The recent (and steeply sloping) sales and revenue downturn over at the American side of the German-American hybrid has caused folks to speculate whether the muckety-mucks running the day-to-day show under Chrysler Group CEO Tom "two shakes a day" LaSorda over in the Auburn Hills, MI HQ have been making the wisest of choices. Of LaSorda's executive squad, no washroom key carrying member of the team's being talked about in hushed tones more than Joe Ebehardt, the sired-in-Stuttgart exec veep in charge of Chrysler Group sales, marketing, service and probably some other stuff too. We've heard all manner of stories surrounding the main marketing and sales stud at the Chrysler Group — everything from shouting matches with dealers to botched marketing decisions regarding creative — but recently it's become a crescendo of crap — reaching heights that force even those of us in a permanent half-drunk state to start asking questions like "Hey Joe, what do you know, how come Chrysler's sales can't seem to grow?" Let's take a closer look at what we've heard, plus some of our own analysis, after the jump.
Let's start off with Eberhardt's marketing duties and responsibilities.
First, let's keep in mind I'm a staunch believer that TV commercials and ad campaigns don't sell cars. Sure, they can sell boxes of cereal, but a car's the second most costly purchase a consumer will make — and as such, the best a 30-second TV spot can do is shape the perception of a brand or model among potential buyers. That perception dictates how a consumer will feel about a particular vehicle — and it may even compel them to visit their local dealership. But once there, it's the sales interaction, test-drive experience and the all important "Jalopnik dashboard knock test" (patent pending) that ends up selling the vehicle. (Oh yeah, and if it looks pretty and stuff.) The one exception is when a TV spot promotes a sales incentive. Then, like a public service announcement, it merely provides information on existing products. But branding and sales incentive campaigns are totally separate beasts, and it's never in an automaker's best interest to muddle the message of a brand campaign by attaching a sales incentive campaign to it, right?
Obviously that's not what Joe Eberhardt thought. According to two sources, Eberhardt was the executive who made the decision to slap a zero-percent financing campaign to the ass-end of the now defunct and rightfully lambasted Dr. Z campaign. It's no wonder folks were confused by the commercials. A barely-explained incentive-deal graphic hooked to a vague branding campaign turned a light-hearted attempt to tout the Chrysler Group's "merger of German engineering and American design" into a convoluted and confusing mess of messages. But what makes the decision even more curious was that Eberhardt took the already risky proposition of using a CEO to build brand image, and upped the risk factor by tie-barring his appearance in the ads with Chrysler sales numbers. Eberhardt did the one thing a good soldier's not supposed to do. He left his general open for attack.