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Driving It Home

What does “Imported from Detroit” mean to Canadians? Add to ...

Reid Bigland, president of Chrysler Canada, spent a few moments at the Toronto auto show talking about the Chrysler 200 mid-size sedan, with the focus on that buzz-worthy Super Bowl commercial.

Canadians may not have seen it during the first live broadcast; we don’t get most of the best U.S. commercials. Nonetheless, Bigland was musing about how to leverage Detroit-born Eminem at the wheel of a Chrysler 200 into greater sedan sales in Canada.

WATCH NOW: Chrysler aired this Detroit-focused ad during the 2011 Super Bowl

Let’s face it: plenty of Canadians watched either pirated signals with the U.S. commercials embedded, or they’ve gone to various online sites to view them. The ad was a hit on both sides of the border.

But will the now-famous ad move metal in the U.S. and Canada? The monthly sales reports (for February) won’t be out for a few more days and until then we’re all guessing.

Bigland’s problem is to find a Canadian angle. He said he was thrilled to hear perception of the Chrysler brand remains among the most improved out of 30 brands that advertised during the Super Bowl, according to BrandIndex. But does the Chrysler brand’s new slogan, “Imported from Detroit,” mean anything to Canadians at all?

A good question for Bigland. Gritty images of bleak urban ruins, smoke stacks and downtown Detroit set against a lead-grey sky probably play better in the U.S. than in Canada and that’s how the commercial opens – with the narrator asking, “What does this city know about luxury?”

Another point to ponder: Does rapper Eminem, who comes onscreen driving a Chrysler 200 (the replacement for the slow-selling Sebring sedan) have any real influence with Canadians? A Caucasian rapper riffing to Lose Yourself might mean more to Americans than Canadians. I don’t know and this is an issue Chrysler Canada is struggling with now.

Those visiting the auto show might also want to have a long look at the 200 and ask if this was the right car to pitch. As David Welch of Bloomberg recently noted, “The 300 is Chrysler's big, stylish, pseudo-luxury car for the gangsta set. No way Eminem drives a 200. His bag man probably wouldn't drive a 200. The 300 would have been a better choice.”

I agree. Chrysler has done some nice work to make the 200 and its Dodge cousin, the Avenger, a better car – including a spiffy new interior and better driving dynamics. But the 300 would have been a smarter choice. For Chrysler Canada it would have offered something more: the 300 is built in Brampton, Ontario.

Welch also pointed out that troubled “American car brands need to get away from gritty Detroit imagery. No one needs reminding that Detroit is a city in serious trouble and that two of the Big Three would have disappeared if not for a government bailout.

“Domestic brands have to change the conversation for generations of Americans who abandoned them years ago and for young consumers who don't know them.”

For contrast, consider Ford’s case. The only Detroit car company not to take government assistance hasn’t spent any time at all touting the “no government help” angle in its media buy. Instead, as Welch notes, Ford plugs quality and technology like MyFord Touch and Sync. The result has been a dramatic improvement in the brand recognition of Ford, according to Consumer Reports.

Chrysler’s Super Bowl ad was buzz-worthy, but will it sell cars and does it tell the right story about what’s changed within Detroit’s auto makers? And does it even have a purpose or a role in Canada at all?

WATCH NOW: Chrysler aired this Detroit-focused ad during the 2011 Super Bowl

 

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