consideration and purchases.
An in-house Chrysler document obtained by Automotive News says Chrysler "must improve funnel measurements for mid/long term success." The document, presented to dealers Aug. 18 as part of a revamp of dealer advertising associations, compares Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep to the Ford and Toyota brands, which scored higher in the funnel measurements.
The page showing the numbers carries the headline "We have to do business different."
The document shows Dodge was highest in customer awareness with a score of 83, while Chrysler and Jeep each scored 77. The Ford and Toyota brands each scored 92.
Chrysler declined to discuss the methodology used in its research.
The automaker already faces steep challenges: It has no new product coming until at least mid-2010; it is short of cash after two months in bankruptcy, during which it shipped no new vehicles to dealers; and its retail network has been gutted by the termination of 789 dealerships.
According to Advertising Age, a sister publication of Automotive News, Chrysler is holding discussions with up to 10 advertising agencies. But the company says that it is not conducting a formal review and that BBDO Worldwide remains its agency of record.
Wes Brown, a partner in Iceology, a Los Angeles consumer research firm, says the Chrysler scores are "pretty distressing. The only way they're going to pull themselves out is product, and unfortunately, we're 18 months away."
Before Fiat-derived products arrive in showrooms, Brown says Chrysler must improve consumer opinion and prepare customers for change.