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Imagine The Geico Caveman selling condos in Trump Tower. The Marlboro Man selling Monolo Blahnik footwear. Or Ron Burgundy, Anchorman, selling Dodge Durango SUVs.
These mismatched, co-marketing pair ups of fictional characters with real-life products seem pretty unlikely… but wait. Implausible as it sounds, former Saturday Night Live funnyman Will Ferrell is indeed donning his bombastic yet clueless “Ron Burgundy, Anchorman” persona to pitch the 2014 Dodge Durango. And the results are hilarious.
As Adweek’s Tim Nudd notes in his October 7 article, “The only thing better than Will Ferrell doing brilliantly stupid ads as Will Ferrell? Will Ferrell doing brilliantly stupid ads as Ron Burgundy.”
Just what makes these ads so “brilliantly stupid”? Check out this spot with Burgundy touting one of the Durango’s selling features, the glove box, which he points out, “comes standard, offers 0.1 cu. ft. of storage… and comfortably fits two turkey sandwiches or 70 packs of gum.” Not exactly your standard car pitch.
Or, watch as Burgundy compares a horse to the Durango. The horse, he says, has only one horse power compared to the Durango’s 360. “Durango. 360 times better than you,” he says.
The first time I saw Ferrell’s commercial, I hadn’t yet heard about the Durango campaign or the movie sequel, and with the sound on mute, I couldn’t quite follow what was going on, but the unmistakable Ron Burgundy Anchorman character was easily recognizable, sporting a ’70s-style hairdo and loud, burgundy red, three-piece suit. At the end of the 30-second spot, up flashed a banner for the Dodge Durango, quickly followed by another banner for “Anchorman 2, The Legend Continues.” My interest was piqued.
A bit of digging revealed that Chrysler, Paramount, and the Will Ferrell comedy team had joined forces to craft a unique co-branding campaign … and incidentally, they didn’t produce just one commercial, or two, but an entire series of TV ads of varying length, plus YouTube and Vine postings, Twitter postings, and due out in November, print ads too.
In fact, according to an October 7th AP article by Tom Krisher, Ferrell was originally supposed to shoot just 3 to 6 videos. But they ended up with over 70. (Only a handful have been released, thus far.) Much of the comedy is improvised. And in a brilliant bit of negotiating, Olivier Francois, Chrysler’s marketing chief, bartered Ferrell’s talent for free in exchange for promoting the Anchorman movie.
Francois is quoted in a US today article as saying: “People think they already know the Durango, so then you have to be twice as engaging in a marketing campaign. What could be more engaging and entertaining … than to explain all of the new technology and features through the eyes of a guy who comes from the ’70s?”
Compound that with the fact that Chrysler has the smallest advertising budget of the big 3 US automakers, ranked at 40% less than GM and 20% less than Ford. If Chrysler couldn’t outspend their competitors, they’d need to be disruptive … creative … and in a big way. I think they’ve succeeded.
Will the Campaign Be Effective?
So, will it work? The publicity will almost certainly help bring attention to the movie. But will it help sell SUVs?
Business Insider Ira Kalb’s article, “Will Dodge’s Ron Burgundy Commercial Actually Sell Trucks” says the commercials have upside potential for three reasons, because:
On the other hand, Kalb cites three more reasons why the campaign could be ineffective, including stats showing that celebrity ads typically fail unless the celeb is an expert in the products they are selling. (And if you know the Ron Burgundy character, you know he’s not an expert in anything other than misplaced self-confidence.)
Kalb goes on to criticize the Dodge commercials for not clearly defining the Durango’s benefits. (Again, point well taken. Clearly no one is buying a Durango for its nicely-sized glove box.)
And he states that tying the campaign to a buffoon-like character is risky, as it reminds people of the stereotypical inept car salesperson. He concludes that whether the campaign “works” is anyone’s guess.
But I disagree.
What Defines a Good Campaign?
While all marketing should help to move along the sale, I think Kalb misunderstands the goal of this series of ads, as well as where in the sales cycle this campaign falls.
Seems to me the point was to break through the clutter. Raise attention. Get people talking about the ads. Give viewers a reason to share them virally. And do so in a way that people will remember not just the ad and Ferrell but, more importantly, the Dodge Durango name and brand.
And if that’s the goal, they’re well on their way to success. The campaign broke on October 2nd, and has already achieved over 5 million combined views of the video clips, not to mention dozens of news articles, and a flurry of tweets.
Durango’s social media folks are cleverly staying right on top of the chatter and not letting any marketing opportunity pass by. A humorous, social media video debate recently erupted between Durango and the horse racing folks at Breeder’s Cup, who were irate over the “one-horse power” ad. (Or perhaps they just knew how to make a little social media hay of their own). In any case, Breeder’s Cup employed politico and horse racing enthusiast James Carville to speak out in the defense of horses, causing Durango to promptly come back with a video response of their own. You can check out both videos in Tim Nudd’s article, “Dodge Now Doing Video Responses to Tweets About Its Ron Burgundy Ads.”
Even KFC Chicken got into the social media action, posting this tweet about the Durango:
So, a social media bonanza, all the way around.
Want to learn more? I’ve collected a few related and not-so-related resources.
About the making of Will Ferrell’s Durango videos:
About John William “Will” Ferrell:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will_Ferrell (Wikipedia entry)
Will Ferrell’s website, Funny or Die:
http://www.funnyordie.com/will_ferrell – where you can watch Anchorman 2 video clips, and then vote on whether you think it’s funny. The movie debuts December 20th.
Official Pinterest site for Anchorman 2:
More about Anchorman and Anchorman 2:
Top 10 of Viral Video ads chart, as measured by Visible Measures and Advertising Age:
http://www.visiblemeasures.com/adage. As of October 10, 2013, Ferrell’s videos haven’t yet made it to the Top Ten yet, but give them another week, and I bet they do.
Other iconic fictional characters in advertising: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_American_advertising_characters
Other weird-humor, Will Ferrell commercials:
More about buying personas:
Why do people buy SUVs:
Good or bad? Smart advertising or stupid humor? If you were Durango’s marketing manager, would you have approved this campaign? I’d love to hear from you.