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Will Sex Sell for Chrysler?

Can sex sell cars at troubled Chrysler? On Nov. 4, Chrysler Group (now controlled by Italy's Fiat Group (FIA.MI) and almost 10% owned by the U.S. government) finally told the world how it plans to storm back: with a dose of Viagra.

At a presentation for auto analysts and reporters, Olivier Francois, the Frenchman in charge of the company's namesake brand, showed a three-minute promotional video infused with glamour, style, and sexual imagery. At one point, a scantily clad model slipped out of a Chrysler, revealing her tattooed thigh. At another, a tagline appeared: "Let's make cars people want to make out in again." In case anybody missed the drift, Francois—who turned around Fiat's top-shelf Lancia brand four years ago—announced to the crowd that Chrysler's cars should be depicted as "models on a runway."

It's hardly the first time Chrysler—or any carmaker—has used sexual innuendo to move inventory. Some years ago, a Chrysler minivan ad included wink-wink allusions to wife-swapping. In another old spot, a kid asks why her sister, sitting in the roomy backseat of her parents' Concorde, is named Concorde. Or consider the "Lingerie Bowl" proposed in 2003 by Julie Roehm, then Chrysler's marketing chief. Her idea: offer a gridiron match between lingerie-clad women as a pay-per-view alternative to the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. (After parent groups complained, the idea was scratched.)

The new ads aim for sensuality over sex. Still, a friskier Chrysler will be a tough sell. The brand's sales are off 50% this year. And after the new 300 sedan makes its debut in 2010, a batch of fresh cars won't arrive for three more years. "They're trying to show a return to style," says IHS Global Insight (IHS) analyst John Wolkonowicz. "But you have to have products to match the imagery." How do you sex up a PT Cruiser?

Can Blue Light Save Lives?

East Japan Railway, which runs local trains in and out of Tokyo, spent $170,000 in October to install special LED lamps on the platforms of all 29 stations along the Yamanote line, one of its busiest routes. The hope is that the blue light emitted by the lamps will soothe any despairing commuters and help reverse an uptick in suicides on the tracks. In the fiscal year ended in March, the company said, suicides on its Tokyo train lines rose for the third year in a row—to 68 from 58 last year, with 18 on the Yamanote line. Across Japan, suicides look to be rising amid near-record-high unemployment. In the first nine months of 2009, Japan's National Police Agency reported 24,846 suicides. That's set to surpass the 32,249 recorded in 2008, when nearly 2,000 people, or 6% of those who killed themselves, did so on rail tracks or using other transportation modes. (In the U.S., from 1% to 2% of all suicides occur on railroad rights-of-way, according to the American Association of Suicidology.)

The blue-light project grew out of work at East Japan Railway's Safety Research Laboratory. But "there's no research that proves blue lights dissuade people from killing themselves," says Tsuneo Suzuki, who specializes in color psychology at Tokyo's Keio University. Suzuki says he told "desperate" rail operators that "they won't solve a deeply rooted societal problem like suicide by putting up lights." If you showed that was possible, he says, you'd "probably win the Nobel Prize."

Speaking Fluent Performance Review

With end-of-year performance reviews looming, it's time to check in with James Neal of Perrysburg, Ohio—the man behind the phrases that pop up in so many employee evaluations. Neal, a former HR executive, publishes Effective Phrases for Performance Appraisals (Neal Publications, $12.95). By now, he says, it's a million- seller. (In 1988, the Reagan White House bought 30 copies.)

New in the just-released 12th edition (3,500 phrases): sections on rating employees' awareness of recent privacy laws and copyright issues. "There's a growing concern out there that people aren't following intellectual-property laws," Neal says. To keep up with issues and buzzwords, Neal reads annual reports, focusing on the Chairman's Letter. "Global" is still hot, he says, as are "strategic" and "vision." He started writing the guidebook in 1978 "for the engineering guy who's got 15 draftsmen working for him and needs the right phrases to describe their performance." Remember using CliffsNotes in college? he asks. "It's kind of along those lines."


Steve Ballmer, Power Forward
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