The Chrysler Corporation has been saved more times than a CPR dummy. Saviors have come in many forms, including individual cars, CEOs, private investment groups, governments, and now the Italians. Cats everywhere are bewildered as to how many lives this company could possibly have. In its latest incarnation, however, Chrysler may have its best shot yet at sustained success.
Mopar To Subpar. Rinse. Repeat.
Prior to its most recent government bailout and subsequent takeover by the Italian automaker Fiat, Chrysler hit the trifecta of automotive woes – poor products, inconsistent marketing, and a confusing corporate strategy. For example:
- Products – The smiling face of the first-generation Dodge Neon was long gone and the novelty of the PT Cruiser wore off years earlier. Left in their places were rental car stalwarts such as the Dodge Avenger and Chrysler Sebring (the latter of which, at its nadir, was considered by some to be the worst car in America).
- Marketing – Snoop Doggy-Dog helped increase the initial visibility of the Chrysler 300, but rapping does not make for a viable long-term marketing strategy. Unless, of course, hamsters are doing the rapping in which case it seems to be a perfectly reasonable way to sell cars Kias.
- Brand and Product Strategy – The Dodge brand came across as too bargain basement to be considered alongside blue-chip family brands, such as Toyota and Honda. In addition, Chrysler tried to position itself as an aspirational brand, but its products never got the memo.
Consumers became confused, and the doors fell off Chrysler. Again.
It Is Better To Be Wrong Than Ambiguous
Ambiguity is poison for a brand, particularly when its products are hurtling you through time and space at 70mph. In general, ambiguity elicits psychological uncertainty. Psychological uncertainty leads to emotional discomfort. Emotional discomfort may then lead to dislike for whatever is causing the ambiguity.
The ambiguity that Dodge and Chrysler elicited in consumers was just as harmful to its well-being as the negative reviews its products were receiving. Indeed, the two are inseparable. Consumers can understand a “value brand,” such as Dodge, but its products must provide some type of value. Similarly, consumers are fine with an “entry-level” luxury brand as long as the brand contains products that are a reasonable facsimile of luxury. If there is uncertainty about a company’s intentions, the execution of those intentions, or both, then consumers may experience negative affect (emotions) as a result of the ambiguity, which in turn leads to decreased sales. Eliminating ambiguity from Chrysler Group LLC products, branding, and marketing is therefore paramount to eliciting positive affect in consumers and subsequently increasing sales.
A Dodge, a Chrysler, and an Italian walk into a bar…
Based on recent corporate decisions and newly introduced or revised vehicles, Sergio Marchionne (CEO of Fiat S.p.A. and Chrysler Group LLC) and friends seem resolved to eliminate ambiguity. They are already beginning to build better products, clarify brand positioning, and deliver clear and consistent messaging. Nowhere was this approach more evident than Marchionne’s decision last year to not start a large-scale marketing campaign before Dodge, Chrysler, and Jeep had products in their showrooms to justify a marketing blitz. I cannot think of the last time, if ever, I associated that kind of discipline with Chrysler. Although no current article (or past, for that matter) regarding Chrysler is complete without warning that the company is not out of the woods quite yet, the amount of progress made in just the past product year is very impressive. More importantly, it’s unambiguous.
Minivans are like the kids in class who constantly get hit in the back of the head with spitballs. It’s not that people don’t like them, it’s that they don’t want to be them. Indeed, if you talk to people who own a minivan, most will say that they genuinely appreciate its functionality. However, almost without fail, they then cover their faces and apologize for owning one. It’s a classic case of cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance has frequently been described as an uncomfortable feeling caused by a thought or action that is discrepant with one’s usually positive self-conception. According to cognitive dissonance theory, this discomfort drives us to reduce the negative feelings, much like hunger and thirst prompt eating and drinking, respectively.
We typically reduce cognitive dissonance in one of three ways:
1. Change our behavior to bring it in line with the dissonant cognition.
Example: Buy a Ford Excursion with a gun rack and start hunting lions.
2. Justify our behavior by adding new cognitions.
Example: “I bought this minivan for the kids because I am the best parent in the world, and those narcissists in the Chevy Suburbans clearly have no respect for human life.”
3. Justify our behavior by changing the dissonant cognition.
Example: See the list below to help exercise this option…
10 REASONS WHY MINIVANS ARE COOL
1. Exclusivity. In 2010, minivans accounted for about slightly less than 4% of the approximately 11.7 million light vehicle sales in the United States. Therefore, only about 460,000 people bought minivans last year. Some people have more Facebook friends.
2. Engineering. I love supercars, but doing more with more is not particularly impressive. In addition, they are impractical and about as uncomfortable as men who wear skinny jeans. In contrast, minivan engineers have an incredibly tough assignment – please an entire family by building a vehicle upon which every owner will crucially rely yet under-appreciate, using mainstream components in a difficult-to-style package that must be mass produced and sold within a reasonable, albeit increasing, price range. Building a Ferrari is like playing with Legos, in comparison.
3. Luxury. In order to be competitive, minivans must now have more cup holders than a baseball locker room, so much A/V equipment that MTV had to cancel Pimp My Ride, doors that automatically open, close, and provide therapy, interiors flexible enough to have their own Cirque de Soleil show, and even chilled beverage containers for the discerning sippy cup crowd. If I owned a limousine company, I’m a little nervous come prom season.
4. Procreation. No, not the kind that forced you into a minivan in the first place, the kind in which minivans themselves have engaged. In the United States, we now have a new automotive niche born from minivans, mini-minivans. You are probably most familiar with the Mazda5 and others, such as the upcoming Ford C-Max, will be showing up at dealerships within the next few years. Therefore, minivan owners (or, “minivan rollers”, because it sounds cooler) have not sold their soul to the diaper-changing devil. They’re trendsetters. Speaking of which…
5. Minivan-chic. There is shabby-chic, geek-chic, and eco-chic, none of which have traditionally chic origins. Contrary to the perception that minivans are a 4,000 lb. needle hurtling straight toward the bull’s-eye on your self-esteem balloon, I believe they represent a type of chic just waiting to be hyphenated. Drive it with confidence, and you and the Beckhams may just find yourselves using all of that horsepower to outrun the paparazzi.
6. Good looking. Seriously. The new Toyota Sienna and the previous version of the Honda Odyssey are pretty good-looking vehicles complete with relatively athletic stances. Furthermore, the new Honda Odyssey has a lightening bolt running down the side of it. How cool is that?
7. Disco balls. These should be optional because pushing the button that opens all of the minivans’ doors, especially the tailgate, creates an instant party. From tailgating to drive-ins, everyone will be clamoring to press out the wrinkles from sitting in their cramped midlife-crisis sports cars to hang around the “cool people” with the minivan. And you know what they say, what happens in drive-ins, stays in drive-ins.
8. Unlike babysitters, they won’t eat your food. They may guzzle gas more than the average family sedan, but it will be from the pump and not the fridge. My sister and brother-in-law have a minivan, and my nieces and nephew have been instantly transformed into something that they have never been before – quiet. Now they can take them anywhere. Those televisions are like visual valium for children, though probably just as addictive. It may not be the best parenting technique, but it works in a pinch.
9. Covert cargo-ops. Minivans are chameleonic in their ability to carry cargo, whether it be the human–type or the Home Depot variety. However, the best part is that neighbors will never ask you to help them move because your cargo hauler is virtually camouflaged for that duty. Anyone who has ever owned a pick-up, including this author, thinks that is way cool.
10. Easy living. Unless one is a slave for fashion or a masochist, comfortable is better than uncomfortable. Minivans make life easier and that may just be the best reason to buy one. Compared to the fashionistas in their four-door coupes, you will arrive at your destination refreshed and looking your best. And remember, nothing is forever. Once the kids gets shipped off to college, the army, or prison, you can get something even cooler.
Do you think minivans are (not) cool? Vote below and sound off by leaving a comment!