Chrysler CEO Shows the Power of Emotion

All week the message of the Chrysler “Clint Eastwood” commercial has been drowned out by politics, something that took the car company by total surprise.

And the criticism offended the dealers, too, who took the step of releasing a statement, denying that there was any political agenda behind it.

Now comes this story from today’s New York Times, revealing some of the events behind the scenes. Apparently the CEO, Sergio Marchionne, made a surprise appearance before a dealer conference Sunday morning and previewed the ad for them. It’s an amazing story, and a powerful testament to the effectiveness of an emotional appeal and a lesson on engaging your people.

Here’s how it went down, according to the Times:

“Those who have lived through difficulties and have seen the dark days of desperation,” Mr. Marchionne continued, “know that the only way to get through them is by finding the values that are important in life; rediscovering a sense of belonging to a project, a community, a nation; embracing hope; looking ahead; and taking your destiny into your own hands.

“If Chrysler — a company that was practically sentenced to death by the press, the financial world and the public at large — was able to do it, then there’s hope for everyone. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel and there’s always a way to get there. We don’t presume to teach anything or show the right way ahead. We are just one example among many. Our message to the United States is one that comes from people who feel a duty to encourage the country they love.”

They rolled the video and then:

“Nothing more needs to be said,” Mr. Marchionne concluded.

Overcome by emotion, he bowed his head and turned his back to the audience, according to those present, and there was a moment of stunned silence. It was the first time anyone had seen the video outside a closely guarded circle. Then the dealers rose and started applauding, an ovation that went on for several minutes.

Mr. Marchionne “cried, and then he left the room,” recalled David Kelleher, president of the Chrysler National Dealer Council and of David Dodge Chrysler Jeep in Glen Mills, Pa. “We were all crying, crying and applauding at the same time. We were blown away. We knew what he was talking about. We’d all been through hell and back. No one was more publicly flogged than we were. We were failing. And here we are. We’re making money.”

I’m not big on CEOs crying, but it sounds like that was the common response in the room. And my first impression of the video was that it was a bit overwrought. I liked the one Eminem did last year better.

But now that I know the story behind it, I appreciate it much more, from a personal and professional perspective. The ad was as much directed to Chrysler’s own people as to the market.

Here’s a company and a group of people who clawed their way back to success from the brink of destruction, and a CEO who successfully tapped into that feeling they all share — the immense pride in the company’s products and the love of its heritage and the bond that they all feel after having gone through what must have felt like war.

Bravo to Sergio and everyone at Chrysler. You deserve your celebration. And shame to those who pissed on this wonderful moment.

2 thoughts on “Chrysler CEO Shows the Power of Emotion

  1. I really loved that Ad, it wasn’t so much as an Ad, but more of a story about America. It was metaphorically brilliant! America’s in Half Time, getting ready for the 2nd half, to come out of this recession & we’re gonna kick some major a$$. Clint Eastwood is an icon who just made it even better.

  2. I agree — I suppose the “halftime in America” line was what triggered the controversy (or “nontroversy”) since it’s so close to Morning in America, but that hadn’t crossed my mind in two viewings. Here’s the Eminem one from last year, which I think is every more powerful:

    Gives me chills.

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