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Reigniting the American Dream at Chrysler

Olivier François might seem like an unlikely person to breathe new life into the storytelling power of American grit and glory, but that’s exactly what he’s doing as Chief Marketing Officer of Chrysler Group LLC and Fiat Group Automobiles.

The dapper Frenchman has held the top marketing positions since 2009 and in that that short time has transformed the brands with such ground breaking spots as Imported from Detroit, the 2011 Super Bowl ad starring Eminem, Halftime in America, the 2012 Super Bowl spot featuring Clint Eastwood and Farmer, the 2013 Super Bowl commercial. Ram Truck brand retail market share has grown from 11.7% at the end of 2009 to 19% in August 2013.

“I’m a big believer in brand equity,” say François, who was called a “Grand Brand Genius” by Adweek and an “updated version of Mad Men’s Don Draper” by Business Week. “I think that what makes a difference today is not just a product… What matters to me is not just to push my product but also to connect, to engage with the customer.”

François says his vision for Chrysler is that it be the most credible American brand when competing with imports. “Dodge is different. It’s not aiming at the same customer now. I always say it’s basic transportation with Attitude.”

François, who spoke of currently driving a Ram Truck during his Marketing Masters interview, says “to me, Ram is all about credibility. So it’s about telling simple stories in an incredible way.” Indeed, that one powerful idea applies to many of Chrysler Group’s marketing efforts. François is rightly credited with shifting the core messages at the company away from touting simple discounts and incentives and toward powerful forms of emotional storytelling.

“The American dream is a common thread between our various brands,” François says, and in some ways only an outsider could see such classically American ideas with fresh eyes. For example, François decided early to invest in qualities associated with the Jeep brand like freedom, adventure and heroism.

In all cases, what is perhaps more important to Francois is to continually question your own thinking and reinvent yourself. “It’s really, really important to listen, to share, to embrace ideas,” he says. In an industry known for playing fast and loose with the facts, Francois steadfastly suggests that great marketers tell the truth. “Tell them truth. Be truthful. Be honest. Be straightforward. Tricks are not cool.”

“Our secret at Chrysler, and it became a tagline is: ‘what we make, makes us.”