Final Inspection

Noteworthy Insights From Olivier Francois

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GENEVA – Olivier Francois takes consumer feedback to heart. Literally.

Four weeks after “Halftime in America” made its debut during this year’s Super Bowl telecast, Chrysler’s marketing guru was still carrying notes he gleaned from YouTube comments in the frenzied hours after the edgy ad was posted to the video website.

He pulled them from an inside pocket of his jacket as we chatted last week at the Geneva auto show. They were scribbled in felt-tip pen on hotel stationery.

Reading from one tattered page, Francois said: “One guy wrote, ‘Buy Chrysler because they are bound to make a vehicle that is not just a worthless piece of metal.' … That is poetry!”

He then flashed a smile. Not because he may have sold a car, but because he’d helped trigger an emotional connection between a monolithic company, with all its inherent sterility, and a person.

Visceral tone is a Francois hallmark. It was in “Halftime in America” (10.7 million YouTube hits as of today); last year’s celebrated “Born of Fire,” starring Eminem (14.7 million hits); and Lancia’s 2009 commercial that underlined the plight of Burmese political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi.

When all consumers expect is a running shot of a shiny car and maybe a chuckle or two, why risk alienating prospective buyers by shining a spotlight on societal ills?

“It’s very simple,” Francois told me. (At this point, I sat back in my chair. Few Francois explanations are simple. Fewer still are short.)

“There once was a huge difference in quality or design or engineering between an expensive product and a cheap product,” he said, adding a suit today can be stylish and affordable. Same is true with a wristwatch.

“You can have an affordable car that doesn’t work worse, engine-wise, than a Rolls-Royce. I wouldn’t say all products are equivalent. But the difference between good products and bad products is very small.”

Therefore, branding takes on enormous signifiance.

“There is something more that fuels cars than just gas,” he said. “You have to make a statement about what you stand for.”

Monitor WardsAuto for more insight from Francois, who speaks to the Automotive Press Assn. today in Detroit.

I’ll be there. Taking notes.

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on Mar 13, 2012

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WardsAuto editors share insights and observations on the global auto industry.

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