Is Chrysler on the right Path to Becoming a Beloved Brand?

As we hit the US Presidential election cycle, there will be lots of talk about the Bail Outs.   Was it a good idea?   Did it work?  Who was for it?   Who was against it?

Case in point: After receiving $12 Billion in loans, Chrysler has seen three straight years of significant growth since the loans in 08 and 09.   They saw growth rates of 17% in 2010 and 26% in 2011.   And Chrysler is  off to a great start in 2012, growing by 44% and gaining over 2.5 share points in the month of January.   Chrysler is now in a fairly profitable position and has paid back most of the loans, even despite adding a complaint about the high interest rate.   It appears the bail out worked, and it kept and created a few jobs–at least for now.  Right after the bail out, Chrysler is once again in European hands, this time Fiat of Italy owns the majority compared to Mercedes of Germany.   So is Chrysler still American?

It seems that Chrysler has had bouts of desperation and recovery for my entire life.  I remember the Chrysler New Yorker of the 1970s–big huge gas guzzler cars, not an ideal fit as gas prices went through the roof.  Chrysler collapsed in 1980, only to be recovered by the Lee Iacoca legendary story which gave birth to the Yuppy word of a generation: the Mini Van.

With the current recovery, just how is Chrysler doing it?   Smoke and Mirrors and Patriotism?   Or has the product quality really improved?   Do they have a product offering as unique as the Mini Van?  Not really.  Especially if you read the reviews.  Can Chrysler survive with a mediocre product?

Consumers Report said:  “It’s clear that Chrysler is on the right path, but they still have a long way to go.”  Testers were unimpressed with the Chrysler 200, Dodge Avenger, Jeep Compass, adding that they scored at or near the bottom of their respective categories.  I know that when I buy a new car, the search component is high, spending months looking and reading.   Cars are a big investment and I don’t want to be saddled with a car that is “only ok”.  Bad reviews scare me.  The last few cars I’ve bought,  I’m sorry to say that the American cars are aren’t standing up to the Japanese cars.  Even when I look up the basic car features (mileage, horsepower, features) the American cars come up short.    Yes, I have that embedded perception problem, mainly because I’ve driven in a Chevrolet Chevette and a Ford Tempo.  It’s going to be really hard to get those out of my mind.

Chrysler needs to find some way to create an emotional bond with their consumers.   It has to be more than just a recovery and American patriotism.  For decades, consumers have been Indifferent about Chrysler.   Their cars do the basics and nothing really else.  Nothing to get excited about.  On the other hand,Lincoln made an unexpected comeback to get to the Like It stage, even more unexpected it was female buyers that drove it.  And yet, brands like Lexus and Toyota are clearly at the Love It stage.  Toyota consumers are outspoken about their brand, and return the dealer every 4-5 years to buy another Toyota.   Toyota survived what was an attack on it’s safety record, since putting it in their rear view mirror.

The recent Chrysler advertising has been strong with back-to-back SuperBowl ads that stood out.  In 2011 it was home-grown Detroit icon Eminem and this year it was Clint Eastwood.  Two minute ads at half time must have cost them $25 Million just for the media alone. The campaign tag line “Imported from Detroit” is cute, but really is just a new twist on “Made In America” or the “Buy America” calls for patriotitic purchases.  Maybe the only people buying the Chryslers are the people who were in favour of the bail out, which is some type of circular patriotism logic.

Maybe Chrysler isn’t selling cars, but selling hope for America.  But to survive the long term, they need to stand for something more, and build unique quality products that deliver.

So is the sales blip just a blip?   Or just a delay to the inevitable?

So the question remains:  Do you think the bail out helped Chrysler get on the path to becoming a beloved brand?   

The 2011 Chrysler ad seemed to hit the chords even stronger.   Home town icon Eminem is more authentic than California Clint and the ads were selling Detroit, not America.

About Graham Robertson:  I’m a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands. I love great TV ads, I love going into grocery stores on holidays and I love seeing marketers do things I wish I came up with. I’m always eager to talk with marketers about what they want to do.   My background includes CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke.  I’ve done executive training of marketing executives and managers as well as taught marketing at Major Universities including York University, Queen’s University and Cornell University.  If you have interest for your team, email me and we can customize a program to your needs.  For Powerpoint versions of Beloved Brands as well as other team learning presentations, visit Beloved Brands Learning Sessions

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2 thoughts on “Is Chrysler on the right Path to Becoming a Beloved Brand?

  1. Great article. I think you are absolute correct when you say that Chrysler is still in that ‘Indifferent’ stage of brand loyalty or awareness. Their recent advertising campaign has been successful by attempting to tap into American patriotism, which is especially effective during the current economic downturn. I also like the “Imported from Detroit” line because the word imported has a sense of luxury and quality attached to it, something which is not associated with American auto brands. Although I am fundamentally against the large scale bailouts for the auto industry, they are an integral part of the US economy and could not have collapsed. Also, it seems as though it has aided Chrysler. I agree that their current campaign is only a short term fix and that they will need to come up with a long term strategy which will push them to the “Love It” category,

  2. Getting to “love” from “indifferent” (your labels; I think they’re decent approximations, though, relative to auto OEM specific GfK and Maritz data sets) will likely take 2 or more product lifecycles across the entire model range — that’s about 8-10 years. It is mandatory to have stylish and technologically advanced vehicles — and ones that are consistently well made. As you point out, Chrysler has underperformed on build quality. At the same time, it’s getting squeezed by (i) economy brands (Kia, Hyundai) who are making better quality, cheaper vehicles, and for which the “discount brand” buying stigma continues to recede; (ii) Ford, and to a lesser extent, GM, who are making better quality vehicles (comparable price); and (iii) imports (Honda, Toyota, Nissan) which tend to be better made and appeal to a buyer with a bit more price elasticity.

    In the short-term, it’s a must for Chrysler to engage the domestic vehicle intenders — those who only shop domestic OEM brands (they’re one of several shopping personas I helped map out in a former role). Subsequently, if styling and quality improve (again, not guaranteed, and will take 8-10 yrs in my estimation), and if Chrysler attains recognized third-party endorsements (e.g. Consumer Reports, Edmunds), then it will be positioned to target shoppers who consider both domestics and imports, or imports only (appealing to the latter before they become in-market, i.e. at a brand awareness stage 2-4 years before they plan to purchase).

    In sum, I think Chrysler is honing its brand message to the highest-likely-to-buy customer persona. If styling, build quality and awards can be attained, the brand message is likely to evolve accordingly in the future.

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