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Chrysler Neon: To Brand Or Not To Brand? — Dealers Complain Strategy Would Hurt Current Push of Dodge Line By David Kile

DETROIT – Chrysler’s plan to introduce its new subcompact cars under a single brand name ne

The plan for the Neon, which recently graced the cover of BusinessWeek and will be launched in the spring of next year, is for Dodge dealers and Plymouth dealers to each get the car, with both versions carrying the Neon moniker. Though the ad strategy and assignment is still being fought over between Dodge agency BBDO and Chrysler-Plymouth agency Bozell, the preferred plan has been loosely described by vp-marketing John Damoose as being a single campaign for the Neon, which would direct customers to both Dodge and Chrysler-Plymouth dealerships. And on the actual car, the Neon name will be prominent, while the Dodge and Plymouth brands would be very unobtrusive, ‘tucked away somewhere on the car, maybe on a piece of door trim inside the car or something,’ said one Chrysler insider involved in the planning.
Damoose couldn’t be reached last week. But in a previous interview, he said, ‘Consumers shopping in the entry level segment are less concerned about brand image, and much more concerned about value . . . and we think a single campaign covering both cars will be much more efficient.’
The cost of a new-car launch in a high-volume market segment, like the subcompact one Neon is entering, can be about $100 million. Given that, not dividing Chrysler’s expected budget of around $80 million between two brand names may be a good idea.
But the contrary argument is that by not prominently marketing the car as a Dodge, and as a Plymouth, the momentum at Dodge begun by the Intrepid last fall, which will get a further boost this fall with an all-new pickup truck, may tail off. Moreover, says dealers, Chrysler-Plymouth dealers may be losing an opportunity to recharge the Plymouth brand.
‘This would be the first car in a long time (excluding Plymouth Voyager minivan) that could really attract people to the Plymouth brand,’ said Chuck Swift, a Sacramento, Calif. Dodge dealer, and one the largest in the country. ‘I understand what they are trying to do, and if it works, the griping will go away . . . but selling the identical car under one name at both dealerships really strikes at the heart of why dealers make investments in different brand franchises in the first place.’
BBDO and Bozell, according to sources, currently are having meetings to see which agency will take the lead on the launch. To be introduced with a price tag starting at $8,600 early next year, analysts say the car has a chance to be the most successful American small car in history.
The good press, and the dizzying success of the LH cars introduced last fall, say Chrysler insiders who disagree with the strategy, has those pushing the single-campaign strategy thinking the Neon will sell itself based on the price and the positive write-ups.
But automotive marketing consultant Thomas O’Grady of Integrated Automotive Resoruces says the single-campaign strategy carries a lot of unnecessary risk: ‘Honda thought it’s cars would sell themselves forever too, and they are finding out the hard way how perishable success can be.’
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