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.

Include Social Media in your Brand Strategy

Branding your company is a big, arduous task. It’s not just a logo, it’s not your business cards, letterheads and advertising. What a lot of people and companies don’t understand about branding, is that your brand is not what you say it is, it’s what the consumers believe it is. It’s what the consumer feels about your brand. How do you communicate with your consumers to understand what they’re thinking, and how do to align their beliefs with your own brand strategy? Enter social media.

The term social media gets thrown about a lot, and social media strategy equally so. However, where does a social media strategy actually fit within your brand strategy? How do you leverage social media channels to effectively communicate with your consumers and how do you use social media to affect change within your brand strategy?

For starters, social media is a tool to reinforce your marketing communications pillar. It is not a separate entity; social media should enhance your marketing objectives and then your business strategy. Your business strategy aligns with the perception of your brand. This process is ever changing only because your consumers’ opinions are ever changing. What social can bring to the table is immediate, effective understanding and communications with your consumer base. Social is where you will find the most up-to-date brand opinion. This is important, vastly important to your brand, because you can decipher what your consumer believes, understand their concerns and with quick process, adjust the marketing communications to align your brand communications with the consumer’s perception.

Large words, I know. What is important to know is, consumer brand perception can and will change faster than marketing or brand channels can keep up with. Social offers a unique point of view of what’s happening in the eyes of the consumer and allows for rapid modification to marketing communications.

Picture this: Your brand launches a new product to market. This product is supposed to change the way people look at your brand. It’s meant to instill faith in your brand and some sort of positive, hopeful emotion. Now, let’s say there is a backlash against the product. Your product is either too expensive, insulting or just downright lame. Your consumers have an obvious opinion about this. Where do they go? They go where they spend the most of their time, Facebook and Twitter. Their opinion about your product is posted online, for their network, the network’s network, and the world to see. And with 90% of consumers trusting recommendations from people they know*, more consumers gravitate to the opinion and now you have a mess on your hands.

You have a Facebook fan page. The consumers post their discontent on your fan page’s wall. What do you do? Delete them? No! You respond respectfully and send the consumers’ opinions up the ladder to the marketing communications department. The marcom department, after dealing with problem at hand, should send it up to the business strategy arm. If you don’t have a business strategy arm, you should. Immediately, decisions should be made as to what to do with the information. It’s not a matter of how to stop this consumer belief from impacting your brand, because it IS your brand now. The matter is, how do you change it. Brand perception is no longer a top-down activity, it’s a bottom-up enterprise and social is your inroad to the perception. What you do, what you say, how your brand reacts on social will have an immediate effect, positive or negative to your brand. This process requires a new model of communication similar to that, which was introduced in the book, “The Brand Gap” by Marty Neumeier.

New Messaging Platform

*From “The Brand Gap,” Marty Neumeier

One item of note, the brand and social “strategy” are not solid, concrete action plans. Think of them as an organic, living system that’s ever changing. People’s beliefs change and your brand will have to evolve along with.

Your social communication should have a clear, precise path to the decision makers in your company. If your decision makers can’t hear what your consumers are saying about your brand, then you have lost what little control over brand perception you had. Your consumers are speaking about your brand through your social channels to, what they perceive as, people who can change things. Why not send that message fast and direct? The longer you avoid a clear, established, path from social media to the brand decision makers, the longer it will take to recover, redefine, or reinforce your brand perception and ultimately, your bottom line.

*Econsultancy, July 2009

Smart People

Recently, I had the opportunity to take part in a large branding workshop. I have to say, it was a truly amazing experience. What made it amazing? It wasn’t really the workshop itself, it was the people that took part in it. It was the people who surrounded me.

These “people” were smart people, very smart people. It was a refreshing experience and, at the same time, a humbling one. I’m not saying that I haven’t been in rooms with smart people before, I have. What I am saying is, I haven’t been in a room with this MANY smart people before. I really am not at liberty to disclose what was actually said, or what the brand workshop was focused on. I can disclose, however, the experiences that I took away.

I am a young man when it comes to the professional world. I know, I am nearly 30 years old and some people consider that old, but in the grand scheme of things, that is very young. I understand that I have a lot to learn and I very much welcome that challenge and this workshop provided that challenge. I was in a room with the playmakers and the decision makers for the majority of a day. We all sat down and pondered the why, the what, the how and what the next steps were in branding. The “where we are,” to the “where we should be.” We had brand planners, designers, marketers, copywriters, web designers. We had executives and creatives. We had all the people that contribute to the brand in one room. And more importantly, we all were listening.

It wasn’t a matter that no idea was a bad idea, it was a matter that all the ideas were heard and discussed. That is the true meaning of collaboration, every idea gets heard and its time in the light. These ideas came from very, very smart people. Those who not only know what a good idea is, but know why it’s a good idea because they’ve been there. The smart people know when to listen and when to speak. They know the results because they’ve been there. They aren’t just the playmakers, they are makers of the game.

When I say I was humbled, I truly was. I’ve been in rooms with smart people before, really smart people. But this wasn’t college football, this was the NFL. I had to bring my “A” game at be “on” all the time. There was no room for error in this hall. Now, when I say smart people, I don’t mean people who were smarter than people that I have met, I mean people who are smarter than me. These types of professionals bring the best out of you, if you are open to it. Being immersed in “A” game thinking, elevates your creative thinking and the logical side of your brain at the same time. This is the type of experience that I long for. I may come out the room with an understanding that I don’t know a whole lot or at least, as much as they do. However, it makes me strive for more. More knowledge, more experiences, and more talent.

What did I takeaway from this experience? I learned that there is a process to these types of idea-sessions. Here’s the breakdown:

Listen
Someone once said that you never learn anything by talking. Listening is probably the best activity to master. No multitasking is allowed, close your computers and turn off your phones. Listen, take notes, assimilate the information heading your way. There is a reason why someone is speaking, because they have something to say. You can learn from people. They can assist you in thinking in a different box. They can spark ideas in your head.

Engage
When I say it was a humbling experience, it was. I was a little nervous in engaging with some people and having my ideas heard. But what I realized was, that I was there for a reason. Nothing comes out of passivity. If you feel that something needs to be said, say it. Offer up a critique of someone’s idea. Engage, question, articulate, and argue. Discourse and dialog bring about amazing ideas and change. They also allow us to explore other ideas and take ourselves down different creative paths. Also, meet new people. Introduce yourself. After people meet you, they become more open to the idea of discussing ideas with you.

Takeaway
Always come out of the room with an idea or something to move yourself forward. I came out of that room with a ton of ideas that I want to move forward. I came out of that room with many new contacts and connections. I also came out knowing that I need to know more than what I know now. I decided to buy some books, catch up on reading. If you come out without any sort of takeaway, you’ve wasted your time and sadly, theirs too.

Learn
This aligns with “Listen” and “Takeaways.” Take the information that you’ve listened to and the takeaways and assimilate that. Learn from your counterparts and learn from the ideas that were shared, even the ideas that don’t work. Ask yourself the “why” and if you don’t have an answer, seek it out.

Who did I listen to? I listened to everyone.

Who did I engage with? I tried my best to offer up and idea or opinion to anyone. It was scary from the start, but I rallied.

What takeaways did I leave with? A ton! I need to read up, I need to follow up, I need to take ideas that were solid and implement them.

What did I learn? Try not to be scared to interact with people. All ideas are welcome. I need to learn more. I want more dialog. I have many, many pages of ideas I need to implement.