The Ads for the Dodge Dart? They’re Smart, and Here’s Why [The Ad Section]
Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.
Dodge’s portfolio of television commercials for the 2013 Dart isn’t just an ad campaign; it’s a miniature film festival that both educates and entertains. It’s got action, drama, humor, excitement, and a killer soundtrack. The casting and acting are top-notch too, as are the occasional cameo celebrity appearances. Yet these commercials are so jam-packed with relevant product information, they could be used as training videos for dealership personnel. You know what’s wrong with them? Nothing.
Hitting a creative home run is difficult even when the assignment is relatively uncomplicated. But in Dart’s case, the agency (Portland-based Wieden+Kennedy), had to accomplish a number of difficult objectives, including several that are intangible. Cool, for example, is a difficult quality to bestow by simple assertion, especially when the product’s name conjures up images of an ancient, slant-six powered econobox. Yet these commercials are definitely cool.
First, a little background. Compacts account for approximately 15 to 20 percent of U.S. auto industry sales, yet Chrysler hasn’t been a player in this arena since the last Neon rolled off the assembly line in 2005. In addition to contributing unit sales, compacts play the important role of introducing buyers to the brand: It’s a lot easier to keep happy customers in the tent than it is to lure converts after they’ve had a good experience elsewhere. And while Chrysler’s been asleep at the switch regarding this critical category, its competitors clearly haven’t: Ford, Chevy, Honda, Toyota, VW, and Mazda are just some of the marques that have been honing their compact game. (Have you driven a Ford Focus—or the ST?)
- Comparison Test: 2013 Dodge Dart Rallye vs. 2012 Ford Focus SE
- Instrumented Test: 2013 Dodge Dart Limited 1.4T DCCT
- Instrumented Test: 2013 Dodge Dart Limited 1.4T Manual
And as every player knows, if you come to the party late, you’d damned well better bring something worth waiting for. But how many times has that been tried in car advertising before? A million? Three million? At least. And it rarely works, because most of the time, those commercials start out showcasing the end result of their alleged greatness and rely on a voiceover to explain how they got there. But the Dart commercials start at the beginning and show you how they achieved their goal with easy to digest, snack-sized visuals that illustrate the copy points.
And the journey isn’t always pretty. For example, in the spot called “How To Change Cars Forever”, we suffer along with the designers (all young and hipster-like) as they chug coffee, skip meals, and pull all-nighters until they’re satisfied. We cheer them on from our couches when they destroy not-quite-there sketches and prototypes, “ignore the committees,” and literally kick the finance guy out the door, all to the pumping beat of Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild.” This is car building the way we would do it! Less compromise! More power! Cool apps! Tom Brady! Low price! I want one!
Of course it’s just an ad. But advertising is still the way most of us get our information about the things we buy. True, enthusiasts will dig deeper, do their own research, and listen to the voices they trust most. If that weren’t true, Car and Driver wouldn’t be in business. But if car companies relied just on enthusiast buyers, they wouldn’t be in business. Like it or not, advertising plays a major role in the auto industry, and Chrysler’s betting heavily on the Dart campaign to deliver prospects to their showrooms. I have no doubt that these commercials will do just that. Whether they’ll be happy with their Dart—we’d avoid the bummer-tastic dual-clutch gearbox, for example—is another matter entirely.
By Don Klein