The SUV is back????

Chrysler Group is really pushing the 2011 Dodge Durango, which went on sale earlier this year after a two-year absence from the market. Dodge issued a press release Aug. 4 touting the arrival of a slew of new television ads and online videos for the new Dodge Durango.
Actually, the most recent Durango commercial broke July 12 during baseball’s All Star Game.
That ad, called “Long Lost Performance,” does indeed spotlight Durango’s performance
Dodge also uploaded that commercial on YouTube July 12. It seems the automaker wasn’t too thrilled that the ad had attracted under 25,000 views, so it issued the press release on Aug.4.
There’s already been some blogosphere banter about how the first commercial is too focused on performance. I have different issues with the campaign.
What’s interesting is Dodge’s blurb on YouTube about this spot: “With crossovers trying to convince drivers that cars can be SUVs and with SUVs hiding out pretending to be minivans, the Durango commits to being a true SUV.”
As you can see the ad blitz for the Durango by Wieden + Kennedy, based in Portland, is themed “The SUV is back.”
The critics focusing on the performance matter are off base. The real issues are:
A) The Durango is NOT an SUV according to industry definitions
B) The SUV is NOT back.
Let’s start with A. The new Durango still looks like an SUV, except gone is its old body-on-frame truck base. Now the Durango sits on a car-like unibody.
And on the B issue, there is NO WAY sport utes are ever going to be as strong as they were in their heyday.
Between 1997 and 2002, sales of sport utes jumped 56%, or one for every eight licensed American drivers, according to the Census Bureau. Or, in raw numbers, there were more than 24-million suvs in 2002 than 1997, when there were 15 million on the road.
Sales of truck-based SUVs peaked in 2000 at nearly 3 million units and in 2002, utes were villified by religious groups that launched a “What Would Jesus Drive” campaign against them. Critics blasted the big suvs for hurting the environment and cited the gass guzzlers as the key reason Uncle Sam was fighting in the Middle East.
Volatile gas prices starting in 2006 and escalating in 2008 pretty much put the final kabosh on big truck-based utes, when owners bailed out of the segment faster than anytime in history.
So let’s call it already– the SUV is dead!
HOWEVER, its car-based cousin, the crossover, is picking up the slack. Yeah, the semantics matter little to many Americans since crossover utility vehicles, or CUVs, often LOOK like SUVs. The difference is CUVs are car-based, while SUVs are truck based.
But the Durango is really a CUV and calling it an SUV is midleading. It may have started out an SUV when it first debuted, but it isn’t anymore. The misnomer will cause more consumer confusion.
The new ads, which include online-only videos, includes this TV spot comparing the “luxurious” interior of the Durango to a certain high-performance car that rhymes with Merrari
Let’s not forget that Fiat now owns more than half of Chrysler Group and also owns Ferrari, the high-end car brand referred to in the commercial.
The new Durango blitz isn’t all about performance. Consider this online video touting the rain brake support safety feature
Of course the WORST Durango commercial ever – from GlobalHue – didn’t last on the air very long about five years ago


The other problem I have with these new spots is they don’t carry the same ending that Dodge launched at the Chicago Auto Show with much fan fare.
That’s a mysterious move since Dodge used the ending in this first Durango spot back in February hailing the model’s return

A missed branding opportunity.
The new Durango is much improved from its predecessor and deserves a more truthful ad campaign.  And just saying “the SUV is back” doesn’t make it so.

MAKING TRACKS: Tim Boutorwick is now a product insight strategist as a contract staffer for Fallon’s Detroit office on the Cadillac account. Boutorwick has more than 20 years of auto agency experience. This is his third time in the last 5 years he’s worked on Caddy, first at Leo Burnett Detroit in Troy and then at Modernista, Boston.

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