‘Big Finish’: 5 Questions With FCA CMO Olivier Francois

Ram Christmas Ad

Fiat Chrysler has rolled out a “Big Finish” advertising campaign for the year-end push to sell automobiles and, as usual, the company and its brands are relying heavily on the appeal of music to help get attention.

The riffs involved in FCA’s suite of ads include Gwen Stefani’s first-ever rendition of a new Christmas song for Ram, and a reworking of White Christmas by OneRepublic for Jeep. There’s also actress Kathryn Hahn hip-hopping to “dancing” music emanating from a Chrysler Pacifica minivan, a re-imagination of Jingle Bells called Lit Christmas.

The inspiration for this approach comes from Olivier Francois, the long-time CMO of Fiat Chrysler who helped drag FCA back to relevance after the Great Recession and who has kept Jeep, Ram, Chrysler, Dodge and Fiat brands at the forefront of automotive marketing since then.

He also loves to sell cars with music—and creative twists. But there’s a higher bar during the Christmas holidays, which has become a very important time for auto brands to sell vehicles.

“I always think of the couple washing dishes after dinner, and the TV is playing in the background, so if I have another commercial playing Jingle Bells, they’re probably not going to turn their heads,” Francois told brandchannel. “But if it plays Jingle Bells in a hip-hop version, they’ll look.”

The various spots in the campaign  also include one in which Santa’s sleigh receives a Hemi engine upgrade, and a matching social media series depicting the elves’ “upgrade” of their boss’ Christmas Eve ride, as well as a digital-only spot for Jeep that pokes fun at Kia’s attempt to compete with Jeep for the affections of off-roaders.

Francois talked with brandchannel about the “Big Finish” campaign, last summer’s Apple CarPlay campaign and working with a new CEO:

Selling cars during the Christmas season has gotten more important, and more competitive. It’s not just Lexus putting a big red bow on a sedan anymore. How do you stand out now? Olivier Francois Fiat Chrysler

Every year we all try to reinvent ourselves. The first time, the whole idea is to make a winter event … then someone suggest: “Let’s put some Christmas song out.” And so now everyone does it. After years and years of winter events and Black Fridays, almost everything has been done.

If everyone does it, then how do you make an impact—how do you get noticed if you just sing with the choir? The answer is always a twist—to not totally sing with the choir and have the brand speak loud and clear, be noticeable and very unique.

Then clearly this year we wanted to give a nod to our network of dealers, and that last little detail they wanted is, “Give us a Christmas song.” So we’re giving them Christmas songs our way, and they are super funny. These aren’t Super Bowl commercials, they’re not a big idea. They’re a traditional sort of holiday campaign. They will connect because there’s something original about them, and that’s important for us.

Did the Apple CarPlay campaign last summer—which also was a multi-brand effort that relied heavily on music—accomplish what you wanted it to?

With a campaign there are two things we always look at. Start with sales. We gained two points of market share [during the CarPlay campaign], which is a lot in a big market like the US. Then the question is: Can we attribute that to commercials? And that’s where advertising metrics come into play. The ads were some of the best in the past couple of years based on the number of people who watched completely and remembered the ads. This is proof of attribution.

How does the use of music in “Big Finish” represent creative twists?

In this campaign, we literally see it as a follow-up of the Apple CarPlay campaign. We use the same approach and technique and the same tone of voice. Obviously when you have such tremendous success with a summer campaign you’re shy to totally change.

So Gwen Stefani wrote a Christmas song just for this ad?

She had it in a drawer. We asked her if she would feel like making some version of this new Christmas song for us, and she did it. It’s the first release of this song.

FCA Christmas

What’s it like working with a new CEO, Mike Manley, since the passing of Sergio Marchionne last summer? 

Of course, I had a very special connection with Sergio, but I really enjoy working with Mike, who is fundamentally an incredibly skilled and talented car guy. And so clearly I’m speaking with someone who’s really speaking the same language. He has a perfect understanding of what’s needed, when it is needed, and that makes the dialogue extremely fast. We don’t need a big debate or explanation or proof of concept. There are big chances we’re going to be aligned with, and that’s what we did here.

Dodge Christmas Ad

Get more insights in our Q&A series.

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