How Chrysler Shows Its Love for Detroit

DETROIT ( TheStreet) -- It turns out the famous "Imported from Detroit" Super Bowl commercial of 2011 was just one step in Chrysler's embrace of its hometown.

In November 2011, Chrysler appointed as its brand CEO a living symbol of Detroit, a 44-year-old Lebanese American named Saad Chehab, whose family emigrated from Beirut to Detroit when he was a teenager. While attending the University of Detroit, where he earned a degree in architecture, he hung out at the Shelter nightclub, where Eminem featured in the Super Bowl ad once played, and met his future wife, a Sicilian-American.
Chrysler CEO Saad Chehab

"I'm an example of colorfulness and cultural change, and (giving) people a chance," Chehab said, in an interview at the New York Auto Show.

At the show, Chrysler displayed an ultimate Detroit vehicle, a Chrysler 300 concept car designed by Detroit fashion designer John Varvatos. It has 20-inch wheels, black leather trim on the seats, and a two-tone steering wheel. Call it "Detroit fashion meets Detroit iron," Chehab said.

The advertising campaign for the 300 continued the messaging defined by the 2011 Super Bowl ad, offering inspirational stories of people, including Varvatos, with ties to Detroit.

A year later, the 2012 Super Bowl ad also played on the Detroit theme, with Clint Eastwood discussing how the United States is coming through tough times and how "Detroit's showing us it can be done." The ad, called "Halftime in America," summarized the revival of Detroit and the auto industry.

Asked Chehab, who was Chrysler's director of advertising before being promoted, "Who better (than Eastwood) to symbolize (Detroit's revival) than an icon of America, to give a pep talk and have you accept it?"

In a historic context, Fiat-owned Chrysler's focus on Detroit is one more indication that sometimes Europeans see us more clearly than see we see ourselves, which has been the case at least since Alexis de Tocqueville visited in the 1830s and wrote Democracy in America.

The 2011 Eminem ad was the brainchild of Olivier Francois, then Chrysler's CEO and now head of Fiat, who is French. Francois discussed his concept in a 2011 interview with TheStreet.

Before joining Chrysler in 2009, Chehab spent 10 years at Ford ( F), where he was director of creative services. One day he ran into Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Fiat SpA and Chrysler Group LLC.

"We talked about life and heritage and watches and music," Chehab said. "You find yourself seduced by everything he says." Soon afterwards, Chehab was at Chrysler.

While the image is important, Chehab said, "at the end of the day, we are what we make.

"Our company has become a lot more passionate about the things we make," he said. "It comes from the top and ricochets down."

Meanwhile, in an ad campaign unveiled last week just as baseball season began, GM ( GM) also took a Detroit tact, as Detroit Tigers stars Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder celebrated Chevrolet.

In one ad, Fielder sings a familiar seven-word song: "Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple and Chevrolet," a link to the 1974 ad campaign that defines Chevrolet as an American icon.

-- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

>To follow the writer on Twitter, go to http://twitter.com/tedreednc.

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