Chrysler airs presidential ad campaign; Jeep goes viral

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV is using the U.S. presidential election to drum up attention for its Chrysler sedans in a new ad campaign featuring two former “presidents.”

Television ads for the campaign started airing Sunday with actors Martin Sheen and Bill Pullman in honor of the election as well as Presidents Day, which is Monday. Sheen was most notably President Josiah “Jed” Bartlet for seven seasons in “The West Wing”; Pullman was President Thomas J. Whitmore in 1996’s “Independence Day.”

The ads include Sheen in a Chrysler 300 large sedan and Pullman in a Chrysler 200 midsize sedan discussing America. They use features of the sedans to discuss their stances before the ads end with “Premium to the People” — the name of the campaign.

“The American people are Americans, you know? They deserve the most advanced all-wheel-drive system in its class,” says Sheen in a 60-second version of the first ad, called “American-est.” Followed by Pullman: “Sure, but why are you wrapping yourself up in the flag?”

Sheen then responds to being wrapped in “Nappa leather” of the car, followed by a back-and-forth about America and their fictional terms in office.

While many companies tend to shy away from having anything to do with election seasons, Olivier Francois, Fiat Chrysler chief marketing officer, sees it as a way to be relevant with a trending topic.

“The opportunity, obviously, was the election year,” he said from Italy, adding the U.S. election is making headlines in Europe. “Every time it’s about being relevant to a cultural moment to define us, I jump on it. I love it.

“I wanted to do it before anyone else jumped on it.”

Francois said the idea of having the two fictional presidents came from ad agencies making promises about what they could do for the Chrysler sedans sounding like campaign promises.

“What I think makes them very alive is that both embodied men of the people for the people,” he said. “The casting was easy.”

Francois said after judging how the first ads do, the company could continue the campaign through the election.

Pullman also returns to the big screen this summer as Whitmore in “Independence Day: Resurgence,” which Francois said Fiat Chrysler is “proudly associated with.”

The presidential campaign comes a week after Fiat Chrysler surprised viewers of Super Bowl 50 with two one-minute ads for the company’s Jeep brand.

While the ads were more traditional than in years past, the first “Portrait” ad has gone viral online with more than 12 million YouTube views, the fourth most of any auto ad that aired during the big game. That’s despite the automaker not debuting the ads ahead of the Super Bowl.

“Portraits” took the top automotive spot of the YouTube AdBlitz 2016 results. It is the fifth time in six years that the automaker has achieved the No. 1 spot.

Francois said Jeep’s two Super Bowl 50 ads were designed as a “two-fold approach”: To honor the brand’s past 75 years, while drawing attention to potential future buyers.

“Portraits” featured more than 60 curated images from around the world, including actors and musicians (Marilyn Monroe, Jeff Goldblum, B.B. King, Aretha Franklin) and pop culture moments (“Jurassic Park,” “The Terminator”) linked with Jeep vehicles.

“There’s a unique history in the 75 years. It’s not just any year. We didn’t start in 1949 or 1966, we started in 1941 — World War II,” Francois said. “It’s very important. You cannot ignore the history. You cannot ignore where you come from.”

The second ad, called “4x4ever” was a more upbeat new-age ad that focused on the adventurous nature of the brand, with people driving through deserts, snow and forests.

The adventurous videos were paired with a music track created specifically for the brand and performed by Sony Music artist Morgan Dorr.

Jeep, which started as a military vehicle, plans to set its fifth consecutive year of record global sales in 2016.

“We decided it was a very good idea to have two commercials,” Francois said. “It’s not about making everyone happy. But what we thought made it very unique was to literally address the two bookends of the target (audience) with a totally consistent message. Both speak to the same message, with the freedom of Jeep.”

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