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Songs For Screens: Fiat Chrysler CMO Explains How Music Turbocharges Their Ad Campaigns

Songs For Screens is a Variety column sponsored by music experiential agency MAC Presents, based in NYC. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column will highlight noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as new and catalog songs that we deem ripe for synch use.

Olivier Francois, chief marketing officer of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, has engineered some of the most memorable music moments from car commercials over the past decade.

His greatest hits include Chrysler’s iconic 2011 Super Bowl spot featuring Eminem and his signature hit “Lose Yourself” to Jeep’s 2015 “Renegades” campaign, which put the relatively unknown X Ambassadors on the map, to this year’s Ram 1500 Trucks Super Bowl commercial that licensed Queen’s lesser-known hard-rock version of “We Will Rock You.” Francois has been known to swing his bat so hard at music that even his flops are note-worthy — like Jennifer Lopez’s poorly received 2011 Fiat campaign that culminated with an onstage integration at the American Music Awards.

But for his latest foray into synchs and artist partnerships, Francois is going for broke: each one of FCA’s five marquee brands (Chrysler, Fiat, Dodge, Ram and Jeep) has debuted a new commercial campaign featuring high-profile synchs from genres ranging from hip-hop and reggaetón to heavy metal and EDM.

The portfolio campaign is anchored by a few celebrity cameos — Alice Cooper appears in a pair of humorous :60 spots for the 2018 Dodge Durango that feature his song “Under My Wheels,” while OneRepublic stars in a trio of ads for the 2019 Jeep Cherokee that debut the band’s new single “Connection.” Also expanding its ad spend is a recently released campaign between Ram Trucks and Brothers Osborne featuring the country duo’s “While You Still Can.”

Elsewhere among the campaign’s 10 synchs: Fiat 500X features Dej Loaf and Leon Bridges’ new collaboration “Liberated,” Chrysler’s Pacifica S spot stars Kathryn Hahn scoring a girls’ night out to Nicky Blitz’s “Good Time” and the 2019 Jeep Cherokee licenses Will.I.Am’s “Boys And Girls” and Sofia Reyes’ “1,2, 3,” respectively, for a pair of spots aimed at the multicultural market.  The campaign’s ads launched across digital and social on June 27, with select spots airing on broadcast and cable television on July 2.

Why the turbocharged approach to music? For one thing, each of the ads incorporates FCA’s exclusive new Apple iOS dashboard integration across all of its vehicles, extending a relationship that goes back to FCA’s 2011 alliance with Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre’s Beats. And with full chyron-credit for each synch, each spot reads as a three-way partnership: for the vehicle, the artist and Apple’s technology.

“I was asking the team this morning, saying, ‘Hey, who endorses who?’” says Francois. “Do we endorse [OneRepublic singer] Ryan Tedder? Yeah, kind of. But does he endorse Jeep? He’s in the commercial, so yeah, maybe. Or is it Apple endorsing Jeep or Jeep endorsing Apple? It goes in all different ways. It’s just an alignment. When I say Jeep, OneRepublic and Apple, it’s really about three very powerful brands.”

So how does Francois select which musicians to partner with his vehicles, and what time of day is he most likely to sample new music? (Hint: set your alarm clocks super-early.) Songs for Screens caught up with the rock-star CMO to learn more about the stories behind Fiat Chrysler’s latest music play and other secrets to synch success.

Each of the five Fiat Chrysler brands has a very distinctive musical identity in these new commercials. How did you go about defining each vehicle’s sonic brand?
Olivier Francois: We needed each story to be unmistakably branded so when you have Alice Cooper, there’s no, “Could it be Ram or could it be Fiat?” It is very, very, very Dodge. It has a humor, it has a twist, it’s irreverent, but it’s also very badass and it’s very Detroit. And it’s about the Dodge legacy.

OneRepublic and Ryan Tedder had a super-compelling message, with Ryan himself being a Jeep customer before we had a collaboration. The soundtrack of Jeep in the last three years has been a lot of Imagine Dragons, X Ambassadors, where we collaborated on an original song — the same kind of American Rock that’s independent with smart lyrics and a lot of attitude.

In this case, [Tedder said], “Hey I have this song called ‘Connection’ that could probably work for you guys through Apple, connect through music, connect through device.” So he finished a song that I think is going to be a hit.

And if I’m Ram, I don’t need to speak to everybody. I need to speak to the truck consumer. They over-index with country. If you find the right alignment with the right song in the country music repertoire, you’re probably not far from hitting it out of the park.

What’s an example of a music approach that wouldn’t make sense for you?
Let’s say I start to take a song like “Despacito,” which is a lovely song — I have a 2-year-old and he’s singing “Despacito” all the time. If I slap it to my Jeep commercial, I mean I couldn’t be more relevant but it’s inauthentic. That’s what everyone does, try to take the last hit and slap it to some commercial.

But it’s a two-way street: If you can get consumers to relate to the music, then clearly the beauty is if I get all the Brothers Osborne followers, all the OneRepublic following, all of the Will.I.Am, or Alice Cooper, and that’s millions of people to check in and say “That’s a cool car,” they came for the artists not for the car. Then it’s my little Trojan horse of getting my product in front of an audience that’s really for free.

In addition to featuring music in your own advertising, Fiat Chrysler vehicles have notably sponsored and been integrated into many music videos that have totaled billions of views. How do you keep up with all the new music and trends that are coming out?
The labels will send me everything, we’ll read reviews and be totally unbiased. I’ll listen — I live in Detroit and in Italy — generally between 4:15 and 4:45 in the morning, early when I wake up because I have to keep up with all these emails. I listen to everything, and once in a while I say, ”Hey guys wouldn’t this be a perfect fit with our vehicle?”

That’s the gold-digging of soundtracks: you need magic, you need hard work, you need patience and a great connection with the music industry. We want [the industry] to know that we are going to listen, and listen impartially. We work with all of them; we don’t have a favorite label or a favorite band. We want them to know, “We’re going to consider you no matter what” — and sooner or later the phone will ring and we’ll say “Hey, what’s with that track 11 on album number 3 of the 24 albums you just sent me? I want it because it checks all the boxes of this campaign.”


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