Posted by: David Welch on February 7, 2011
It can only be a good sign that Detroit carmakers have the cash on hand to advertise in pricey venues like the Super Bowl. But in Chrysler’s case, the money for its “Imported from Detroit” ad for the new 200 sedan may have been better spent elsewhere. The commercial starts with gritty images of bleak urban ruins, smoke stacks and downtown Detroit set against a lead-grey sky. The narrator asks, “what does this city know about luxury?” As we see more images, rapper Eminem comes onscreen driving a Chrysler 200, which replaced the weak-selling Sebring sedan late last year. The opening riff to his tune “Lose Yourself” eerily starts in and Eminem cruises the city. By the end of the ad he walks into Detroit’s Fox Theater where a gospel choir is singing. He then points into the camera and says, “This is the Motor City. And this is what we do.” The imagery is nicely done and Eminem is cool, but this ad misses the mark for several reasons.
1. The 200 is the wrong car. No one confused the old Sebring with luxury and this car is an upgrade, but not a completely-new model. The 300 is Chrysler’s big, stylish, pseudo-luxury car for the gangsta set. No way Eminem drives a 200. His bag man probably wouldn’t drive a 200. The 300 would have been a better choice.
2. We didn’t see enough of the car. The ad is expertly shot and brings to life the idea of a tough and resurgent Chrysler and Detroit. It shows a side to the human side to Motown that most outsiders don’t know, but it shows so little of the car that it’s tough to conclude that Detroit, or more specifically Chrysler, can do luxury.
3. To the rest of the nation watching the Super Bowl, Chrysler is struggling to make it back and Detroit as a city has been left for dead. Trying to raise the prospects of both in one ad is, shall we say, extremely ambitious.
4. Troubled American car brands need to get away from gritty Detroit imagery. No one needs reminding that Detroit is a city in serious trouble and that two of the Big Three would have disappeared if not for a government bailout. Domestic brands have to change the conversation for generations of Americans who abandoned them years ago and for young consumers who don’t know them. Ford has been plugging quality and technology like Sync. Chevrolet and Buick have been talking about fuel economy, Bluetooth and 40-gig hard drives in the dash. Both ideas are getting traction.
Chrysler can boast that the 2-minute ad, which is long for a Super Bowl commercial, got the new car some much-needed attention. Auto research website Edmunds.com said that after the ad aired, 1,619% more people (about 8,300 in total) went to the site to look at the 200 than typically search for it on a Sunday evening. The problem with the comparison is that few people were looking at the car to begin with. Edmunds says that 681 people on average were shopping the car before the ad aired. An average of 15,911 typically shopped for the competing Hyundai Sonata. Will these new visitors buy the car? That will be the real test. The Sebring sold fewer than 25,000 cars last year. For comparison, Ford sold 219,000 of the competing Fusion. Chrysler got some sizzle with the ad, but there may not be enough substance to generate sales.