A Critique of Chrysler’s “Imported From Detroit” Branding

This year, Chrysler stunned the advertising and consumer world with their “Imported from Detroit” rebrand. This rebrand effort was launched during the Super Bowl with the famous commercial featuring Eminem and his music. I will not lie, I was stunned at the excellent delivery of emotion from the folks at Chrysler and I had great hopes that this commercial would be the precursor to a rebirth of branding and advertising not just in the auto industry, but in the ad industry as well. Sadly though, my hopes were a little too high. Chrysler partnering with Wieden Kennedy, created an amazing foundation for a brand rebirth, but failed and continues to fail in execution and evolution of that rebrand.

There not doubt that the promotion of Saad Chehab to CEO of Chrysler and Lancia brands was a result of the Wieden Kennedy’s work with Chrysler. Chehab delivered on a promise to Detroit, to give hope, inspiration and sense of fight back into the people who have endured so much. Chehab said that he wanted to “capture the story of a downtrodden city with a glorious history that still had so much to offer.” That’s true; he with W+K helped bring that story to light. However, what has happened, and I am sure most people in Detroit are keenly aware of, the delivery of that story and offering is quickly dwindling if not completely gone.

This is Motor City, and This is What We Do
Eminem’s epic moment in the brand’s feature commercial was, not doubt spectacular, especially with the line “this is motor city and this is what we do.” Moreover was the introduction ahead of Eminem’s appearance, was much more powerful. The quick cuts of the real Detroit; the cold, the strength, the people and the faith the city has. The commercial told a story of those who have fought long and hard. Those people who have worked, those people who have never given up hope. The commercial followed the rules of emotional branding to their finer details. “The hottest fires forge the toughest steel.” Hope and ambition, strength and character, America and its people were the messages being drilled into our hearts. We did not weep when watching this commercial, rather we watched with open eyes and mouths while not breathing a single breath. We knew, just like those in Detroit, that this commercial, this message, meant something. It touched us in a way we haven’t felt in a long while. And there it was, emotion being applied to the brand. It was as if Chrysler never left us and never will. It was here to stay and lift us up from the dark.

That was the point of it all; hope and inspiration. Chrysler created something that we all believed in and we attached ourselves. If you notice, the car was in the commercial for all of 15 seconds. It wasn’t about the car, never should have been. It was about the people making it and the people around it.

And that’s the last we saw of that messaging.

Introduction of New Cities
I don’t know if it is easier to shoot in New York and LA, but that’s where the latest Chrysler commercials filmed from. I agree, that a brand needs to evolve and needs to seek out new landscapes, however, New York and LA are not related to Detroit even in the slightest. This rebrand was about blue-collar, the American struggle. New York and LA do not provide that persona at all. Nor is “Imported from Detroit” about fashion or hip-hop. The introduction of fashion designer John Varvatos in New York and Dr. Dre in LA do not align to the emotion already set.

Yes, Varvatos is from Detroit, but fashion is not and Dr. Dre is from LA. These are complete disconnects from the brand or what the brand is supposed to be about; or from what we gathered the brand is about. I know that Dr. Dre’s Beats Audio are integrated into some vehicles, but what about having those commercials shot in Detroit or city similar? What I don’t get is the fashion angle. How does fashion or a fashion designer relate to this campaign at all?

Eminem came from and will never leave Detroit. He has blue-collar in his blood. In fact, word on the street is that Chrysler and W+K had to prove that the campaign was going to reflect and promote Detroit and that Chrysler will never leave it. Well, fast forward 5 months and Chrysler left Detroit to shoot in LA and New York.

In my opinion, if you want to maintain that level of emotion around a city and its people, especially those who are hard working, determined and full of character, don’t leave that city. Make Detroit the epicenter of the rebrand. Align Detroit to Chrysler; align the people to the image. If you have to, move to a city much like Detroit such as Cleveland, Milwaukee, Pittsburg or St. Louis. It is very apparent that Chrysler, along with W+K have lost sight of the emotion they had originally created.

The Branding Dispute
Pure Detroit began selling apparel and other items with the “Imported from Detroit” slogan on them. Chrysler quickly came down on them with a cease-and-desist order and began to sue them. Yes, large brands know how to keep hold on their brand and enjoy controlling it and maintaining the image. Where Chrysler made the mistake was this case specifically. Given the fact that the rebrand was about Detroit’s people and the American people, the rebrand should have been allowed to evolve and be owned by the people. I’m all for brand equity and promote it with my clients. However, this case is different. The people of Detroit evangelized the brand after one, one commercial! This is unreal. This is free advertising, this is free advocacy and free recognition. Chrysler as a brand doesn’t have to do anything to move the brand forward, yet, they came down hard on the “working man” or the Detroit they have come to realize was always there waiting to be understood.

In this case, allow the merchants to create your brand for you. Allow the consumers to respond with faith in your brand and become inspired by the work they do to create the cars that you are selling.

Branding and Art Direction
The rebrand’s art direction is the brass tacks of what I’m concerned about. Coming from an Art Director background, watching this campaign unfold makes me cringe. The inaugural commercial had “feeling” belonging only to itself. When W+K or the other agencies working with Chrysler started rolling out traditional media, follow up commercials and microsites, the image and the emotion quickly fell apart.

If a large brand like Chrysler wants to rollout a campaign like this, it is required to have a cohesive image and message across all channels and outlets. You see below that the commercials do not have the same art direction as the traditional pieces. The websites do not live up to the image in the commercial as the sites are all about product and not image and emotion.

What I do have are stills from videos from the auto shows at the booths after the commercial aired. They are emotional, endearing, historic, and they tell a story of where we have been and where we are going – all without products. I want to sit in a Chrysler after seeing these images.

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Here’s a solution, take visual cues from the commercials that made you great. Speak, through images and content about the story, about the emotion, about the city, and about life. Let the consumers make a connection with your story, then with your product.

What This Campaign Should Have Been About
In summary, this campaign should have been about hope, reality, inspiration, fight and pride. It should have been about the people and the feelings. Chrysler and W+K have failed at aligning meaning behind the rest of their approach to the brand that they started back in early 2011. Align back to Detroit, speak to the people that make that city great and this country great. Speak to sacrifice, hard work and determination. Speak to THEM and stop bringing us that which we cannot relate to. Do not leave Detroit, do not ignore the “blue-collar” worker and do not leave us like the brands before you.

Want to know what I’m talking about? Watch what Levi’s is doing.

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