A dramatic tale of a non-profit organization vs. two behemoth automobile manufacturers.
Made in the USA Foundation filed complaints this week to the Federal Trade Commission pointing to ads that imply the Chrysler 300 and the Ford Edge are American-made. The non-profit organization complained that the ads are misleading because in fact, both cars are assembled in Canada.
In this situation, I see the Federal Trade Commission as the Supreme Court of advertising regulation, called upon to determine whether these ads have provided an occasion of “unfair and deceptive acts or practices in commerce.” Tough job.
Since Ford has denied the allegations, instead pointing its finger at its dealer who created the offending commercial, we’ll focus on the Chrysler scenario.
The Offended Party
Made in the USA Foundation’s chairman Joel Joseph feels strongly that the advertisements for the Chrysler 300 are misleading: “Chrysler’s false advertising is likely to cause substantial injury to consumers who seek to buy U.S.-made vehicles.”
After watching the TV spot featuring Detroit Lions’ Ndamukong Suh and listening to the voice-over muse about pure and humble beginnings, consumers are left with an understanding that this man and this car’s beginning was Detroit. (Suh’s beginnings are actually in Oregon, and it even looks as if the ad is shot in Portland, not Detroit.)
Regardless, the entire Chrysler campaign, which launched with a memorable Super Bowl spot, is all about re-instilling pride, not only in Chrysler, but also in the idea of Detroit-bred American automobiles.
The Defendant Party
There is always a twist to a plot, and this real-life drama delivers another angle.
A Chrysler spokesman defends “Imported from Detroit” as a fanciful marketing slogan and not meant to be a literal reference. In essence, he’s chiding, “it’s a catchy advertising story—don’t take it so literally.”
In the execution of its full marketing campaign, Chrysler commercials include Canadian-made Chrysler 300′s and Chrysler Town & Country minivans; each ad concludes with the Imported from Detroit tagline.
But is that so bad? Detroit is home to Chrysler’s marketing, research and design headquarters. Arguably, all their car concepts are born in Detroit. And nowhere, that I can find, do they say or claim “Made in America” or “Made in the USA.” Nor do they use the flag, an eagle, or red, white and blue.
What is “Made in America?”
At least in the automobile industry, you have to understand the parts and assembly process. ABC’s World News launched an investigative series in 2011 called Made in America, in which they explore products manufactured or assembled in the USA.
While on the hunt for which car sold in America creates the most American jobs, World News found out that 85% of the parts assembled in Kansas City to create a Ford Explorer were made in America. World News team put a stamp of approval on the Explorer as “made in America” while understanding that most cars on American streets are not entirely made in America.
The Facts on “Misleading Advertising”
According to the FTC’s Deception Policy Statement, an ad is deceptive if it contains a statement – or omits information – that is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances; and is “material” (important) to a consumer’s decision to buy or use the product.
In the Chrysler case, are consumers being misled in a way that makes them behave unreasonably or that measurably impacts their decision to purchase? In the end, the FTC will decide.
Personally, I don’t feel misled or manipulated by the Chrysler campaign. But I am hopeful that there is more coming from Detroit to make the industry proud. What about you?