Stay Classy, Portland: W+K and Fiat Chrysler Split

Imported From Detroit. The Dodge Brothers. Freedom.

These were campaigns with staying power; lighting a fire within automotive advertising, keeping Chrysler and Dodge on consumer’s maps – even in spite of a lackluster product portfolio.

They were gritty, when we needed a reason to reflect and find how we can rise again. They were ostentatious, when we needed a laugh at something crass. They were award-winners, conversation-starters, and clinics for advertising students everywhere.

And it was all thanks to Wieden + Kennedy, Fiat-Chrysler’s now-former Agency of Record.

Last week, FCA and W+K ended their six-year relationship. It was bit of a tenuous announcement, with no official reason given, akin to your boss handing over a box and saying it’s all a matter of “corporate restructuring.”

Read between the lines and there’s probably a good reason. It doesn’t need to be repeated ad nauseam, but the automotive industry is in a state of rapid change. Suddenly, crossovers own the market, while government fuel economy standards continue to climb. Sedans and performance models are being squeezed out of market share in this new higher ride height future.

Fiat-Chrysler has had one hell of a rough patch, desperately searching for a partner to merge with, numerous product delays, and continuing quality issues. Through it, Jeep and RAM have carried the brand, but it remains a tough road ahead for the other brands. Already, Ferrari has been spun off, and poster children for a new age of Chrysler like the 200 and Dodge Dart are getting the axe.

Add in a massive investment into Alfa Romeo which raises more questions and skepticism, it’s easy to see how money could be at the heart of it all.

It would be no surprise if an advertising agency with the likes of Coca-Cola, Nike, and Verizon on the client roster doesn’t come cheap – and Fiat-Chrysler is reeling.

W+K’s greatest hits (and possibly, greatest strengths) were to the brand’s heritage and products catered more for the enthusiast. In a world where Jeep Cherokees and RAM 1500s rule the roost, Chrysler 300s and 707-horsepower Dodge Chargers are superfluous from mainstream marketing.

The agency also has a penchant for the big stage, roping in big stars like Eminem and Dr. Dre for Super Bowl commercials. Opportune partnerships like that between Will Ferrell (as “Ron Burgundy”) and the release of Anchorman 2 could not have been cheap to pull off.

It makes business sense to take a step back, save money, and find an agency that aligns better with FCA’s present and future focus.

One of the biggest trends, hate it or love it, is an entire industry moving away from the agency of record model. Moves like aligning an SEO campaign with a digital boutique agency, or letting a Texas-based agency handle truck advertising are the new normal.

In fact, we even saw clients with a strong AOR relationship hand their coveted Super Bowl slot over to a different agency as a one-off.

This all means that clients are shopping around. Long-term contracts are being thrown out and a much more agile (or chaotic, depending on what side you’re on) dynamic is where things are going.

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For Wieden + Kennedy, one of the world’s top advertising agencies, this break-up with Fiat-Chrysler is a sign of the industry as a whole.

Fortunately, W+K can ride off into the sunset with their heads held high. The agency, no doubt, elevated FCA’s profile during the tail end of the recession, and I’m sure there will be a host of other automotive clients looking to tap their expertise.

Whether it was funny, impactful, or somber, their efforts for FCA were a master class in advertising – and we’ll remember the relationship that gave us such gems as “Imported From Detroit.”

 

 

 

 

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