The main character in AMC's show Breaking Bad is Walter White, a formerly mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher turned cancer patient turned meth cook and ruthless murderer. No matter how much of a badass he is, he isn't exactly someone we'd consider an ideal role model or a good "get" for a product endorsement.
But Chrysler's SRT brand now has prominent product placement in the show. That begs the question: Why would you want your vehicles associated with a meth cooking murderer?
For the first four seasons of the show, Walt's trademark car was possibly the worst thing to ever leave Detroit: the Pontiac Aztek. But last season (minor spoiler alerts coming), it was in a crash and he sold it to the mechanic for $50.
On this weekend's episode, the Aztek was replaced by a sinister blacked out Chrysler 300C SRT8. When his son, Walt Jr., got jealous, Walter went back out and leased a Challenger SRT8 for him. This leads to a whole montage of the cars sitting and revving in the driveway. There is also a conversation at the dinner table about horsepower, handling, and how the cars make you feel.
Apparently Walt's a gearhead. Who knew? Also, great PR for SRT worked into the script.
The cars look and sound really awesome and the cinematic treatment is fantastic. But then you remember: Walter White poisoned a child for his own personal gain, he's murdered people in cold blood, he's destroyed evidence. He is one of the worst people on the face of the Earth.
While Breaking Bad is an insanely popular cult hit and a truly awesome show, it'll still be in your subconscious that people who drive 300 SRTs are involved in a pretty seedy underworld. I've just come up with a term to describe it perfectly: Tony Soprano Syndrome. Now, whenever I see a Cadillac Escalade, I just assume the driver is a mobster.
Then again, I live in New Jersey, so that might not be all that far off.
But what does Chrysler gain from placing their cars in the hands of a man that is basically a crime lord? Well, for one, it reinforces a counter culture, renegade image. They aren't for safe people, they're for someone that would find a comparably priced Mercedes staid and too mainstream.
I just think that giving it to a meth cook/murderer/manipulative bastard might be going a bit too far on the sympathetic product placement scale.
In the conversation at the dinner table in the episode, the driving dynamics of the cars got a ringing endorsement from Walt and his son. Again, glowing language about how the car handles can't hurt, but look who it's coming from: One of the most manipulative people on TV today.
And even though Breaking Bad garners tons of praise in the press, it isn't exactly the most popular TV show in all the land. It has grown each year and Sunday's episode had 2.3 million viewers. That sounds great, but a rerun of Family Guy on Adult Swim had more viewers. Even NASCAR's rain delay had more people tuned in.
But in the 18-49 demographic, Breaking Bad finished in sixth place for the night amongst cable shows. That's a demo that Chrysler and SRT definitely want to appeal to. In that way, it's a shrewd choice. Interestingly, the demographic ratings for Breaking Bad tied NASCAR, and NASCAR has twice as many viewers. Too bad Chrysler is pulling out of NASCAR.
I just keep coming back to the fact that they placed the cars within Walt's family and they were leased with drug money. We even see the 300 outside Walt's new drug lair headquarters. And I'm willing to bet it will be transporting meth, bodies, or something even worse, if that's possible, soon. That is hardly a positive association.
Featuring the SRT brand in the show almost seems like a marketer who is really interested in buzzwords and netspeak said "Breaking Bad is hip and cool, we should totally be all over that shit!" But maybe they should've insisted Walt's DEA agent brother-in-law Hank got a 300 SRT after his promotion.
We asked Chrysler why they chose to publicize the cars in Breaking Bad, and they replied with the following comment:
The placement on Breaking Bad is part of an overall marketing strategy to place products in tv shows and movies. This vehicle was the right fit in terms of the plot line and the character.
So Chrysler agrees that the 300 SRT8 is the right fit for a character with questionable moral values that is on the wrong side of the law...
In a way, the fact that Chrysler realizes it's providing a car to a criminal makes it a perfect fit. America likes a charming bad guy and the bailout put Chrysler on the wrong side of many Americans. They know they've got to fight negative associations and, rather than hide from them like GM, the company seems ready to embrace a bit of the dark side.
Or it could absolutely backfire and become the vehicle of meth heads, who don't buy cars so much as steal them.
Photo Credits: AMC, Ursula Coyote/AMC