Chrysler 200 Breaks Super Bowl Ad Playbook Rules -- And Wins

Last Updated Feb 7, 2011 10:56 AM EST

If a troll through the Web this morning is any indication, the commercial with the most buzz coming out of the Super Bowl (as opposed to going in), was Chrysler's audacious paean to Detroit, featuring Eminem -- all in the service of launching the luxury Chrysler 200. (Watch the video below.) It was partly about creative of course, but it was also about media strategy, which paid off in ways that following the dog-eared Super Bowl playbook -- which most advertisers did -- could not. Here's how Chrysler pulled this feat off:

1. Not putting the spot online before the Big Game. The downside of Super Bowl advertising going viral is that it's rapidly becoming the marketer version of crack cocaine. More than 30 commercials were released online before the game because advertisers just can't get enough of those online views. While every advertiser who buys on the Super Bowl should take advantage of the distribution power of the Internet, posting commercials beforehand so obviously blunts the impact of the spot when it actually airs. Chrysler assiduously avoided this; in fact the release from Chrysler touting the Eminem spot came out roughly a half hour after it aired -- a rarity in the Super Bowl hype machine. Said Olivier Francois, President and CEO, Chrysler Brand: "Super Bowl advertising is about making a statement and capturing the attention of the audience." That should be obvious, but to many Super Bowl advertisers, it wasn't.

2. Buying two minutes of airtime to launch the commercial. Again, audacious. This is rare, if not unprecedented, but it allowed Chrysler to own an entire commercial pod, so it didn't have to compete with the silliness that typifies so many Super Bowl ads. Still, it was a massive, $6 million gamble. For one, the company and its agency (Wieden & Kennedy -- the "Old Spice Man" guys), had to believe they'd produced a spot arresting enough to suck viewers in, instead of turning them off. They also had to believe that the game would still be interesting enough by the third quarter, when the spot aired, that the massive audience wouldn't be lost in a haze of Doritos and Budweiser.

3. Making Detroit, rather than the Chrysler 200, the centerpiece of the commercial. More than even the norm, the Super Bowl was awash in car ads, for Volkswagen, Kia, Mercedes, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Audi. It doesn't take long for it to become car logo soup. The Detroit setting and tagline -- "Imported from Detroit" -- made it clear from the outset that the ad could be for only one of three companies, and then the commercial worked in enough logo treatments to eliminate the other two. It's extremely telling that, as I write this, the Chrysler 200 is the no. 4 hot search topic on Google, and the only brand advertised on last night's game to make the top ten. (That "Darth Vader commercial" is no. 6 indicates viewers don't necessarily remember the ad was for VW.)

The only fail for this spot actually has nothing to do with it -- and that's Eminem's wrong-headed decision to also star in a horrid Claymation Lipton Brisk ad early in the game. In the Lipton spot, the central, lame, joke is that Em doesn't do commercials. In the Chrysler 200 spot, his own rehabilitation serves as the powerful metaphor for lifting up a city and a car company that are central to the American experience.

Needless to say, the two don't square. If I were Chrysler or Wieden, I'd try to erase that Lipton commercial from planet Earth by any means possible. But in today's viral world, that is, of course, impossible.


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