Olivier Francois, chief marketing officer for Fiat and Chrysler, has helped rehabilitate Chrysler Group's image since its 2009 bankruptcy.
Chrysler has racked up 37 consecutive months of year-over-year U.S. sales increases, thanks in part to memorable commercials, such as rapper Eminem's coup during the 2011 Super Bowl.
Francois, 51, spoke with Staff Reporter Larry P. Vellequette on April 26.
Q: Where do you see the Chrysler brand positioned going forward?
A: "Imported from Detroit" is and will continue to be the tag line for the Chrysler brand. It was first introduced in 2011 during the "Born of Fire" commercial, and we've been continuing to build on the theme with everything we've done. The message for the Chrysler brand is that we are building on quality, on style, on technology -- all things that used to be found on imported cars.
Now we are appealing to the consumer who appreciates not having to cross an ocean to find quality, style and technology.
Do you think that Dodge's brand message is clear right now?
I think it's very clear now. The "How to Change Cars Forever," which was the Dart campaign last fall, launched a new Dodge brand as much as a new Dodge car. I think the ads have been well-received by the press, the consumers, and actually sparked even parodies and social media chatter. Those are good signals of success. So I would say, yes, the direction is clear.
In North America, where do you see the messaging for the Fiat brand going?
Fiat is a very interesting case. We started with Jennifer Lopez, which offered the opportunity for an amazing 360-degree partnership which triggered for Fiat the greatest awareness growth ever. From there, everything that we've been doing has been totally out of the box. Starting with "Seduction," which started first as an [online-only] spot that made its debut at the 2011 Los Angeles Auto Show and was posted to YouTube.
And without ever having been on television or through the networks, it gained global attention. Since then, I think we have developed a very distinctive Fiat attitude.
Chrysler seems to focus more on brands than other automakers. Why?
It's all about differentiating the brands. Each of our brands should stand for something unique, so that when consumers visit our showroom, they must have an idea of which brand and product they are looking for.
Unlike some of the other carmakers, we have on the same salesroom floor more than one brand. My goal with marketing is that the customers shouldn't be cross-shopping within our Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge-Ram portfolio. They have to shop against the competition and, therefore, not cannibalize our own sales.
Do you think Ram is an established brand in consumers' minds?
I think there is still some ground to cover, but we are in a good place. The Ram truck brand has established its own identity and clearly defined its own customer since the separation from the Dodge brand. Clearly, the "Farmer" commercial in the Super Bowl did a lot to convert customers to Ram. It drew a lot of attention to Ram.
Within pickups, can marketing change brand loyalty?
Brand loyalty is huge in the pickup market. People buy the same brand not just for a lifetime but for generations, which is why I pitched the "Farmer" commercial.
From time to time, I think we need a very, very strong message to shake a little bit of this loyalty and to say Ram's here, and it's not just a superior product, but it has also a little bit of soul that relates to something special, that speaks to the heart of even a loyal Ford or GM customer.
Beyond the "Farmer" commercial, what has to happen to keep that theme going?
We have a whole set of activities within our marketing toolbox.
We decided that 2013 would be the year of the farmer, so we are very active with farmers, with partnerships, with various farmers' associations.
Beyond the spot, we do engage with farmers. It was not just a one-hit wonder. There is a substantial effort to reach out to farmers in this country.
Do you have a favorite commercial that you have done in the last four years?
My favorite commercial is always the one to come. At this moment, I'm cooking some new stuff. I'm always looking at what's new, what's coming, and we have some good things coming soon. My heart is leaning toward the future always.
What do you think was the most effective Chrysler Group commercial of the past four years?
I think Eminem was incredibly effective for the Chrysler 200. J.Lo was incredibly effective in terms of awareness; almost overnight, we went from 9 percent to 45 percent awareness in the country, which is totally unbelievable.
The Jeep, "What we make, makes us" commercial has been a breakthrough -- incredibly effective not just because it did a lot of sales for the Jeep Grand Cherokee but for the whole marketing team. It captured a tone, it's helped us find our path. The Dart campaign is very effective, too.