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Why Fallon and Universal McCann Must Get Right With Chrysler's Dealers

Congratulations to Fallon and Universal McCann, who just won Chrysler's $1 billion creative and media advertising duties, respectively. Fallon is a unit of Publicis (PUB); McCann is a unit of Interpublic (IPG). Both these agencies have a difficult task ahead of them. They must persuade their clients -- Chrysler/Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne (pictured) and brand CEO Olivier Francois -- that they are wrong about Chrysler's advertising strategy and their dealers are right.

Marchionne and Francois' stewardship of Chrysler's post-bankruptcy advertising has been disastrous so far. The Lancia-Aung San Suu Kyi tie-in was a fiasco not just because the media got it wrong but because it was destined to be misunderstood by an American public that, as the LA Times noted, "wouldn't know Suu Kyi if she lobbed a grenade at them."

Globalhue's new ads for Jeep mostly show a bunch of clocks and hardly any Jeeps. The Richards Group created an ad for Ram that mostly shows still photographs of people not driving a Ram.

That's why Marchionne and Francois are in a civil war with their dealers. Last week, Chrysler's sales management at HQ was subjected to an uncomfortable phone call with their mutinous dealers, according to Bloomberg:

Chrysler Group LLC dealers have asked the company to pull new television ads and restore regional marketing budgets after U.S. sales declined 25 percent in November, people familiar with the matter said.
Members of Chrysler's national dealer council, an advisory body to the automaker, called for the ads to be stopped in a phone call with the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based company's sales leadership this week
The dealers can be easily appeased. They want a lot of beauty shots of cool new cars, some information about their top features, and perhaps some kind of pricing incentive. That's what they always want. This time they're right. It's a recession. Price is 90 percent of the average purchase decision right now.

Marchionne has agreed to meet with his dealers in an effort to pour oil on troubled waters. It's a start. The difficult bit for Fallon and McCann is that they must join the dealers in their campaign to persuade him that he's wasted the last six months of advertising.

Here's one small but telling detail: Will Italians and Frenchmen with names like "Sergio Marchionne" and "Olivier Francois" be able to speak the same marketing language as Larry Reid, owner of White Bear Dodge in Minnesota? Perhaps Fallon et al can act as translators.

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