He's Baaaaaaaack. Peter Arnell Shakes His Stuff at Chrysler.

Posted by: David Kiley on March 3, 2008

Chrysler LLC CEO Robert Nardelli has turned to New York ad-man Peter Arnell to help his sort out everything from product design selection top his speeches and brand strategies for Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep.

Arnell, who has been at Chrysler before, is working as a consultant to the CEO as he tries to hatch a workable direction for the auto company to succeed. But it’s not Arnell’s past with Chrysler that made Nardelli turn to him. Arnell infamously created a $14 million program to launch the Chrysler Pacifica utility wagon around singing Diva Celine Dion. The program bombed with dealers, a new marketing executive who inherited the program, and the media.

Nardelli used Arnell at Home Depot where the ad-man created “Orange Works,” an innovation group at the DIY chain.

Ad Age says “Associates call Arnell a genius and an idea generator.” Um…yeah. Others call him a glorified wedding planner who is in love with his own press. I’m in that camp, having followed Arnell’s trajectory from my days at Adweek between 1987 and 1994 and 97-98, as well as covering marketing after 2000. In Texas, Arnell would be referred to as “all hat and no cattle.” In Detroit, they say he is “all air-intake and no horsepower.” To CEOs, Arnell has long been like an ad mistress they turn to when they get disenchanted or bored with the ad agencies they are married to.

He cultivates a deep rolodex of celebrities whom he often turns to when trying to create a flashy solution for a client. Ad Age also noted that he is friends with Frank Gehry. Um…okay. And how that is going to help Chrysler sell more Sebrings is a bit lost on me, I’m afraid.

The presence of Arnell in such key areas as product planning and design tells me that CEO Nardelli doesn’t yet have his arms around the auto business. If he has issues with his chief of design and chief of product planning, then he should replace them, as has been widely rumored for months anyway. Adding an ad-man who has Celine Dion on his speed dial is not going to make these guys get smart.
One of the areas Arnell is said to be consulting on is interior design. For more than a year, it has been clear that Chrysler lost the plot on interior design, opting for cheap looking materials on all of its new vehicles. Memo to Mr. Nardelli. The designers didn’t procure interior materials that look like they were from a 1994 Hyundai parts bin because they thought it looked hip. They did it because former COO Wolfgang Bernhard and CEO Dieter Zetsche told executives they had to take 40% of the cost out of the interiors regardless of the outcome. The result is a flock of products that have been panned by consumers in J.D. Power APEAL ratings, which judge such aspects of the vehicles.

I can only imagine the product planning and design meetings in which Arnell will be adding his two cents. I wish I could watch the video. Please…some of you blokes at Chrysler…keep your Treos running.
Ironically, one of the highest profile projects to come out of OrangeWorks at Home Depot was an ergonomically designed fire extinguisher. Nardelli is going to need those now more than ever.

Reader Comments

Sammy Lee

March 10, 2008 2:23 PM

The words that come to my mind when I think of my experience with Peter Arnell: Irresponsible, dirty mouthed, high school level understanding on advertising and marketing, cheating on clients...

He is talented in one area - He knows how to kiss the bottom of the CEO (Look what happens to Pacifica advertising). He will kiss until his lips are bleeding. For others who are at the working level, he will kick down until his shoes wear out.

He is a good photographer. Make no mistake about it though - There should be hundreds and hundreds of commercial photographers like him in the US. That's who he is. If a CEO wants to talk about brand, branding, or fresh idea with P. Arnell, I suggest him/her to find a well-rounded college kid.

$14M on advertising could be just advertising budget wasted. If Arnell touches on design of a car or branding, it’s an irrecoverable damage to the brand. And he will not be responsible...Just looking for another CEO.

The best way to find out what he could do and has done is to make some calls-Call his prior clients.

Uncover the truth

March 11, 2008 7:29 PM


Sammy Lee is exactly right. I witnessed Peter's bullying tactics and high quality BS firsthand during his first go around at Chrysler. Bob N should be making a lot of phone calls to all the clients he has screwed....but he obviously bought into his schtick at Home Depot.

During the manic height of the Celine debacle, he not only engineered giving millions of dollars to Celine, he gave her all his "leading edge" photography free on Chrysler's dime. His TV production company (who had to film the commercials) ended up overcharging Chrysler millions of dollars. BBDO ultimately had to pay the dollars back and wiped out merit increases and bonuses in Detroit....that was sure great (not that Omnicom gave a crap).

Peter surrounds himself with a bunch of junior leaguers who try to carry out his high brow ideals....they were all a bunch of hacks throwing their weight around because Peter had "the juice" with the higher ups.

Go down Peter's list of ex clients like Sony and talk to them. You'll get the same reading on a man who has a huge ego, and brutalizes those who get in his way.

The man is a menace and that is the truth.

Designing cars and trucks?.....Cerberus is dead.

air luxe krishna

March 12, 2008 11:04 AM

Maybe it was Bill Bernbach or his occasional ventriloquist Helmut Krone who uttered the famous phrase, "Clients acquire the agencies they deserve" and this is notably true with a situation like Arnell and Omnicom. This speaks less about the relationship of a CEO with an agency than it does about the bankrupt shell that is the BBDO/Omnicom brain trust.

When a client buys media by the pound and substitutes retail consumer pummeling for giving people a reason to believe in Chrysler brands, it's no wonder that engaging with an Arnell happens... but for how long? His services were a temporary fix before and are likely the same now.
Signing him on is merely a symptom, not the problem.

A. Nonymous

March 12, 2008 12:58 PM

Mr. Arnell is a genius, whom I had the honor of working with for a scant 2-years. That he is combustible, often outrageous, and at times inappropriate, I believe belies a mounting frustration with the "marketplace" not being ready to accept a fully integrated brand solution (this is not marketing speak). He is always the bridesmaid. Mr. Arnell and his team of talented executives often presented voluminous, beautifully bound presentations to clients illustrating to them how this integrated brand solution would work (a fully authored brand bible that was illustrated against very tight design principles and rooted deeply in strategy), yet if you read between the lines the client only wanted him to answer one of their challenges. Therein lies the dramatic tension of Peter. Here's a man who has passionately and vociferously championed the importance of "holistic" brand experiences, during a time when brands didn't want that type of service, and to his detriment, his agenda just wasn't theirs. One of his passions is architecture and thus the analogy to his dilemma is that of an architect: "Yes, I can give you a beautiful 3-story glass home, but the foundation is eroding and your contractor has purchased brick." Thus his solution, often not accepted, was to build from the foundation to the fixtures.

Even today, most companies (brands) aren't structured to accommodate this philosophical approach toward brand building and hence his desire to only meet with CEO's whom he may have thought have the decision-making authority and autonomy to supersede workflow, process, and execution. Where Peter often fails is with the rank and file to VP-level relationship management and a true understanding of their day-to-day challenges. And it is from these burned bridges that the revulsion of Peter stems. I have witnessed countless clients "blown away" by the initial presentation, only for them to realize later that it would require upending a business to which they neither have the power, resources, or will to achieve. Their disenchantment with Peter is when his frustration becomes a full undressing of their professional experience in a manner that I know first-hand isn't pleasant and can be downright demoralizing.

Love him or hate him. I keep in touch with several former Arnell Group employees. All of them employed. All of them bulletproof. 90% of them incredibly intelligent and capable; and I would argue that they are at once feeling a sense of despair that the good days at Arnell will never be the same as any other place, and relief that the bad days will never be missed.

You can't cover him for more than 10 years and despite all of these accounts of his "worthlessness" think that there is no intelligence or genius behind that operation. Perhaps it's that it is his genius that allows him the opportunities to walk into boardrooms time and again.

A Fly on the Wall

March 18, 2008 4:31 PM

WOW...as the other respondants to this historical farce, I would concur that Arnell is a "genius", a man who devours entire books at a time, a man that can recite passages from Roman literature, a man who has a vision, yet, I wholeheartedly disagree with the decision of corporate America to hire and continue to hire him for product development and strategy.

Although he thinks he is, he is not an innovator (he copies works of others and claims it his own), he is not a product developer (not a designer, not an engineer, nor a manufacturing exec) and not a strategist (for many of the same reasons stated above)-- he is a frustrated architect that wishes to be all of the above. And if you disagree with him on any of the above, he will fire you (if you work for him), go around you (if you hire him to do work for you) and, he will make it his agenda to discredit you in front of others.

Arnell the type of "gifted at speech" power mongers that will continue to charm his snake bitten victims, much like the street hustlers that con people of out of a few dollars, yet, in his case, he collects millions from the coffers of public companies and from the pockets of their shareholders!

Cerberus, you better take out a loan to cover the losses you will incur via the destructive forces that Arnell will inflcit on Chrysler and your pocket book!

P. Morton

March 29, 2008 10:51 AM

As an insider to the Orange Works program created between Arnell and the Home Depot, I have to say I have a high level of confidence that Chyrsler will tank under his and Nardelli's guidance. They managed to lose the Home Depot millions of dollars with the Orange Works program, with the famed fired extinguisher taking five years to develop, as well as a number of other hare-brained ideas. I have a feeling Chrysler will be heading in the same direction. Unfortunately for Chrysler, I'm not sure if they can afford to lose what Arnell will lose them.

Sundried

April 1, 2009 11:47 AM

Dear A. Nonymous- alright, give it up. You currently work for Arnell and he clearly made you post that. And it's not below him to do that sort of thing. He does it all the time. There is nothing genius about a man that makes no sense. I beleive the recent quote he gave was "You see a garden and I see Versailles"..."are you tracking me?"

What????? No, I am not tracking you, and no one else is either. It's smoke and mirrors. He puts on a good show, and it all sounds great, but if you listen closely, really closely, you'll see that he is selling a scam.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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