Feb. 1, 2013 at 10:43 AM ET
Can Chrysler kick it through the uprights again?
The smallest of the US automakers is hoping to score big during Super Bowl XLVII after having tossed touchdowns in the previous two games with a pair of breakthrough ads that more than a few observers believe helped launch Chrysler’s unexpectedly strong, post-bankruptcy revival.
But while the maker’s top marketing executive has confirmed it will be a presence among the games many automotive advertisers he’s mum when asked whether Chrysler will tap another big name celebrity as it did with rapper Eminem in 2011 and actor Clint Eastwood last year.
“We’re debating” whether to repeat the unusual, long-form structure that worked so well in the previous years, Chrysler marketing chief Olivier Francois said when recently asked about the 2-minute format that stood out in a game full of 30-second commercials. As with the prior ads, the maker was expecting to work until the last minute before the game to finalize its spot.
And unlike a growing list of game day advertisers, such as Audi, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz, Chrysler is notably providing no teaser of what it has in store.
While many Americans go out of their way to skip TV commercials these days, using digital recorders and other means, the Super Bowl has become a screening festival for the ad world’s best and brightest, studies showing that some folks otherwise uninterested in the game often tune in specifically to watch the ads.
And while beer and snack food spots have traditionally dominated that blitz, automakers have steadily ramped up their presence, manufacturers such as Ford, Volkswagen and Hyundai accounting for about a third of the advertisers at Super Bowl XLVI.
It isn’t cheap, a single, 30-second spot reportedly going for as much as $4 million this year, but the potential payoff can be huge – as Chrysler bet when it shocked American viewers two years ago with the “Imported from Detroit” mini-movie. The 120-second pitch featured the driving rhythm of an Eminem bass line, also using the rapper to drive home its message that the Motor City – and Chrysler, in particular – was back.
If there was a fault, said some critics, it was that the maker’s new Chrysler 200 model was virtually a backdrop, lost in the cinematic spot’s drama. Perhaps, but the sedan soon proved to be one of the maker’s fastest-growing nameplates and, after barely surviving its 2009 bankruptcy, Chrysler itself quickly began to outpace the recovery of the overall U.S. auto industry.
A one-time fluke? No, it turned out, as the maker returned in 2012 with Clint Eastwood taking the message of hope and revival on a national scale. The ad kicked off some controversy early in the year’s presidential campaign, some Republican leaders asserting the ad was a payback for the Obama Administration’s Chrysler bailout. Ironically, Eastwood also became one of the most controversial figures at the GOP convention later in the year.
Politics aside, the spot again pegged the meter with just about everyone measured by Ace Metrix which tracks the reaction to, and effectiveness of, Super Bowl ads.
“The Clint Eastwood ad proved highly inspirational, and in addition to scoring very high on likeability and attention. It also performed extremely well on relevance,” noted the firm’s CEO Peter Daboll.
The 2012 Chrysler spot outperformed both Honda’s ad for the CRV crossover – another celebrity spot featuring Matthew Broderick in a nod to his role in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” – and the reprise of Volkswagen’s Star Wars ad theme.
There’s little doubt Chrysler wants another standout. As the smallest of the Detroit Big Three, it also has the smallest budget to work with and can’t simply be content with me-too marketing. The good news for the maker is that it has been able to amortize the cost of both “Imported from Detroit,” and “Halftime in America” by taking advantage of social media.
Both have now generated 10s of millions of repeat views on Youtube and elsewhere in the social media world. In fact, the Eastwood spot was named top auto and second-place winner overall in the Youtube Ad Blitz 2012 contest – one of many awards Chrysler has run up for its Super Bowl campaigns.
Which again begs the question what does the maker have in store for Super Bowl XLVII? A celeb endorser would surprise no one, though marketing chief Francois has cautioned Chrysler will “only” use a big name “if it fits the message.”
And that’s another uncertainty: will Chrysler focus on a single product, as it did in 2012, or a mix of products, like last year?
“Each new launch is an opportunity for me to build the brand,” said Francois. “I really like that we spend our money conscientiously,” he said. “We just spend what we need and that’s what we need to keep doing.”