The key to selling cars in the United States is not 0% financing, but 100% alignment of brands with different consumer audiences. That was the message Olivier Francois, CMO of Chrysler and Fiat, delivered to marketers at the Association of National Advertisers Masters Conference this past weekend.
“When you’re the CMO of the Chrysler Group or the Fiat group, connecting with your target is even more paramount,” Francois said. “You have a lot of brands and often they’re parked feet from each other in the same auto showroom. But [that] doesn’t matter if…they stand for something different, if each of them aligns with a different customer.”
Francois is credited for polishing up the tarnished nameplates with breakthrough cars and marketing. He starred Motor City native Eminem in an “Imported From Detroit” spot in 2011, placed Clint Eastwood in the “Halftime in America” Super Bowl mini-doc, and last week introduced Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy in spots for Dodge Durango. Francois revealed that the inspiration for these moves began sparking during his first days on the job in Michigan in 2009 when, he said, “the alignment was blurry.”
“It’s wintertime and I’m stuck in a hotel room staring at sleet falling, trying to locate Michigan on a map,” Francois recalled. “I turn on the TV and there were tons of commercials for value replacement windows and one day sales events and, worse, car commercials. They used advertising terms I’d never heard before: zero down, rust inhibitors, cup holders. And deals, tons of deals. It seemed America would buy anything that ended in 99.”
That experience, Francois said, forced him to investigate the makeup of American consumers and to construct products and messages appealing their true needs and desires. “I saw a spirit, a mindset, an attitude,” he said. “I saw America had a bigger story to tell than any cup holder or President’s Day sales event.”