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International: Lee Iacocca returns to pitch Chrysler in humorous ads

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International: Lee Iacocca returns to pitch Chrysler in humorous ads

Lee Iacocca will be pitching Chrysler group vehicles again. The former Chrysler Corp Chairman will appear in a series of TV commercials touting the “Employee Pricing Plus” incentive campaign launched by the Chrysler group, the US arm of DaimlerChrysler.

A deal between the automaker and Iacocca was finalised on July 7, said George Murphy, Chrysler's senior vice-president for global brand marketing. That was almost 24 hours after the news broke that Iacocca would be in ads for Chrysler.

The main holdup to sealing the deal was legal wording, Murphy said. Since Iacocca would not accept personal payment for the ads, the deal had to be legally set up so that a contribution would be made to the Iacocca Foundation, which supports diabetes research. The Chrysler group will also donate $1 for each vehicle sold in July to the Foundation. Iacocca's first wife, Mary, died from complications of diabetes in 1983.

“We started seriously negotiating last Friday, so it's been very fast," Murphy said.

The first commercial also featured actor Jason Alexander, Murphy said. In the commercial, Iacocca revives the most memorable line from his popular commercials of the early 1980s: “If you can find a better car, buy it.”

The campaign marks the end of a year-long estrangement between Iacocca and the automaker he helped pull back from the brink of collapse in the early 1980s. Iacocca's reputation was tarnished in 1995 when he backed an unsuccessful takeover bid by billionaire investor Kirk Kerkorian.

The Chrysler group and its dealers will spend about $75 million in July to advertise the Employee Pricing Plus programme, which runs through August 1, said Murphy. The advertising budget will be about 30 per cent higher than normal for a summer clear-out month, he added.

The decision to approach Iacocca was an attempt to “break through the clutter” after General Motors Corp initiated its “Employee Discount for Everyone” programme in June, reaping a 46.9 per cent US sales increase.

Jason Vines, Chrysler group Vice-President for communications, said that he had approached Iaccoca on July 1 with the idea and “he liked it”. The ads were filmed in New York on July 5.

Murphy said that Iacocca would appear in three or four TV spots. They would have a humorous tone, he said, and would emphasise product quality before mentioning the deal.

Gary Dilts, Chrysler group senior Vice-President, sales, disputed the notion that the three domestic automakers would battle each other with employee discounts. GM has extended its promotion to August 1. Rival Ford Motor Co has launched a similar incentive programme. Research showed those who intended on purchasing import vehicles were interested in the deals, Dilts said.

Chrysler group CEO Dieter Zetsche approved the use of Iacocca in the commercials, and DaimlerChrysler CEO Juergen Schrempp was told of the plan.

“It was a Chrysler group decision,” Vines said. Relations between Iacocca and Chrysler –once so bad that the automaker abandoned plans to name its Auburn Hills, Michigan, headquarters building after him – have mellowed in recent years.

“Lee drives our products,” Vines said. “He has reached out to Dieter. He has written letters to him.”



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