CEO Q&A: Timothy Kuniskis, Dodge

Timothy Kuniskis, CEO of Chrysler Group's Dodge brand, talks about how creative efforts help the automaker raise its profile.

What role does PR and communications play with the Dodge brand?
Our PR and communications team is all in-house. PR plays an important role for the company and the brand. From a product standpoint, PR is the first relay runner, helping to position the product toward consumer awareness.

Working with the department to find and use new and innovative ways of leveraging social media to communicate with both the media and our customers is crucial.

How does Dodge use social media to engage consumers?
With iconic vehicles, such as Charger and Challenger, we have a huge enthusiastic fan base. We have more than 2.1 million Dodge fans on Facebook; and about 1 million Facebook fans for the Challenger alone. In addition to our Facebook page, we have a Twitter account and our own blog.

Our goal is to keep fans engaged as ambassadors of the brand, and then to grow this base by reaching new consumers who don't know who we are and what we offer. Breakthrough creative campaigns are key to reaching this objective.

Tell us about some recent breakthrough campaigns Dodge has implemented.
Dodge has created digital programs that add a new dimension to TV campaigns. Examples include Dodge Dart Registry, an online program that provides a way to raise money toward the purchase of a new Dodge Dart by mobilizing friends and family to help consumers make their new car dreams come true.

Another is the Hands on Ron Burgundy effort, an innovative, endurance challenge with a digital spin that tested fans' perseverance using a computer mouse or touch screen to place their "hands" on a digital image of Ron Burgundy. The player who touched him the longest in a single session won an all-new 2014 Dodge Durango.

Earlier in 2013, Dodge partnered with Syfy and Trion Worlds for Defiance, the first-ever convergence of TV and online gaming. In this revolutionary model, viewers could watch the show and then continue the story online in the game. And Dodge established itself as the hero counterpart to Jeb Nolan, the title's main character.

Through this partnership, Dodge reached the show's audience, players of the game, and engaged a social community through Facebook, Twitter, and a pervasive sweepstakes that existed across multiple screens.

What has been your most successful PR campaign to date?
We are pretty happy with how the Dodge Durango PR reveal and product launch - followed by the Ron Burgundy PR campaign - have taken off, both from a product and a marketing standpoint.

The ads from the Dodge Durango Ron Burgundy campaign and Paramount partnership have received more than 21 million YouTube hits combined because they really resonated with people.

The ads are funny, part of pop culture, and were timely with the release of Anchorman 2 last December. If you watch the ads, you will see that we were not trying to sell you a car in 30 seconds. We were making a statement about Dodge's attitude and personality, and we hope people were entertained enough to seek out more information about us.

With the positive reviews of the Durango - combined with the new ads - we have seen about an 80% increase in Web traffic since the campaign's October launch.

What is the biggest challenge your brand has to contend with?
Brand building. It is mind boggling to think that, every day, 40,000 people will purchase a new car. And before they walk into a showroom, they have to decide between numerous brands. Without a strong brand DNA, all the other levers are temporary.

Dodge is a very strong brand, but there are 40 other brands, so we rely heavily on our PR and communications team to help build upon that heritage while making the brand relevant to today's consumers.

The best way to compete is to continue to innovate and stay ahead of the curve.

What is in your driveway?
The new Dodge Durango, but my dream car seems to change with every car show I attend. But I can tell you that I own a 1971 Dodge Challenger R/T that I have been working to restore.

Do you have anything special planned around the brand's 100th anniversary?
Many people today don't realize the brand was named after two brothers - John and Horace Dodge. Even fewer people realize that, while the brand is turning 100 years old this July, the brothers who founded the company passed away 95 years ago.

They were only alive for the first five years of the brand's existence, yet their influence was so strong that their personalities and attitudes live on in the brand's DNA to this day. For those who are not familiar with their story, we will be sharing it throughout the year leading up to the centennial.

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