Friday, February 23, 2007

Oops, they did it again.

Sometimes, an ad campaign can save a brand. But sometimes, the effort is so late, so desperate and so embarrassing to witness that it’s like walking into your parents ‘vicars & tarts’ party: An unseemly masquerade in which it’s hoped by all involved that, by dressing up as precisely the thing you are not, you can distract everyone from the hard truths of cellulite and chin wattles.

This was the lurid simile I finally settled on when Chrysler – sorry, DaimlerChrysler – broke its Dr. Z ad campaign some time back. The conceit of the campaign amounted to a signed confession by the folks in Auburn Hills that they just couldn’t build and sell cars on their own anymore. Look, it exulted, the joint’s being run by Germans now! They know how to build a car, by gum. And here’s the Head German, Dieter Zetsche, who even has (quoting the campaign web site, here) an “awesome moustache”! So now, our cars are going to be almost like, you know, Mercedes. Mercedeses. Mercediae. Whatever…

Anyway, they must have been convinced this was going to save the company once and for all, because it was a full court press. The company’s name had been changed, of course. And there was a series of mildly amusing television commercials in which a laconic Dr. Z demonstrated the virtues of dual sliding minivan doors and the like. And the aforementioned web site, featuring actual questions from actual consumers, each one inviting yet another revelation about the Teutons’ contribution to Chrysler’s rebirth. Actual questions like, oh, “What is so important about German Engineering in American cars?” Or, “Hey, Doc, I’m looking to see all of the current vehicle incentives. Can you send me in the right direction?” Man, if incentives don’t prove an ad campaign is working, I don’t know what does.

Well, whatev’, as the young people say. I cursed the chucklehead ad people who dreamed up this little festival of disingenuousness and got on with my life, no more inclined to buy a Chrysler and slightly less so to drive a Mercedes (whose brand was beginning to look like K-Fed to Chrysler’s Britney).

Then, while shaving one morning last week, I heard a familiar voice coming from the television. Could it be? I peeked out at the TV, and there it was: the Awesome Moustache! And it wasn’t being one bit laconic. The Head German was telling the folks in Auburn Hills that they were a financial sinkhole. They’d need to lose, oh, 13,000 or so souls from their payroll to make any financial sense. Oh, and layoffs or no, the folks in Stuttgart are seriously thinking about selling Chrysler anyway (possibly to these guys, it’s rumored), so fed up are they by the whole thing.

So, summarizing: Car company gets bought by famous German brand. Head German takes charge, and is appointed ├╝ber-shill for its products. Head German ends up threatening to fire 16% of the company and sell the rest to the Chinese.

Well done.

Brand-wise, it’s just gotta be hard to recover your dignity after a rejection like that. F. Scott Fitzgerald may have been wrong about there being no second acts in American life, but at this moment it seems like the only difference between Chrysler and Britney is that Britney’s hair will eventually grow back.

Who knows, maybe she'll even grow an awesome moustache.