AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) _ Chrysler's new marketing chief helped
launch an ad campaign for the 2008 Dodge Caravan on Thursday, saying
the redesigned minivan remains the ``bedrock'' for Dodge as it
expands its lineup and tries to appeal to a wider audience.
``Working with these iconic American brands is probably the
biggest and most exciting marketing challenge that I've been able to
take part in,'' said Deborah Wahl Meyer, who became Chrysler LLC's
vice-president and chief marketing officer two weeks ago after
leaving Toyota Motor Corp.'s Lexus division. The Caravan, she added,
``is the bedrock of what we're really going to do.''
Dodge is abandoning its muscular image and embracing a softer,
family-oriented side for its most critical product launch since the
new Dodge Ram appeared in 2002. In ads that begin Sunday, Dodge's
signature thumping bass and the tag line ``Grab Life by the Horns''
will be gone, replaced with the shorter tag line ``Grab Life'' and
sunny images that emphasize the minivan's flexible interior,
high-tech gadgets and safety.
Mark Spencer, senior manager of Dodge communications, said the
shorter tag line is meant to appeal to a broader audience,
specifically affluent parents in their 30s and 40s. The old tag
line, he said, ``is a bit truck-oriented, a little more rural.''
Dodge also is making a big play for female buyers. The company
will let 300 mothers spend a week with a Dodge Caravan to generate
buzz. The women _ identified through chat rooms, parent groups and
other organizations in Minneapolis, Phoenix, Atlanta, New York,
Washington and Chicago _ will be encouraged to write about the
minivans in blogs. Dodge also plans to give away 12 Dodge Caravans
as part of a Christmas caroling contest on ``The View.''
Spencer said a fresh start is needed for Dodge, which upset some
dealers last year when it released ads for the new Dodge Nitro that
said little about the sport utility vehicle. Gay rights advocates
also raised questions about a Dodge Caliber ad that featured a fairy
turning a tough-looking guy with a big dog into a pastel-clad man
walking four small dogs on pink leashes. Joe Eberhardt, Chrysler's
top sales executive, left the company in December.
Spencer said the company wanted to dial down the tone and talk
more about the products without losing Dodge's snappy feel. Dealers
responded well, he said.
``The creative has taken a tremendous turn for the better,'' said
Wes Lutz, manager of Extreme Dodge Hyundai in Jackson, Mich. ``It's
much more feature-focused, product-focused, showing less about the
deal and more about why the product is best in class.''
Spencer wouldn't say how much Dodge is spending on the campaign,
but he did say the brand will spend 63 per cent of its ad budget on
television ads and 18 per cent of on Internet advertising.
Dodge's first crossover, the Journey, will go on sale in North
America next year, and the brand also is preparing the launch the
Challenger muscle car. But the Dodge Caravan and Chrysler Town &
Country remain critical, high-volume products for Chrysler, which
was recently taken over by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital
Chrysler still dominates the U.S. minivan market, but that market
is shrinking. Minivan sales peaked at 1.37 million in 2000 but were
down to 970,000 last year.
Spencer said new features like dual DVD systems, satellite
television and middle seats that swivel 180 degrees could cause some
buyers to take another look.
``I think it has the opportunity to reinvigorate the segment,''