Yes, he’s real. And, yes, the mustache is real. But will the addition or Dr. Z (Daimler Chrysler CEO Dieter Zetsche) prove to be a stroke of branding genius, or a little too much in the pot? By creating the “Z” character, Chrysler is putting a human face on its brand that has been missing since Lee Iacocca fronted the company, while subtly adding a message of “German engineering” to an American car brand. Though Daimler has owned the Chrysler nameplate for a decade, they have shied away from letting the Mercedes brand get too close in proximity. Even this new effort is further proof that branding flows downhill from premium to less premium. For instance, is there a campaign in Germany linking Chrysler with Mercedes? Uh, nein.
Even here in the U.S., the Mercedes brand name is never mentioned in the ads. Dr. Z touts technology that “we invented” on Chrysler cars when talking about stabilization systems, but stops short of actually mixing the two brand names. This is likely both smart and a little risky. Keeping the two brands apart is important, but borrowing on the equity of Mercedes engineering could still dilute the brand in the minds of loyal Benz drivers. Part of the strategy may be to globalize the Chrysler brand in the minds of their customers. After all car buyers are becoming less sensitive to issues of foreign versus domestic as more American cars have foreign parts and more foreign cars are built in the U.S. A more global brand could have unique appeal.
Chrysler sales have slipped this year, though, unlike Ford and GM, the company has remained profitable. The Dr. Z campaign has been added to a revised “That thang got a hemi?” effort touting their new gas saving “multiple displacement system,” and will soon be part of the introduction of new models for 2007. Will Dr. Z be the missing ingredient to success, or add clutter to both car brands? We’ll wake you if anything important happens.