DETROIT -- In a scene that could have come from the television series "Mad Men" -- except Don Draper didn't have the large flat-screen monitor -- Olivier Francois is puffing on a cigarette and reaching for a mouse to unleash a blitz of images.
than a collage of retro scenes from the 1960s, the screen fills with
Eminem, Clint Eastwood and Romanian supermodel Catrinel Menghia mixed
with the Dodge Dart, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Fiat 500 and other cars.
are 12 commercials here. Twelve," Francois said of the video mash-up.
"And there is, unexpectedly, a kind of consistency. It works."
of the commercials Francois and his team have crafted stay with most
viewers like a vivid dream. They've certainly made people talk. The 2011
Super Bowl spot with Eminem and the Selected of God choir triggered a
wave of Motown pride.
A year later, Eastwood delivered his churlish "Halftime in America" pep talk emerging from the shadows.
"We find a way through tough times, and if we can't find it, we make one," grunted the master of grit.
pundits dismissed it as an endorsement of President Barack Obama's auto
bailout. But no one forgot it. Chrysler's marketing has come a long way
from the days of Lee Iacocca strolling on a factory floor surrounded by
the latest models, delivering the kicker, "And if you can find a better
car, buy it."
Francois, a 51-year-old Frenchman and Chrysler's
chief marketer since Fiat took control, is an unlikely messenger. But he
comes to the art of selling cars with fresh eyes, at least from the
traditional American perspective. He rejects marketing that dwells on
features and price.
"I was really very shocked by this when I
(first) turned on the TV (in the U.S.) -- this bombardment of features,
incentives, MPGs, and prices ending in 99," Francois said. "I prefer
selling cars through a brand rather than selling a brand through its
Adweek recently named Francois its Grand Brand Genius for 2012, chosen from among 10 finalists. AdvertisingAge, a competing publication named him Marketer of the Year.
frankly think that what they have done is brilliant," said Tim O'Day,
executive director of the Yaffe Center for Persuasive Communication at
the University of Michigan. He gives Chrysler an A+ for the 2011
"Imported from Detroit" Super Bowl spot. He is less enthusiastic about
the 2012 ad with Eastwood.
"I am glad they continue to swing for
the fences, but to me, the commercials you see from Chrysler, even
today, harken back to the Eminem ad," O'Day said.
who joined Chrysler in 2009 from Fiat, where he headed the Lancia
brand, has generated buzz for Chrysler's brands by defying conventional
rules and taking risks. Sometimes, the risks flop.
Francois' commercials for the Fiat 500 with Jennifer Lopez were panned
by critics who found it hard to believe the megastar would ever drive a
small, affordably priced car that barely had room for her purse in back.
Lopez herself took heat from other celebrities after she performed on
stage at the 2011 American Music Awards with a Fiat 500.
Francois, it was the exposure that mattered. "Maybe there are a lot of
people who don't like her," he said. "That is not my problem."
said Lopez helped Fiat quadruple its brand awareness and points out
that Forbes named Lopez as the No. 1 most influential celebrity in May.
be sure, Chrysler and its brands -- Dodge, Jeep and Ram -- still have a
long way to go. The percentage of visitors shopping for a car in
October on Edmunds.com that checked out any of Chrysler's models was
just 9.2 percent, up just 1 percent from October 2009. And even as
Chrysler's sales have increased for 31 consecutive months, the namesake
brand is outsold by Kia, Volkswagen and Subaru in the U.S.
measures success by sales and feedback from dealers. "According to the
last survey I have seen ... we have the highest dealer satisfaction when
it comes to marketing," said Francois, referring to a recent National
Automobile Dealers Association survey.
One shot at Eminem
just two weeks to go before the Super Bowl in 2011, Francois was still
vying for the rights to use Eminem's "Lose Yourself," perhaps the rap
star's best-known song.
Eminem had turned down about 50 offers from companies such as Ford and Apple.
night, Francois visited 54 Sound in Ferndale, Mich., to talk to Joel
Martin, a producer who holds the rights to "Lose Yourself."
literally brought the pitch to me that night," Martin said. "He was
really vivid about his image of the campaign. ... It was crazy."
said Marshall Mathers, Eminem's real name, agreed to a one-time use of
the song and to appear in the ad even though Ford offered four times
more money a few years earlier.
"This was the only commercial that
wore Detroit on its sleeve. ... It was the only time that Marshall ever
appeared in a commercial even close to endorsing anything," Martin
Nobel Laureate sponsor
Even Francois' charitable involvement comes with panache and high-profile connections most marketing executives only dream of.
Last April, Chrysler was the only major corporate sponsor of the 2012 World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates.
day, Francois mingled easily with actor Sean Penn, former Polish
President Lech Walesa and former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev
during a private lunch.
Kerry Kennedy, president of the Robert F.
Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, praised Francois for
supporting the summit and for supporting Haitian earthquake relief.
the kind of corporate leadership that we need in America," Kennedy
said. "Even though he is imported from Paris, we got him anyway."
likes to embrace underdogs. As Chrysler is now the stronger half of
this Italian-American partnership, Francois must recast the company's
aura. With two memorable Super Bowl ads in his portfolio, the
shaggy-haired Frenchman has a higher bar to transcend.
So what should we expect for Chrysler's 2013 Super Bowl ad?
we do has to be totally truthful to the brand. ... If I want to be
noticed, I could go naked on I-75, and so what? That is the difference
between making a splash and being meaningful."
Brent Snavely, Detroit Free Press