Sunday, February 6, 2011

audi v. chrysler; the two memorable car ads of super bowl 45

There were two car commercials during the 2011 Super Bowl that really stood out among the others. They were Audi’s "Release the Hounds" ad by Venables Bell & Partners, and Chrysler’s "Born of Fire" ad (presumably done by Duffey Petrosky Wieden+Kennedy).

The two commercials were unique for how differently they tried to sell their client. One used humor with a clever positioning strategy. The other used a serious tone and tried to use American tradition and nationalism. One worked. The other did not.

I wrote recently about Venables Bell’s new strategy to position Audi as the "youthful" luxury car among high-end German automakers. Without disappointment, they delivered during the Super Bowl with a comedic--but potent--shot at Mercedes. The ad’s theme, "progressive luxury," drives home the message that Mercedes is a relic of stuffy luxury vehicles, driven by posh old men with no taste (or, as the commercial insinuated, sense).

As long as Audi sticks with this positioning, they will surely close the gap in market share and begin nipping at the heels of BMW and Mercedes.

Chrysler’s two-minute ad--the longest Super Bowl commercial yet for the company--was supposed to be the kick-off for the brand’s rejuvenation attempt.

It failed, miserably.

There were so many mistakes in Chrysler’s commercial it’s hard to recount them here. From using a celebrity to sell a product, to strongly tying itself to a city that has come to symbolize American automaker’s hubris and unimaginative styling; there just wasn’t much that they did right.

Most Americans aren’t stupid. They know that the failure of American automakers is largely their own. For decades, they have made ugly cars with horrible reliability. Unlike their foreign counterparts, American automakers continued to pump-out uninspired cars on the presumption that their "American-made" hokum would sell them.

It didn’t, and one of the worst offenders is Chrysler.

Detroit is not an American symbol of hope and change. It is a symbol of failure and lack of inspiration. Tying your brand to that, no matter how hard you try to pull at the heartstrings of Americans, will not work. This is especially true when touting the product line as a luxury vehicle, when at no point has Chrysler ever been thought of as an American luxury vehicle (the brand that definitively owns that position is Cadillac).

Chrysler additionally wasted extra money hiring rapper Eminem to be featured in the commercial. Eminem’s ties to Detroit are most likely unknown except to a small minority of consumers, so his purpose is the commercial was completely lost on the audience. Additionally, celebrities rarely (if ever) move the needle on sales. And, the use of a youth-oriented rapper is definitely not going to help launch a "luxury" brand targeted to adults.

Reflecting on the commercial, I mostly remember Eminem and images of a decrepit Detroit. I don’t remember the product, much less anything that would encourage me, as a consumer, to think any differently about Chrysler than I did before.

For having two-minutes of airtime, I can’t think of a way Chrysler could have wasted it more efficiently other than just to run two solid minutes of dead air.

For a company that has yet to repay its debt to taxpayers for the bailouts it received to keep its doors open, this commercial was an insult. As a taxpaying advertising junkie, it was an abomination.

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