Fiat Chrysler Reorders Its Advertising Around Digital Demands

Olivier Francois is one of the acknowledged masters of making creative, fetching and impactful commercials for television, especially in the decade’s worth of Super Bowl TV advertisements that he’s produced for Fiat Chrysler Automotive, where he is chief marketing officer.

But now Francois is racing to become as effective in digital creative as he has been in the traditional TV format. Provided opportunities and even a mandate by the jarring abruptness and profound consequences of Covid-19, Fiat Chrysler invested heavily in digital-only creative as it navigated the pandemic and generated advertising geared to the rapidly shifting fundamentals of the U.S. economy and American consumer psychology.

“We want to future-proof the company now, and clearly the future is digital,” Francois told me. “It’s not just because of the always-rising consumption of digital advertising but also because digital is where we can put in place winning strategies, tools and algorithms.”

Until recently, Francois said, he would swipe left on the innumerable pitches he and his staff would receive from programmatic-advertising companies and other outfits peddling tools meant to help brands effectively exploit digital capabilities.

“But now I’m not sending everything to trash,” he said. “Now I’m fascinated to see the depth and breadth of technologies that can help us select the right message, the right creative, for the right audience and save time and money while doing that.”

Actually, the pandemic scramble has been the second major revelation on this score for Francois; the first was what he learned two Super Bowls ago when he withheld Fiat Chrysler from Big Game TV advertising for the first time in a decade and, instead, went all-out with digital-only advertising on Super Bowl weekend.

“I realized we could get the same number of eyeballs with digital and for a fraction of the cost,” Francois said. “Also, you can totally target not just the demographics of viewers but where consumers are in the purchase funnel.”

Among the differences between the requirements for digital success and what makes a good TV commercial, Francois is learning, is how to grab consumers’ attention. While TV viewers will allow a commercial to draw them in sometimes gradually, he said, with digital ads “you need to grab consumers’ attention in the first few seconds. That’s something we already try to do, but there is large room for improvement. You need to front-load the element of relevance in your commercials in order to have people grasp from the beginning that we’re storytellers.

“The winning element in commercials is always emotion, the ‘human algorithm,” he explained. “So we need to have this coexist and thrive with the ‘silicon algorithm’ that everyone is talking about. We’ll continue to emphasize emotional aspect of marketing, but it will have to live in other spaces than just TV, and in these other spaces you need that silicon algorithm for [the commercial] to be noted.”

Francois said that the coming pre-eminence of digital advertising also has great implications for how advertisers such as Fiat Chrysler approach consumer behavior. He said the capabilities of digital, including the use of artificial intelligence, is scrambling the relevance of the traditional “marketing funnel” that has dictated how brands approach consumers for decades.

There are several variations of this funnel, but the general idea is that the broadest access to consumers — yet the loosest relationship with them — is at the lip of the funnel, with an individual’s dedication to purchase, and therefore the importance to a brand of engaging that person, intensifying as he or she slides further into the narrowing funnel. One typical diagram of this kitchen device for marketing purposes has “awareness” at the lip of the funnel, followed downward by “consideration,” then “conversion,” then “loyalty,” and finally “advocacy.”

Digital marketing can scramble this funnel as surely as if you’d thrown it into a Ninja. “Digital has totally changed this marketing sequence,” Francois said. “Normally we would build our media plan based on tackling each of these elements one by one. But consumers in digital no longer follow the funnel. They may not even be looking for somethign specific and jump on something they weren’t really searching for. Then from search they’ll go to awareness for something they didn’t mean to search; they’ll zig-zag across channels.

“What does it all mean? We need a lot of science, technology —- and wisdom — to have a better understanding of these behaviors. They can affect the narrative of our advertising itself.”

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