With a widely praised Super Bowl ad featuring rap musician Eminem and gritty scenes of Detroit, Chrysler gained the kind of buzz that the bankruptcy beleaguered brand has long been lacking.

The automaker is trying to capitalize on the talk, with an expanded campaign that brings the ad’s “Imported from Detroit” tagline to dealerships, merchandise and its own website. But will the comeback promised by the commercial come to fruition for Chrysler?


Traffic for the Chrysler brand increased 267% on the auto shopping site Edmunds.com in the hours after the initial airing of the commercial, which showed Eminem behind the wheel of the new Chrysler 200 sedan. The 200 saw a 1,619% bump in traffic, Edmunds reported.

According to a story from Advertising Age, Chrysler and ad agency Wieden & Kennedy (which also created the “Just Do It” campaign for Nike) are rolling out dealer kits that cast sellers as “embassies” for cars “imported from Detroit.”  So far, the merchandising efforts, at least, appear to be paying off: T-shirts bearing the slogan are currently sold out on Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit” website, which also features interviews with some of the real Detroit people who appeared in the ad.

The Super Bowl spot was successful because of the “symbolic linking of Detroit’s recovery with Chrysler’s recovery, and Eminem’s Recovery album, and the idea of Detroit becoming something new and different,” says Wharton management professor John Paul MacDuffie, who studies the auto industry. “[The ad] stirred emotions without feeling manipulative. It made you think about something familiar in a new way.”

MacDuffie predicts that many more consumers will seek out reviews of the 200 and give it a test drive as a result of the commercial. What they’ll find is that most reviews of the car “draw an explicit contrast to the Sebring, the model on the same platform that preceded it,” MacDuffie notes. “The Sebring had all sorts of problems, so it is easy for the 200 to make a positive impression by comparison.”

The 200’s upsides, such as a better-designed interior, also symbolize broader changes consumers can expect from other Chrysler products, MacDuffie says. The automaker, which was restructured and entered into a partnership with Italian car company Fiat after filing for bankruptcy in 2009 and receiving a government bailout, is also introducing a Chrysler 300 sedan.

While MacDuffie calls the pricing of the 200 — it starts at $19,245 — “attractive,” he says the car will be up against some tough competition. “Despite the ad’s emphasis on luxury, the 200 is really competing against the core mid-size sedans offered by both domestic and foreign automakers, which means such powerhouse products in terms of reliability … and reputation as the Toyota Camry, Honda Civic, Nissan Altima and Hyundai Sonata. As one reviewer put it, the 200 appears to be a more value-priced alternative to these products than a strong head-to-head competitor.”

In a recent Knowledge at Wharton interview about the overall state of the auto industry, MacDuffie noted that Chrysler has long been dependent on big trucks and SUVs to generate sales. “The whole logic of the Chrysler-Fiat tie-up was to bring the Fiat small car line-up to the U.S…. That will make them much more balanced and able to take advantage of what looks like a likely boost in small car demand.”

To sustain the renewed optimism for the Chrysler brand, the 200 needs put up relatively strong sales numbers, MacDuffie says, and “the 300 and other new products need to keep the trajectory of improvement — and hence the storyline of recovery and comeback — going.”