Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fresh marketing eyes

Chrysler's chief pitchman rejects price-and-features approach

  • Print

In a scene that could have come from the TV 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.

Rather 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.

"There are 12 commercials here. Twelve," Francois said of the video mash-up. "And there is, unexpectedly, a kind of consistency. It works."

Most 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 "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.

Conservative pundits dismissed it as an endorsement of President Barack Obama's auto bailout, but no one forgot it.

Last Sunday's Ram ad, set to the stirring "So God Made a Farmer" address by broadcaster Paul Harvey, has been widely acclaimed, as has the Jeep ad narrated by Oprah Winfrey, which evinces deep gratitude to the men and women in the military.

Chrysler's marketing has come a long way from the days of Lee Iacocca strolling onto 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 cars."

In November, Adweek named Francois its Grand Brand Genius for 2012, chosen from among 10 finalists. AdvertisingAge, a competing publication, named him Marketer of the Year.

"I 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, but 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.

Francois, 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.

In 2011, 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.

For Francois, it was the exposure that mattered. "Maybe there are a lot of people who don't like her," Francois said. "That is not my problem."

Francois said Lopez helped Fiat quadruple its brand awareness and points out that Forbes named Lopez as the No. 1 most influential celebrity in May.

To be sure, Chrysler and its brands -- Dodge, Jeep and Ram -- still have a long way to go. While Chrysler's sales have increased over the last three years, the namesake brand is outsold by Kia, Volkswagen and Subaru in the U.S.

Francois 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.

Francois likes to hold brainstorming sessions in his office for new advertising campaigns. The meetings can last hours.

"It is a very intimate conversation, typically. The creative reviews are fewer people versus more people," said Marissa Hunter, director of marketing for the Ram brand. "It tends to be a very collaborative process."

During the initial stage, Francois doesn't want to see fancy storyboards or video mock-ups.

"When we have an assignment, we come to him with an idea, a story, and the story describes the visual sequence," said Stan Richards, founder of the Dallas-based Richards Group, the agency behind Ram truck advertising. "It never occupies more than a single, typewritten page."

During the past three years, the roster of musicians involved in Chrysler's marketing reads like Rolling Stone's table of contents. They include Lopez, Dr. Dre, Eminem, Jay-Z, Latin music superstar Juanes, Pitbull and Shakira.

Francois, a producer of French pop music in the 1980s, uses that experience to cast musicians and celebrities in Chrysler's ads. He's also built a network of contacts in Hollywood and the music industry.

But if he can't obtain the rights to use the song he wants, he heads to a recording studio to work with musicians to craft new music.

"I have a good ear, and I know what it means to record music," Francois said. "I know the business part of it, which means that it is easier for me ... to get to the right guy, to get the right deal."

With 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.

One night, Francois visited 54 Sound in Ferndale, Mich., to talk to Joel Martin, a producer who holds the rights to "Lose Yourself." "He literally brought the pitch to me that night," Martin said. "He was really vivid about his image of the campaign. ... It was crazy."

Martin 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 said.

-- Detroit Free Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2013 A1

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Fringe, space motifs trendy for teens heading back to school

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • MIKE.DEAL@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 110621 - Tuesday, June 21, 2011 -  Doug Chorney, president Keystone Agricultural Producers flight over South Western Manitoba to check on the condition of farming fields. MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
my2011poy
  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What do you think of the new Blue Bombers uniforms?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google