Chicago 2011: Two Minutes Equal Days of Discourse

Last weekend's Super Bowl XLV telecast yielded the largest number of ads shown from the automotive industry in a long time. They ranged form a rehashed snowball fight between snowmen and a Suzuki Kizashi to a teacher driving a Chevrolet Camaro as two dudes talk plot out an epic commercial for the car.

However, the most talked about commercial from the Super Bowl was not the brilliant "Little Darth Vader" ad for the Chattanooga-built 2012 Volkswagen Passat.

It was the new Chrysler piece.

If you missed it, Chrysler is in the midst of rebranding itself. From the sleek new winged badge to the grille design to the tie-in with Lancia, Olivier Francois' brand wanted to set the tone for a new Chrysler lineup by thrusting images of where it came from and what it wants to be.

Video courtesy of via YouTube

The ad is set in Detroit, where the Chrysler was born. The images were a mix of current shots of a Detroit in ruin and a city on the rise. It is diverse Detroit, featuring a bellman at a downtown hotel, a skater on a rink, a gospel choir on stage at the Fox Theatre – and Marshall Mathers – popularly known as Eminem.

The commercial's narrator sets the tone for someone who been "through hell and back" – an apt description of Detroit itself. The first lines from the narrator describes the notion of American luxury, then adds the juxtaposition of the images and messaging of where luxury begins and what this mainly blue collar city has to do with luxury. If you watch the two-minute ad more than several times, the underlying message becomes clear: American luxury is born from the pursuit of the American Dream.

Even so, some Detroiters could be accused by the wealthy on the coasts of living lives that could be described as "spit-elegance." The Midwest wealthy are always put down for such accusations from their monied cousins in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Boston, DC and South Florida. Sadly, it is criticism that should never be levied in any matter – wealth is wealth, luxury is luxury. It should never be imposed on a regional basis when it is the individual who made their fortune lives as such and owns their wealth on their own terms.

But where does Eminem come into this picture? Sure, no Detroiter is perfect. Some people reacted to the fact of Eminem's criminal and spousal abuse past. Yet, it was intentioned to find a Detroit-based celebrity that would speak directly to its intended audiences – new markets outside of the current urban upscale consumer base Chrysler won since the release of the last 300. Could there be someone from the city or region who could carry the message better? Or, is Eminem the right person to drive the 200 in the ad?

There is another situation to consider – the product. The 200 is an important vehicle for Chrysler because it is a complete overhaul of the derided Sebring sedan. The new 300 may be the right fit for the ad, but the 300 has not reached showrooms yet. The 200 has. Not only that, the 200 is more accessible to the consumer at its price point with not only its current consumer base – but for others to consider in comparison with its competition.

Add to the fact that the 200 is built in the nearby suburb of Sterling Heights.

This ad had a lot of people talking. As Chrysler Communications' post-Chicago Auto Show weekly video recap pointed out that social media drove a lot of the conversation about the ad. I know – I was one of them. It was intentioned as a preparatory theme going into my coverage of the Chicago Auto Show. Being invited to join Chrysler at the social media breakfast, and the Dodge brand walkaround tour guided by brand CEO Ralph Gilles, helped fuel my thoughts about the ad.

Mainly the discussions ranged on these exact themes I discussed above. Was the image of Detroit realistic and justified? Was the message about luxury or Detroit? Did Eminem's appearance help with the brand's message or to shape the image of the Chrysler brand?

There are some absolute examples of excellence exhibited in the two-minute ad. First, the production values were top notch. I have seen well-produced ads, but this one conveyed more than just perfect edits and a texture to the video. It brought out an emotion. Add the instrumental tracks from Eminem's "Lose Yourself," and the ad simply comes alive with a tone befitting of the mix of messages and images inside of it.

Perhaps the ultimate example of excellence came from Chrysler's personnel. Within my interactions with Chrysler's people in Chicago – all of them stood behind the ad. It is not that they have to – it was a worthy ad to get the Chrysler brand back into view of the American consumer consciousness. Even so, Chrysler had been touting the tag line "Imported from Detroit" as a through-line on various efforts related to the company and the brand of the same name.

To conclude my coverage of the 2011 Chicago Auto Show, I not only want to thank the great people at Chrysler, especially their Media and Communications team (who, in turn, put me on their weekly corporate update video during the social media breakfast/walkaround…), but I want to thank the media/product people at Buick, GMC, Hyundai Motor America, Ford Motor Company, Toyota Motor Sales USA and Jaguar Land Rover North America for their time and willingness to be available to answer questions, show products and inspire new stories for this blog.

Oh, and stay tuned for a new car review coming soon…

Photo by Randy Stern

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