Chrysler's "Imported from Detroit" campaign (the brainchild of French-born marketing guru Olivier Francois) covered on this blog a few months back, tuned out to be a hit. brandchannel recently reported on its success:
"Chrysler was clearly onto something when it launched its breakthrough 'Imported from Detroit' campaign. Sales spiked, leading the company to launch phase 2. Explaining the positioning, Chrysler CMO Olivier Francois told brandchannel 'American coolness is essential to our strategy, because that's exactly what imports do not have, and some other American [luxury] brands don't have as well."
Here are two of the latest spots from the campaign that build on its position. One featues Detroit-born high-fashion designer John Varvatos, the the other Dr. Dre:
The Chrysler 300 in these ads is considered a luxury car. And one of the reasons the spots work, it seems to me (and perhaps one the secrets of the "American" positioning), is that they're able to make luxury seem cool, rather than just boujie. But how do they do that?
For one thing, they suggest that in America there's little shame in luxury. Because this sort of luxe is accessible across class and race lines, if you work hard enough.
And the bold, blue-collar celebrity endorsers in these spots (like Eminem in the kickoff spot) have a nice rub-off on the car itself. Their presence and authenticity assure not only fine workmanship, but originality and most of all hipness.
A Bit Utopian...But So What?
You could say then, that these commercials work on reinventing the American Dream, not to mention the industrial might that made it credible. Whether such a meaning rhymes with the current state of the economy may not really matter. Ads are about wishes (often utopian) as much as they are about products.
But not only that. Due to the increasing class stratification in the U.S., where "the top 1% alone control nearly 40% of the wealth," it turns out that the top 10% of households now "account for almost half of consumer spending." In other words, the message of these spots simply doesn't have to be believable to everyone to make them effective.
And recent data reveals that "American Made" is an appealing pitch to the affluent. brandchannel points outs that "traditionally, it has been the lower end brands that have leveraged the appeal of American-made, but now luxury brands have picked up the theme...
"An American Express Publishing/Harrison Group survey conducted this year showed that more than 75% of wealthy consumers like brands made in America, and 65% of them buy American-made products whenever possible."
The piece I'm quoting from speculates that the appeal of such branding could be the result of anything from ideas that buying American is good for business, patriotic -- or that such products are simply made better. It also mentions a website (MadeInUSAForever), whose following is growing quickly, dedicated to this sort of "nationalist" shopping, that offers more reasons why people should consume this way.
Certainly, the idea that your consumption habits have political consequences has been richly elaborated throughout U.S. history. The very identity of "the consumer", in fact, was invented in part by the New Deal administration as a counterweight against corporate power.
For that matter, the success of the Chrysler campaign itself will have an effect on current politics. Because the the U.S. car industry's rebirth was jumpstarted by government investment, it will be a key theme for the Dems in the upcoming presidential race. The Obama campaign is even replacing McCain's "Joe the Plummer" with "James the Jeep Worker."
As far as the Chrysler campaign goes, though, I think the appeal is best explained by a bit of literary, rather than political, history. It turns out that nationalism is tied to distinct meanings in terms of aesthetics, too.
The great literary historian, Pascale Casanova, tells us that in the evolution of world literature, France, via of course Paris, once assumed total dominance. So much so, that the styles of Parisian art and writing were considered a universal measure of the best there was. French aesthetics were judged the most sophisticated and "cosmopolitan" (or, as we'd put it today, they were the signature style of "globalism").
But, as German national consciousness rose, to compete with the French, another measure of good literature came about. According to the German philosopher Herder, the arts, rather than copy the global standard (or aim for universality), should strive for authenticity. And this would be achieved, he theorized, if they sought to express the "soul" of the Nation and its people.
Chrysler's CMO is following Herder's strategy for his brand communications. What's more associated with the "American soul" than cool?
But, ironically, it's taken a sophisticated, French-born, cosmopolitan executive to grasp this. Thoughts?