Late to the Game, Can Marketing Help Dodge Dart Catch Up?


The first television commercial for Chrysler's new 2013 Dodge Dart debuts Tuesday night during Fox network's broadcast of the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Something — anything — to draw consumer attention to the Dart, the most important car the automaker has since its 2009 emergence from bankruptcy under Fiat ownership, is desperately needed.

An analysis of car-shopping behavior on Edmunds.com shows consumers considering the Dodge Dart is still low, even though it has been inching higher since the car's January unveiling at the Detroit auto show. The Dart went into production at Chrysler's Belvidere, Ill., plant in May; small numbers were available for sale in June. Dealers sold 200 Darts in June. Last month also marked the Dart's highest level of shopper consideration on Edmunds.com, but still it was low. Only 2.2 percent of consumers shopping on Edmunds.com for a compact car considered the Dodge Dart. That put it on par with the aged Nissan Sentra, which will be replaced soon. In contrast, the most considered models in the segment were Ford Focus, Mazda3, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Elantra — all of which had in the double-digits for consideration — along with the Chevrolet Cruze and Volkswagen Jetta.

Dodge Dart

Digging deeper into the data, it appears as if Chrysler is getting its message across that the Dodge Dart is spirited. Shoppers considering the dart also look at the zoom-zoom Mazda3 followed closely by the sporty Ford Focus more than other models in the segment. The new television commercials play up the Dart's power and performance even more. "The compact segment is well known for being a little bit bland, one-size fits all," said Chrysler's chief marketing executive Olivier Francois in an interview. "How do you stand out in a commoditized segment? How to you inject personality into it?" The Dart commercials, he added, display Dodge's "rebellious attitude." Unfortunately for Dodge, the number of shoppers looking at models, like the Mazda3 and Focus, barely give the Dart a look.

Dodge Dart

It's not surprising the Dodge Dart hasn't made shopping lists yet. It is the first small car from Chrysler in a long time — since the demise of the Dodge Neon after the 2005 model year. With roller-coaster gas prices and car buyers ranking fuel economy at the top of their priorities, the compact car segment has been growing in volume in recent years, and it is crowded with solid new players including from Chrysler's cross-town rivals. Meantime, Chrysler has been frozen out of the business. The Dart, the first offspring of the Fiat-Chrysler marriage that shares its architecture with the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, will fill that critically needed slot in Chrysler's product line.

Chrysler will trumpet the virtues of the Dodge Dart — the full Edmunds.com test drive can be seen on InsideLine.com — loudly in the 90-second commercial that airs during Tuesday's All-Star baseball game. Francois said the automaker opted for the long commercial because the Dart has "a big story to tell." The theme of the Dart commercial is game changing — a game-changing car from a game-changing company. The ad opens with the words "how to change cars forever" and shows the marathon time and effort — sketching, clay modeling, testing, tweaking at the racetrack — spent on re-inventing the car. The ad touches on the Dart's 41 highway mpg, its power, its giant display screen and the available smart phone app to start it remotely.

The commercial also sends the message that Chrysler is a changed company that rebukes traditional corporate bureaucracy — committees and bean counters, who are thrown out after protesting the car's low starting price. Indeed, Chrysler plays up the Dart's low price in the commercial with a game show hostess holding the $15,995 starting price over the car. Appealing to the youth buyer, the spot features the Jay-Z and Kanye West track, "No Church in the Wild," from their "Watch the Throne" album, and it includes cameo appearances by other athletes, including NFL quarterback Tom Brady.

Also to attract young buyers, Dodge is partnering with Viacom for the Dodge Dart Challenge "Live in It to Win It" in conjunction with Viacom's coverage of the 2012 Comic-Con International, the world's largest comic book and popular arts convention. The challenge, to be promoted on Viacom's MTV, VH1, Spike and Comedy Central, has contestants competing in a four-day challenge for a chance to win a Dodge Dart. Dodge also is partnering with four online communities — deviantART.com, ReverbNation.com, Transworld and .Free Clothing Co. — to challenge individuals to create Dart-inspired works of art, songs, clothing and skateboard decks.

The 90-second Dodge Dart spot, created by Portland-Ore.-based advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy, will be followed this summer by 30- and 60-second versions of the commercial on television and in movie theaters. A major marketing push will launch on September when more Darts are available in dealership showrooms.

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