LOS ANGELES -- By the beard of Zeus, that was a winning campaign.
Dodge's series of commercials starring Will Ferrell as the Anchorman character Ron Burgundy was a bona fide viral hit. Chrysler says the 70-odd TV spots and Web videos racked up more than 33 million views on YouTube as of early January and made the Dodge brand a pop culture talking point last fall.
But with his effusive endorsement of the Durango's glove compartment, among other features, Burgundy did something more important than generate buzz for the crossover. He helped move metal. And with the Super Bowl just three weeks away and major vehicle launches on the horizon, Dodge's campaign could hold lessons for automakers hoping to translate viral success into real demand.
"We've seen a lot of instances with things like this where there are false positives, where a campaign gets a lot of buzz and lots of high-level Web site hits and stuff like that, but it doesn't translate to in-market demand. A lot of Super Bowl campaigns are like that," says Lincoln Merrihew, vice president of transportation at research company Millward Brown Digital.
Burgundy was different, he says. "I'd definitely call it a hit."
After the campaign launched in October, the Durango had 28,500 in-market shoppers in November, more than the nameplate had in any month so far that year and the second most it's had in the past two years, according to Millward Brown. In-market shoppers are those who are nearing a purchase of a specific model, Millward Brown says. Durango sales rose 36 percent in November and 3 percent in December from year-earlier months.
The Durango's share of market interest -- the percentage of people researching the Durango out of all in-market auto shoppers across the Web -- also increased to a 2013 high of 1 percent in November from 0.7 percent in September, before the campaign began.
"That's a really big gain," Merrihew says. "In terms of generating demand, which is what the campaign is supposed to do, it's been fantastic."
And somewhat rare. Online search traffic spurred by splashy automotive advertising, even big-budget Super Bowl spots, often fails to translate into actual increases in demand to the degree that Dodge has had with the Burgundy campaign, Merrihew says. This campaign struck a chord, he says, by latching onto a hot piece of pop culture with genuinely entertaining content.
Simply put, the commercials were funny.
"It was compelling to watch," Merrihew says. "You had to watch it because Burgundy the character is so straight-laced, and yet you laugh at him. The character is trying to be so authentic and real, but Will Ferrell by definition is being tongue-in-cheek and goofy. Just like the movie, you want to see just how off-the-rails this can go."