by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

In little more than six months after being purchased by private equity firm Cerberus, it's a new day at Chrysler.

The branding says so.

All it took was a laundry list of warranties, lots of sales incentives, a glossy new logo, and cute TV spots. It was only in late August that Chrysler recruited a marketer from Toyota to work her magic, yet the company has already incorporated consumer feedback into all of the vehicles it has manufactured and shipped to showrooms.

Voila! Miracles in the automotive world never seemed so easy. 

The problem is that it's all hot air, at best. I mean, c'mon now. GM and Ford are busy trying to get their entire workforces to resign. Sales are slumping. Factories are closing. Chrysler itself admitted only this past December (that's two months ago) that it is "operationally bankrupt." Gas prices are skyrocketing. Consumers are clamoring for greener cars. Roads are falling apart. 

And we're well into a "new day" at Chrysler because it came up with a branding campaign that says so? Somebody at their ad agency should pick up a newspaper once in a while. 

The idea of a miraculous "new day" at an automaker comes across about as credible and enticing as a "new day" after the Titanic hit that iceberg. Or a "new day" for Napoleon's troops slogging through a Russian winter.

It didn't have to be this way. 

There's real change underway at Chrysler (there has to be). Employee blood-letting aside, new CEO Robert Nardelli is reorganizing engineering, and will change other departments. Functions will be internationalized, outsourced, and supported with better systems and processes. A few years from now, Chrysler will invent, develop, build, and deliver cars that, conceivably, are far different from what it does today.

What it will look like is anybody's guess. It's a giant gamble for the private equity folks, which is why they do what they do...the potential returns are potentially immense. Nardelli and his backers at Cerberus are betting that the company might emerge as a fundamentally different, perhaps newly and uniquely competitive automaker. I wrote about this potential soon after the deal was announced last year.

It's about a half-minute past dawn on this "new day" at Chrysler. 

Imagine if they let consumers in on the bet, too?

The branding braintrust could have actually addressed this reality honestly and directly. It could have skipped the cute logo and all the hyperbolic claims of newness, thereby avoiding the head-on collision between its rosy public declarations and the truths of experience that are evident to any would-be consumer who has seen the news lately.

There'd have been something central about the idea that "Chrysler is changing, and you are invited to be a part of it." It would have addressed all of the variables and all the challenges, but in doing so, it could have set the stage to make a substantive, real pitch: join us in this journey. Make a guarantee of honesty and openness, while addressing the unfinished nature of the tasks ahead.

So the new TV spots that show consumers giving Chrysler designers direction on new features wouldn't be used as much to promote innovations that have already happened, but rather as an open invitation to participate in the company's future. Think of all the real, meaningful social media implications for this...

...then add themes of returning to the origins of the engineering-driven, small, focused company that Chrysler was back when it was first founded. The branding would evoke some sort of commitment to a relationship while this change is underway. It would be about a true relationship with the automaker, and what it would mean in terms of vehicle support, information sharing, feedback, yadda yadda

It wouldn't be about falling for some "new day" marketing nonsense, but rather accepting the idea that reinvention is possible, and agreeing to become a part of it. There's a patriotism theme here, too.

Cars are a miracle, if you think about it, moving us from place to place at the tap of our toes. I say that the automotive world itself is a miracle that we've just grown used to. So I believe that it's very possible that Chrysler is another miracle in the making.

But it'll only happen with some game-changer branding that prompts meaningful behaviors. Behaviors, that is, other than the marketer and her agencies spending oodles of money on marketing that doesn't ring true. 

The fact that they could produce this stuff in spite of the reality all around them is a miracle in and of itself. It's just not the right one.

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/02/miracles-in-the.html

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