Thursday, February 2, 2012

Chrysler, Fiat and the Brand Value of Authenticity

Chrysler's ad was epic and memorable: Grungy unmistakable scenes of Detroit, a gritty voice expressing the poetry of hard luck and hard work; the rising strains of Eminem's "Lose Yourself" accompanied by gospel choir; and finally the man himself emerging from a Chrysler 200 to point at the camera and assert "This is the Motor City, and this is what we do."

Duplicating this recipe perhaps seemed easy to Fiat, but when they mixed together the same sorts of ingredients, the result was a disaster. Authenticity doesn't have a recipe and brands aren't created by photocopying best practices.

Chrysler's ad is a moving, breathtaking, convincing piece of work that combines art and commerce. This is what advertising should aspire to be, yet vast quantities of marketing budgets go into lookalike ads that fail to alter brand perception or market share. You don't need to take my word that this ad is a success--it earned an Emmy and boosted Chrysler's financial results. Said Chrysler's CFO, “It clearly had a fairly big impact also on market levels with [the] Eminem Super Bowl ad being extremely well-viewed on YouTube."

Fiat tried to recreate the Chrysler recipe. Jennifer Lopez is "Jenny from the Block," so having her drive through the Bronx in a new Fiat 500c seemed like a can't miss concept. Better yet, JLo herself offers, "This is my world, this place inspires me."  Ka-ching! The doors of Fiat dealerships must have been ripped from their hinges with the rush of business!

Fiat's outcome with their JLo ads was a bit different from Chrysler's results, however. Fiat sold only 19,769 Fiat 500's in the U.S. last year, less than half their goal. Performance was so bad that the head of the Fiat brand in North America lost her job.

(As if to prove one of my recent posts on how meaningless most social media marketing metrics have become, Fiat at first crowed about the results of this ad, saying they received a 500 percent increase in traffic to their YouTube channel and bump of 47 percent in brand awareness. That's great, but did it increase consideration, sell cars or motivate loyalty--you know, the metrics that matter?)

The reason for the divergent results for Chrysler and Fiat have everything and nothing to do with social media. Brands cannot and never could buy authenticity with a TV ad, but it is possible to earn it with the right advertising campaign. Today in the midst of the social era, authenticity matters more than ever before. There is no "best practice" for how to earn authenticity--it is different for every brand, audience and organization.

Let's count the many ways Chrysler's ad earned authenticity and Fiat's ad did not:

  • Chrysler's ad was about Detroit; Fiat's was about a car. Chrysler's ad doesn't show the Chrysler 200 until 30 seconds into the ad; Fiat's ad puts the car full frame in the fourth second.  Can you imagine the discussion among ad execs at Chrysler--an auto ad that doesn't even show the car for 30 seconds!? That probably sounded risky and dumb, but authenticity isn't earned by impressions and GRPs; it's earned with confidence, context, shared values and history, all of which are on clear display in the Eminem ad.
  • Chrysler's ad had chemistry between car and spokesperson; Fiat's did not: Marshall and I don't hang out, so I cannot vouch for the fact he cruises around Detroit in a Chrysler, but you and I probably recognize it's possible. JLo, the queen of bling who arrives to her American Idol appearances in a limo, tooling around in a tiny subcompact car? Ridiculous on the face of it. Chemistry is hard to measure and even harder to fake--Leo and Kate's chemistry made Titanic work while real-life couple Ben and JLo caused Gigli to crash. (Hmm, that makes two times Lopez has failed to bring convincing authenticity to a relationship with a costar.)
  • Eminem isn't just "from" Detroit:  Search Google for where JLo lives, and you find answers like Bel-Air and Fisher Island off Miami. Do the same for Eminem and you get results like Rochester Hills, MI and Warren, MI. Eminem isn't just "from" Detroit--he (and Kid Rock) are Detroit for many fans. Eminem gives interviews to eighth graders in Detroit; he is a "Lions fan first and foremost," and  two years before the Chrysler ad, Eminem created a video "Love Letter to Detroit" for the NCAA finals. In contrast, JLo's association with the Bronx is so thin, it likely surprised no one when it was reported that JLo never left Los Angeles to film her scenes for the Fiat ad. JLo's spokesperson said "I don't see a problem" and compared shooting the ad to being on a movie set. Fiat found out the hard way that movies are about fantasy, brands are real and authenticity cannot be faked.
  • JLo is brand promiscuous: Authenticity and trust are a currency--the more you spread them around, the less you have. Eminem, for the most part, is picky about lending his credibility to brands, having appeared in ads for Brisk and Chrysler. Lopez, however, spreads herself around--Fiat, Kohl's, L'OrealHarman/Kardon, Gillette Venus, Tous Jewelry, Gucci and her own branded fragrances. The more brands celebs endorse, the less each endorsement means. Some people were surprised Eminem appeared in a Chrysler ad, and that surprise speaks volumes about the value Eminem brought to the brand. No one was surprised to see JLo appear in a Fiat ad, except perhaps that it appeared she was driving in a tiny clown car.
Authenticity is rarely earned by doing something the same way as someone else. Chrysler took risks, created something different, and earned the benefits. In both traditional advertising and social media, we can all learn something from Chrysler's campaign--but please don't try to duplicate the recipe!


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