Jeep urges public to stay off the road in new campaign

DETROIT — Jeep, a free-spirited brand known for adventures, is pushing a more cautious message during the coronavirus pandemic: Stay off the road.

Jeep, in a new digital spot released Friday, is urging the public to stay home during the outbreak as it reminds consumers that the trails will be waiting for them when the crisis subsides. The video, “Same Day,” is part of a larger social media campaign by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles that will tout responsible behavior to stop the spread of the virus and honor essential workers such as medical personnel and police officers.

FCA’s other brands will post videos on their social channels in the weeks ahead.

Jeep is confronting this serious moment with a lighthearted tone. It revives the Groundhog Day theme from its Super Bowl spot this year and once again features actor Bill Murray in a series of videos that will launch in the coming weeks. The brand’s other videos, which have a more inspirational, heartfelt touch, will delve into its military history and explore themes of freedom and family.

“Same Day” plays on the monotony that comes with having to stay at home during the pandemic, which provides a natural segue into the Groundhog Day film plot in which Murray’s character relived the same day over and over.

“Everything is so much of a tragedy now,” FCA marketing chief Olivier Francois told Automotive News. “Normally, I would be very, very cautious with being humorous about the situation; there’s nothing to smile about. But, in this case, we started seeing so many posts popping up saying, ‘Staying home, it looks a little bit like ‘Groundhog Day.’ “

Francois added later: “It’s maybe one of the only tasteful ways to use a smile to encourage people to stay home.”

The campaign has a unifying hashtag across brands, #StayAtHome, but each brand also has a unique hashtag. Jeep’s tag line is #StayOffTheRoad. Ram is touting the #WorkForHome tag for its content that will center on health care workers, farmers and utility and delivery workers, while Dodge’s social campaign is using #TheMuscleBehindUs to celebrate first responders. Fiat is using #WeAreItaly, Chrysler has #PacificaCampOut and Alfa Romeo is going with #MorePowerfulInPark.

Brands have already posted content using the various tags.

Each brand will approach the crisis in its own way. Francois said, “We want to take advantage of the fact that we have different brands with different [tones] of voice, different stories and DNA.”

Francois said it isn’t difficult to build campaign messaging at a time such as this, when everyone is focused on the common topic of COVID-19.

“There is only one relevant thing left, which is health and inspiring people to stay safe and stay healthy,” he said. “There’s no way we can tell people go buy a car because this is really not what it’s about.”

Kim McCullough, Jaguar Land Rover’s VP of marketing, steps down

Kim McCullough, Jaguar Land Rover’s vice president of marketing for North America, left the company this week, ending a long run with the luxury importer.

For now, Joe Eberhardt, JLR’s North American CEO, will assume McCullough’s duties, said spokesman Stuart Schorr. McCullough, 59, took over as vice president of marketing in 2014 after serving as brand vice president of Land Rover during some of Land Rover’s highest growth years.

Her departure ended her second stint at the company. From 1997-2001, when Land Rover was owned by BMW and then sold to Ford in March of 2000, McCullough worked in marketing for the brand. She then held numerous senior marketing jobs at Toyota, Nissan and Lexus. She returned to Land Rover in 2011.

Her departure comes at a crucial time for Jaguar Land Rover as it grapples with the coronavirus pandemic. The company is on the cusp of one of the most important launches in its history. The new generation Land Rover Defender is scheduled to arrive at dealerships in a matter of weeks. Even though the Defender plant in Slovakia has been closed since March 20 due to the pandemic, JLR officials say the Defender will launch on time in the U.S. in late spring.

It’s unclear when McCullough’s successor will be appointed. Jaguar Land Rover, in a statement, said: “For an interim period, President and CEO Joe Eberhardt will assume the Marketing leadership role. We thank Kim for her many years of service in support of our two brands and wish her the best for the future.”

McCullough, who owns a classic 1950s Land Rover Series (the precursor to the Defender), is a classic car enthusiast along with her husband. McCullough regularly displays her classic vehicles at car shows and will continue to do that, JLR said.

In 2015, McCullough was named to the Automotive News list of the 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry.

Akio’s advice: Don’t worry, be happy

Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda offered advice to the auto industry last week as it grapples with an unprecedented global crisis.

Everyone just needs to stay calm, work together and be positive, he urged.

“Don’t worry too much, but be earnest and help each other,” Toyoda said at a regularly scheduled press conference of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, of which he is chairman.

“At a time like this, we should smile and do everything we can to overcome the situation,” he added. “So smile. Smile.”

No Ram pickup for Iditarod winner this year

A Fiat Chrysler Automobiles dealership in Alaska has dropped its sponsorship of the Iditarod dog sled race in response to an aggressive campaign by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The animal welfare group got 250,000 supporters to email FCA, ran TV commercials in Detroit and held more than a dozen protests around the country.

FCA was never directly involved with the 1,000-mile race across Alaska, but Anchorage Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram had been one of its top sponsors for three decades. The dealership gave each year’s winner a new Ram pickup at the finish line in Nome.

“We understand and can confirm the dealership will no longer continue sponsoring the race,” FCA told the Anchorage Daily News last week. “As such, FCA and the Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram logos will no longer be associated with the race.”

Alaska Airlines also is dropping its sponsorship of the race, which PETA says is cruel to the dogs.

The race went on as planned last week, despite the global coronavirus outbreak. The racers had no problem keeping a safe distance apart; Norwegian Thomas Waerner, who won in just under 9 days and 11 hours, finished more than five hours ahead of his closest competitor.

PETA said it expressed its thanks to FCA with a box of dog-shaped vegan chocolates.

IndyCar’s Detroit Grand Prix canceled

DETROIT – The Detroit Grand Prix, scheduled to take place May 29-31 at Belle Isle Park, is canceled this year because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The race will be scheduled for June 4-6 next year, according to a Monday news release.

“We looked at every possible scenario to reschedule the race, but all of them would have been too disruptive to the hundreds of fall events that will take place on Belle Isle,” Bud Denker, chairman of the event, said in the release.

Ticketholders will be contacted soon, the release said.

Automotive marketing shifts amid uncertainty

The coronavirus outbreak has toppled several huge marketing platforms for automakers in the sports arena and Hollywood.

Buick is a corporate partner of the NCAA that leveraged the March Madness spectacle to highlight its vehicles with TV, digital and experiential outreach. Nissan Motor Co. also is a sponsor. The company has used Infiniti for the basketball sponsorship, but this year, the Nissan brand swapped spots with its luxury stablemate and was to get the full March Madness treatment for the first time.

But that stage, which lasts several weeks and reaches an educated, affluent crowd, is gone.

The F9 action flick, the latest installment in the Fast and the Furious franchise known for over-the-top driving antics, was expected to hype the new Dodge Charger Widebody, but the movie’s release has been postponed from this May to April 2021. An FCA spokeswoman said Dodge is working closely with Universal Pictures to determine the timing and next steps in their partnership.

The disruptions are part of a longer list that includes season suspensions by the NBA and NHL, as well as a delayed start for MLB. Without those important marketing avenues, automotive brands will have to regroup and figure out how to move forward in a moment when buying a vehicle will take a back seat for consumers dealing with layoffs and economic uncertainty.

Whatever messages brands decide to send during this crisis, the delivery will be key.

“You have to strike the right tone and balance,” Lara Koslow, a Boston Consulting Group partner, told Automotive News. “It isn’t a go-down-the-street-to-the-dealer moment.”

Koslow added that pushing a “buy now” theme would feel off in this environment.

Some automakers are pulling back on showing off the metal and instead telling consumers that they’re here to make their lives easier during a turbulent time.

Ford Motor Co. has pulled its national advertising campaigns promoting vehicles in favor of spots that focus on its coronavirus response through its lending arm. The two ads, which direct viewers to the website fordcreditsupport.com, tell those leasing or financing through Ford Credit that the company is there to help if they’ve been impacted by COVID-19.

A survey from Ace Metrix, a company that measures consumer reactions to commercials, found that 58 percent of people reported a positive change in perception of Ford after viewing the coronavirus spots. The data was based on 546 viewers of Ford’s “Built to Lend a Hand” spot and 500 for an ad titled “Built for Right Now.”

Hyundai has pivoted as well. The Korean brand said it “turned off” its spring sales event campaign in favor of new spots promoting Hyundai Assurance for national and local broadcasts in addition to digital and social channels.

As the pandemic began to threaten the livelihoods of many consumers, the brand said it quickly reinstated its job-loss protection program, which provides up to six months of payment relief for owners who lose their job involuntarily.

The program covers those who finance or lease a new vehicle through Hyundai Capital from March 14 to April 30.

“With the cancellation of sports and other key events, we have lowered our media investment in the short term and plan to reinvest those dollars when we are through the crisis,” Angela Zepeda, Hyundai Motor America’s marketing chief, said in an email.

General Motors hit the right notes during a trying time in U.S. history when it introduced 0 percent financing shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 with its “Keep America Rolling” campaign, said Ed Williams, vice president of growth and strategy at Kantar, a data and consulting company.

“The tone was perfect. They weren’t pushing cars,” he said. “But they were saying, ‘Look, we know this is tough. We’re here for you. We are open for business. We’re going to do our part to get through this.’ ”

Williams said automakers have to be aware of the “fine line” that comes with advertising during delicate times such as now.

“You want to make people aware that you’re still selling cars, that dealerships are still open,” he said. “But you also don’t want to come across as being self-serving.”