AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — When you’ve got the smallest marketing budget of the Detroit Three automakers, you have to take risks to get your TV spots noticed.
That’s why Olivier Francois, Chrysler Group LLC’s marketing chief, gambles a lot. He’s following successful ads featuring rapper Eminem and movie star Clint Eastwood with a pitch from a fictitious character — egotistical airhead TV anchorman Ron Burgundy from the 2004 movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
This time, Mr. Francois got the talent to pitch a refurbished version of the Dodge Durango sport utility vehicle for free. Paramount Pictures, he said, bartered work on the commercials by Will Ferrell, who plays Burgundy, in exchange for the promotion in ads of an Anchorman sequel due out in December.
“We can’t compete on the money,” said Mr. Francois, a Frenchman behind the gritty 2011 Super Bowl image ad for Chrysler with Eminem in his hometown of Detroit, and the follow-up featuring Mr. Eastwood talking about America making a comeback.
Chrysler is by far the smallest of the Detroit car companies and has the lowest advertising budget. Last year, it spent $1.9 billion in the United States, about 40 percent less than rival General Motors’ $3.1 billion, and almost 20 percent below Ford Motor Co.’s $2.3 billion. GM was the second-largest advertiser in the nation, while Ford ranked sixth and Chrysler No. 11, according the trade publication Advertising Age.
So for Chrysler to compete, it has be creative to multiply the impact of its ads, Mr. Francois said at an event Monday at Chrysler’s headquarters held to formally unveil the ads.
Chrysler also has a marketing campaign ready to go for the Jeep Cherokee as soon as the long-delayed vehicles are shipped to dealers, Mr. Francois said.
Shipments of the Toledo-built Cherokee have been delayed because of issues with the SUV’s nine-speed transmission. Chrysler had hoped dealers would begin receiving Cherokees in September.
“The campaign is ready. We like it, and it is scheduled to air soon,” Mr. Francois told the Detroit Free-Press.
As with other Chrysler advertising rollouts, Mr. Francois said the campaign for the Cherokee is meant to help the vehicle stand out from its competition.
Mr. Francois declined to say if the Cherokee ads will feature a celebrity.
For the Durango commercials, which debuted over the weekend, Mr. Francois said Mr. Ferrell was given a free hand to write and produce the ads. All feature Mr. Ferrell in a 1970s burgundy suit. Most talk about the SUV’s gas mileage, power, and infotainment technology. Some are funny, such when Mr. Ferrell, playing an incredulous Burgundy, talks back to the navigation system, or when he thinks “mpg” is a word instead of an abbreviation for miles per gallon.
Mr. Francois had never heard of Burgundy, a 1970s TV anchorman in San Diego, or the first Anchorman movie. But he was amazed that everyone in a brainstorming session could recite lines from the movie.
“He’s probably the closest fictional character to a real character,” Mr. Francois said.
The campaign, scheduled to appear on TV until the sequel Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues makes its debut around Christmas, is risky. It could alienate people who didn’t see the first movie or those who didn’t like it.
That’s a chance that Chrysler is willing to take, to deviate from the standard auto industry ad featuring a car or truck rolling down a highway and a strange voice telling people about the product.
“If I run an ad with running footage and a couple of stats, it would just get lost,” said Tim Kuniskis, chief executive officer of the Dodge brand. “Now I can run an ad with Will Ferrell and immediately everyone is going to pay attention, look, notice.”