One on one on one.

A brief break from the Boston-specific history dead-ends …

Hardcore fans of Chrysler-Plymouth-Dodge cars have an old slogan: “Mopar or no car.”

But what about everyone else? Convincing the undecided buyer is a much more challenging proposition.

Recently, I’ve been enjoying the remnants of the fight for American car buyers. I’ve been watching old films, produced by Chrysler and distributed to Chrysler dealers, comparing their cars to similar models produced by other manufacturers.

As a communications professional, I can relate to these. I’ve spent more than a decade writing talking points that help my company’s representatives consistently and accurately express our view of an issue. These films are, at heart, illustrated talking points for Chrysler dealers: Wanna convince Falcon buyers to pick Dart instead? This year we’re stressing legroom, safety, and the dashboard redesign.

And, as a student of the ’60s and ’70s, I enjoy the thorough examinations of each vehicle. They’re skewed toward Chrysler, of course, but it’s still cool to see everything from the trunk to the suspension picked apart and discussed.

Here are a few of my favorites, with my no-value-added commentary after each one. (These have been upped to YouTube by users Osborn Tramain and, without whom, etc.)

1964 Imperial vs. Cadillac:

– It’s purely on a styling basis, I guess, but after watching this, I’d still totes buy the Caddy ahead of the Imperial. (Never cared for the Imperial’s weird spare tire-molded deck lid, for one thing.)
– Love the emphasis on bigger, heavier, longer, higher, wider — even in the armrests. Imperial’s armrests are just so much bigger and more impressive than Cadillac’s. (Actually, I find them kinda gross.)
– What kind of bathrobe is the scientist at 5:51 wearing?
– A subtle sign of the times: Imperial mentions that its five-year, 50,000-mile warranty may still be in place when the car is traded in, improving its trade-in value. Meanwhile, Caddy’s two-year, 24,000-mile warranty is likely to run out before the car is traded in. Do people still trade in cars within five years or 50,000 miles today? Do they still trade in at all? (I’ve never done it.)

1964 Imperial vs. Lincoln:

– Why they didn’t wrap this comparison into the Imperial vs. Caddy video, I dunno. (In other videos they took on two competitors at a time.) I guess Chrysler felt it had two separate films’ worth of points to make.
– The Imperial is $76 less than the Lincoln when comparably equipped. Now, granted, $76 went farther back then than it does now. But still, do you think the $76 difference was enough to trouble anyone wealthy enough to consider either car?
– No detail was too small to get picked out in these videos, and the winner here is the location of the gas tank. Did people really use that to make decisions? (And was it a complete given that someone in this income range would rely on the gas station attendant to fill them up, rather than do it themselves?)
– Curved glass is a “mark of distinction.” Remember that when next you shop for a vehicle, America.
– However, the Lincoln’s suicide doors are “impractical.” Unique design features are only a tangible plus when Imperial’s got ’em, apparently.
– God bless Imperial for working the push-button tranny, which has gone on in retrospect to become the very symbol of overdesigned, underbuilt American cars.
– Interesting that they mention gas mileage, even briefly. Wonder if anyone cared?
– Having watched both these films, I still pick the Caddy.

1977 Dodge Royal Monaco vs. Ford LTD and Chevrolet Caprice:

– Each of these films is made with a particular class of buyer in mind. And the choice of target consumer here is big families (the sort that would buy an SUV nowadays). That gives us a look at the distinct gradations and wrinkles of the car market: While the Royal Monaco is a large car, it’s not being pitched to luxury buyers and high rollers; it’s aimed at fecund families.
– This video is subtitled on YouTube as “Blues Brothers Movie.” I was sorta hoping that Belushi and Aykroyd would show up, coked to the gills, to tell Dodge dealers about the joys of the Royal Monaco. Alas, no such thing happens, and I assume the subtitle refers to the fact that Royal Monacos appear in “The Blues Brothers.”
– Oh, so that’s how you pronounce “brougham.” Never knew.
– I pretty much fail to detect the difference in visibility between the various cars; looks to me like all of ’em have about an acre-and-a-half of glass.
– The glovebox coinholder gets the prize as the most useless feature in this film. I guess some engineer at Chrysler put an hour or two into that, anyway.
– Is it just me, or do they drill Caprice a lot more than they do LTD?
– Oh, so those ugly concealed headlights are supposed to be “weather protected.” Is that what justified their existence?
– Weird little error at 7:07: The side vent windows are nice “but you can’t get them on Impala.” Impala isn’t the subject of comparison here; Caprice is. Hope Chrysler applies better quality control to its cars than it does to its videos.
– After watching that, I probably buy the Caprice, and tell my kids in the backseat to STFU.

1971 Dodge Charger vs Ford Torino 500 and Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu

– Is it just me, or does this video get off to the coldest possible start? We’re talking vintage Detroit coupe-style power here (just look at that purple Charger!) and the start of the video connotes absolutely nothing in the way of performance, power, joy or youth. Tell Don Draper to strike the first two minutes and start again.
– Three minutes in and they’re talking about the door handles, door locks and warning buzzers. Dude: If you have nothing better to say at this point, just stop. Seriously: Look again at that car in the screen grab above, and then see what a poor job the film does in conveying its appeal.
– This time around, they seem to be hitting the Ford a lot harder than the Chevy. In fact, they spend an awful lot of time saying, “Malibu is like Charger.” Work harder, guys.
– Which do I buy after watching this video? Maybe the Charger, maybe the Chevelle.

1976 Chrysler Wagons vs. GM and Ford

– I wish I had one of these right now, and hang the gas expense.
– A new level of cheese-paring: Chrysler’s fake woodgrain is better because it’s surrounded by bright metal, not vinyl. God bless the Chrysler dealers in Moline and McKeesport who said, with a straight face, “Look at that metal around the woodgrain! Won’t find that anywhere else.”
– The vent-window option appears at 1:47, and gets called out as a great way to clear smoke from the car. The decline of cigarettes makes that a less relevant sales pitch … though who knows? Maybe the gradual legalization of pot will bring the vent window back into the mainstream.
– Hey, that clamshell back gate is pretty cool. I want one, even though it seems like just the sort of part that would stop working and freeze half-closed in, like, 1982.
– Chrysler keeps going on about the gauge that shows you the condition of the electrical system. Wonder how much that ever resonated with drivers. Do most people care, or do they just want to know when something’s broken?
– Which one would I buy? Well, having grown up riding in station wagons and eventually owning two of them, I say these are all glorious. But in this case, I think the demonstrated features of the Chrysler-Plymouth wagons might actually have won me over to buying one.
– (I mean, how about that metal trim around the woodgrain? Just look at it.)

1971 Plymouth Barracuda vs. Ford Mustang

– OK, let’s finish off with some real vintage muscle.
– Give Chrysler’s marketers some credit here. They don’t waste any time nattering about wheelbase length or glovebox access. Instead, they hammer from the get-go about the real issue at hand here — the increasing size and grossness of the late ’60s/early ’70s Mustangs.
– The shot of the Mustang’s limited rear visibility makes a great point … until they put it up against a photo of the ‘Cuda’s rear visibility, and you find out that you really can’t see a hell of a lot of anything out of either car.
– “The Sportsroof is exclusive to Mustang … which is fine with us.” Oh, snap, this is getting good! Glad I kept watching these silly old films.
– “With the armrest up, there’s room for three in front.” If you’ve got three people in the front of your ‘Cuda, it probably means there’s three in the back. And who the hell wants to ride six people in their Barracuda? There’s a headline in this whole discussion — and it says something like “BEER BASH CRASH INJURES SIX AREA TEENS.”
– Another mention on how easy it is to lock the doors. C’mon, folks. Give the dealer something substantial, or just be quiet and make the video shorter.
– “It’s embarrassing to an owner to be kidded” about the awkwardness of his seat release? I can think of a lot more embarrassing things to be kidded about than that. Still, extra points to Chrysler for feistiness. Ooooooh, Barracuda!
– Which would I buy? I’d take a long look at Barracuda, and might well drive one off the lot.
– I have to say, though, that while most of the Mustangs shown are kinda unappealing, the Mustang Mach 1 pictured at 3:00 into the video is all kinds of sleek and silver and awesome and, to steal a phrase from Gord Downie, “hero incredible.” I might just buy one of those instead … and do my absolute goddamnedest to never, ever, ever put it in reverse.

3 thoughts on “One on one on one.

  1. It’s interesting you make the comparison of the work you do – explaining a corporate position factually to the public – with advertising. During the time of your Chrysler examples, stressing factual statements about physical attributes of products was the way to go, as I recall. And yes, that is similar to what you do.
    But it seems to me that over the years the marketing experts (of which I am the furthest person from) have switched away from anything factual to glitz and how the product will make you FEEL. Often little video vignettes of relaxed, happy times or happy kids are shown with precious little verbiage at all; I guess we absorb subliminally that the product will make us feel that way. And almost never is a number shown. I guess that’s the best way to convince us!
    It doesn’t take a marketing expert to see the stupidity in the “$76 cheaper” argument. I looked up the MSRP of a 1964 Chrysler Imperial: it was $5,677. Someone in that market is not counting pennies. Dumb, even for back then!
    I did take one or two marketing courses for my management degree all those years ago. I remember learning that the most avid readers of Buick ads are people who have just purchased a new Buick – they’re looking for reinforcement that they made a good decision!
    Apropos of nothing, I gave Chrysler products a more than generous try. The 1973 Plymouth Satellite was a good car by the standards of its day, but the Horizon and the Reliant were dogs, so I gave up on Chrysler for good. I believe they are still rated at the bottom of the heap by Consumer Reports.

    1. I agree with you in general … but I don’t know as I’d characterize these films as “advertising.”
      From their description on YouTube and their general tone, I think these were made to educate and convince dealers, not the public. I doubt these ever aired on TV or were used as genuine sales pieces.
      (Now, if your point is that Chrysler should have been giving dealers “feel” info in these movies rather than nuts-and-bolts comparisons … well, maybe so. A brand representative has to be able to capture the appeal of the brand in any and all ways. Of course, doing things like comparing a car to a blue-chip stock connotes a certain amount of “feel.”)

      All that being said, it requires a tight organization to truly control communications pieces, and it’s entirely possible that a slack dealer here or there just went ahead and screened these films for interested buyers, rather than digest the info and make the pitch themselves.

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