DCX's Zetsche Plays The Mercedes Card

Posted by: David Kiley on June 29, 2006

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Maybe DaimlerChrysler thinks its new ads featuring chairman Dieter Zetsche will convey the German blood running through the new Chrysler models because of his obvious German accent, and the fact that he, with his big cookie-duster mustache, could be cast in a movie as a Black Forest toymaker.

Ads will debut on Friday, which company officials say are product focused, feature Zetsche and are tagged with details of Chysler’s summer sell-down sales offer. Though Zetsche and sales/marketing chief Joe Eberhard have hedged, dealers say the offer is “employee pricing.”

I don’t quibble with a decision to use Zetsche in ads [who doesn’t like Zetsche? he is one of the most broadly likable CEOs I have ever met]. I can’t even quibble with the strategy of trying to convey in these ads the connection between Chrysler and Mercedes; that Chrysler is benefitting from technology and German know-how when it comes to rear-drive sedans like the 300, safety technology and diesel engines.

Where Zetsche lost me in our interview was when he suggested the thing holding Chrysler back these days [it has the highest consumer incentives and highest inventories of unsold vehicles] is that consumers are lumping Chrysler’s brands to together with his crosstown rivals in all the negative news. “Chevy, Mercury, Chrysler…consumers don’t separate the Detroit brands in their minds.” And, said Zetsche, “We are adversely affected by all the negative news about Ford and GM.”

Um…c’mon. Chrysler has fields full of unsold Cherokees, Durangos, Magnums, Commanders and Rams because of Buick?

Chrysler has had flashes of effective advertising—the campaign for Hemi engines comes to mind—but it has been as inconsistent as Buick, Ford or Pontiac. That’s the fault of Chrysler Group. If Dieter wants his brands to stand out from Detroit, I don’t think I would use a German accent to make it happen. I think I might hire someone who will consistently push the envelope creatively to get in the face of consumers deciding what cars and trucks to buy. Yes, Chrysler does often fade into the smoke and stink of Detroit’s current financial condition. But, memo to Dieter, if you don’t want to be lumped in with Buick and Mercury, then stop advertising like Buick and Mercury.

Chrysler has one of the best, most creative communications chiefs in the business in Jason Vines. Memo to Jason: have you lost your fastball? C’mon. You have got nine more models this year to launch, including a redesigned Sebring that is going to have to turn some heads away from Accord, Camry and Altima. I hope you have some ideas up your sleeve to make them stand-out.

When Vines and Zetsche were explaining the “We are German” effort launching this Fourth of July weekend (that’s pretty funny), Vines started a sentence with…”Our research shows….” I’ll reserve judgement until I see the ads. But some of the lamest ideas to come down the pike started with the phrase, “Our research shows…”

Reader Comments

Joel A

July 5, 2006 3:47 PM

Interesting view by Zetsche and he may be right. He may be thinking about Lutz comment that while the overall quality of GM's products have gone up, "perception" by the public has been slow to catch up. Chrysler and Dodge are still perceived by most of the American public and even enthusiasts as domestic and all the negative connotation that implies. I can see Zetsche's view since many purchases are more based on said perception than necessity or quantifiable numbers as fuel economy or price. Want an example? Porsche Cayenne.

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