Dodge, which Chrysler LLC has positioned as its performance-car division, has justifiably focused on cars like Challenger and Charger in recent years to get that message across. That makes sense: the vehicles have a long history and equity to match. But how about Journey, the company's mid-sized crossover? Heard of it? The vehicle has been virtually MIA in marketing since it launched as a 2009 model-year vehicle.
Now, with the 2012 model of Dodge Journey rolling into dealerships, the company is giving the vehicle its first real coming-out party with a campaign that Jason Russ, head of Dodge advertising, says will be a bit like an automotive "Truman Show" (in that movie, if you recall, people were so addicted to the reality show about Truman that they never missed an episode.)
"The idea came up and we wrestled about how something this big could be done," says Russ. "We needed something to build a big spike in awareness. Journey has been out for four years, but we hadn't given it its due; we needed something drastic."
The big campaign aims to drive people to the little screen to check YouTube and Dodge's social media sites so as not to miss clues about where on the West Coast, Midwest and on the Eastern seaboard Dodge has hidden three 2012 Journeys. The carrot: he or she who finds one of the three Journeys gets to keep it.
The effort, which positions Journey as "Search Engine for the Real World," includes traditional media, including TV ads launched on Sept. 9, but online is where the action is: Dodge will run 24/7 live feeds from the hidden vehicles at YouTube.com/Dodge. The videos show features as demonstrated by a cast of people who appear now and then. Russ explains that a sequential series of videos will also run. They offer clues that narrow the geographic area from 300 to 5 miles. The area gets narrowed for a player each time he or she solves a clue.
"The talent interacting with vehicles show Journey's versatility, but as you watch you will also pick up clues from the background or as they demonstrate," Russ says, adding that Dodge, for the first time, is using Twitter and Facebook to send messages to fans and others letting them know when to watch the videos for clues.
The campaign -- which is via Portland, Ore.-based Wieden + Kennedy, CRM and direct-marketing agency Meredith, Sapient, and Dodge's new social media agency Ignite -- ends with people finding the vehicles, it is to be hoped, on Sept. 27.
The TV spots feature the Journeys passing through some stunning areas of the country. It also shows what you can do with the vehicle as kayakers drop the rear seats to stow their boats and gear, a group of friends go on a road trip, and a family gets ready to camp. Voiceover by Michael C. Hall, who plays "Dexter" on the eponymous show, says: "People don't make a list of the web sites they want to see before they die ... it's okay -- the Internet will be just fine without you. That's why we built the first search engine for the real world. And then we left three of them out there. You won't find any of them online, but it might help you figure out where they might be." Russ says the tier one spots will run on broadcasts of NFL and NCAA football games throughout the month, in addition to shows like "Two and a Half Men."
There will be three additional ads: one focusing on the West Coast launches Saturday; one in the Midwest breaks next Friday; and an East Coast-themed ad airs on Sept. 23. The three get into where the Dodge Journey vehicles are bound with clandestine clues about how they can be found.
Russ says the vehicle has a chance to bring in buyers both from competitive vehicles like Ford Explorer and Chevy Equinox, or Toyota Highlander as well as from mid-sized cars, which have seen buyers opt for more versatile vehicles or compacts recently. "What we plan to do is gauge the success of this, and if it works, we might reintroduce it next year."