Screencap from Wieden + Kennedy spot for the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Of America's Big Three automakers, Chrysler is having the most trouble recovering from the recent recession. Sure, General Motors has struggled to get its marketing under control, but to its credit, GM never slowed down -- not even during last year's bankruptcy/bailout fiasco. Chrysler, on the other hand, rolled to a dead stop. Product development all but ended in the months leading up to the company's merger with Fiat, and the marketing of Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram vehicles has been spotty ever since. Then again, it's hard to advertise when you don't have anything new to say. That's what we call a catch-22.
Chrysler's marketing honcho, Olivier Francois, tried to keep the ball rolling with a series of branding ads, including a highly controversial, highly confusing spot featuring Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Aung San Suu Kyi. Dealers were not impressed: they leveled fierce criticism at Francois' approach and begged him to issue product-focused ads that could help move inventory.
We're happy to report that the dealers' pleas have finally been answered with a new spot for the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
We're not so happy to report that Wieden + Kennedy, which created the spot, kind of blew it. Have a look:
We admit that the ad is beautifully shot and well-produced. Its individual pieces are great: the copy reads like blank verse, the interior shots are lush and saturated. But sadly, the whole doesn't equal the sum of its parts.
For starters, it seems to us that Francois wanted to please himself and dealers with this one. Clearly, he wanted to continue his branding campaign -- the first 35 seconds are textbook brandspeak -- but he wanted to satisfy dealers, too, so he left the last 25 seconds to talk about the Cherokee. Altogether, this proves what we already know: when you try to mix corporate branding and product promotion in the same spot, you end up with a big ol' mess.
Even more disappointing is the message: all that discussion about the Common Man and Simplicity and the Calvinist work ethic is exactly what we'd expect from a U.S. automaker -- especially one that was recently owned by Germans, then by Italians, and is now looking to buff its American street cred. The spot will probably be fairly well received, but it doesn't say much for Wieden + Kennedy's creative team.
However, we don't want to end on a down note. We have a lot of good friends at Chrysler, and lots of us drive Chrysler vehicles. We want to see the company succeed. But we seriously hope that the :30 versions of this clip are a little clearer, a little crisper, and a little more persuasive. Mr. Marchionne, Mr Francois: please bring it.