Adweek's 2012 Brand Genius Awards
Automotive: Olivier Francois, Chrysler
Just as Chrysler was set to film its spot for this year’s Super Bowl, Olivier Francois received a call. “Hi,” said the sandpaper voice on the other end. “This is Clint.”
The Chrysler CMO had relentlessly pursued the Hollywood legend known as Eastwood, normally out of reach to marketers. But listening to Francois’ pitch, the star began to warm to Chrysler’s “Halftime in America” concept and eventually agreed to it—if it could be told in his own words.
Francois is a marketer with a strong creative point of view, and one who doesn’t hesitate to be hands-on.
Last year, Chrysler’s in-house marketing team wanted Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” for another Super Bowl spot, even though the rapper was famous for rejecting the use of his music in ads. So Francois personally intervened, getting not only the music but Eminem himself for the ad. The Chrysler chief even managed to get the music slightly altered.
As for that iconic “Imported from Detroit” catchphrase? It came from a speech Francois delivered at the Los Angeles Auto Show. “That started as kind of a joke, but then we thought it would be a very good marketing brief, not just a line,” he says.
The marketing professional, who’s also a poet and songwriter, clearly enjoys the melding of art and commerce.
“I never order a commercial the way you would something off a menu,” says the proudly iconoclastic Francois. “I see agencies as partners to bounce ideas off of. It’s about chemistry between my own creative views, sense and instincts and these guys.”
But he’s also all business, and by any measure, consumer response to Wieden + Kennedy’s two award-winning Super Bowl spots for Chrysler has been off the charts.
For an automaker close to liquidation just three years ago, Chrysler, thanks in large part to Francois’ efforts, is the Detroit comeback story. U.S. sales climbed 12 percent in September of this year, the 30th straight month of growth. Compare that to October 2009, when Francois joined the brand and sales crashed 30 percent.
“At that time, America was questioning its own industry,” Francois recalls. “We wanted to not only put Chrysler on the map—we wanted to remind everyone that this is a country like no other, a country that can be proud of building quality products.”
Mission accomplished—Noreen O’Leary