Olivier Francois has a passion for building brands.
Now he gets to indulge in it even more as the marketing chief of Stellantis, which combined the nine brands of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles he knew well with five more from PSA Group.
Francois, known for ambitious Super Bowl ads and a knack for blending musical acts into campaigns at FCA, will have to juggle marketing strategies for an even more diverse set of brands. They come with varying degrees of acceptance depending on the market, so the challenge for Francois and his team will be to carve a space for each brand.
Among his top priorities is to continue elevating the rugged Ram brand, which has been meshing more luxury with proven work credentials in its haulers. The latest Ram campaign uses the Foo Fighters rock band to pitch an inspirational message that honors everyday rock stars such as parents, coaches and mentors who have stepped up during the pandemic.
Francois, 59, spoke with Staff Reporter Vince Bond Jr. about the Ram campaign, the pandemic and the additional responsibility that stems from FCA’s merger with PSA. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: How does the merger change your marketing strategy? Do you have to get more approvals from different people now?
A: The whole vision behind Stellantis — what makes it unique, what makes it really exceptional, what makes the value of Stellantis — is, more than ever, this house of brands approach. We already talked of that in the past as FCA, but that is really reinforced — it goes further — with Stellantis.
Now we have 14 brands, some of which are really, really iconic in different parts of the world, because if you take Europe as an example, Fiat is iconic, Alfa Romeo is iconic, Maserati to some extent. But now we have also Citroen — very, very iconic in Europe — or Peugeot. This is really interesting, the ability to cultivate for each brand and this is clearly what we’ve been doing so successfully at FCA. For someone like me, who is so passionate about brand building — carving a different space for each brand — all this is incredible because now I can just do it with more brands.
It’s actually a bit more work, but it makes also the work a little bit even more interesting and synergic. My role here is to create or amplify all the creative synergies in order to bring to each brand the best they could dream of. Before there were a little bit more approvals. We have kind of streamlined and simplified. Actually, it is clearer and very simple now.
What was the inspiration for the Ram campaign, and how did you pick the Foo Fighters for it?
I always wanted to work with them. They share a lot of values with the truck brand and they are very authentic in their relationship.
Dave [Grohl] reached out to us maybe a year ago. And not because they wanted to be featured in a commercial, but because they discovered a grassroots initiative that we had with Ram, called Ram Band Van, one of the multiple initiatives we had around the brand in order to bring this idea of “built to serve” to life. That specific initiative is that the brand loaned custom upfit ProMasters to dozens of up-and-coming bands who are trying to make it. So they reached out just to know more about this program, and to connect us with other bands that they were kind of endorsing. During these conversations, we discovered that their own story began 25 years ago when Dave and the Foo Fighters filed into their Ram van to pursue their rock-and-roll dream.
We could not help but take that opportunity to say, “Hey, isn’t there something we could do together?” It came very naturally. Together, Ram and the Foo Fighters may not only be able to shine a light on these bands that we were trying to help together, but something bigger. Maybe we could celebrate the real rock stars out there, which would be the moms, the dads, the teachers, the coaches, all kind of mentors, who were helping the next generation become the best they can be.
Do you think the pandemic is going to play any role in future campaigns?
I hope not, after having played a negative role for a year or so. As you can see in this campaign, we are not portraying people wearing masks. I think that everyone wants to hear positive stories about what comes next. So I think that if the pandemic plays a role, it will be the role of what stands behind us and needs to be left behind us.
I think that now will be the time for positive stories, and how can we be better than before, inspired by what happened, take inspiration of what happened, learn from 2020 and 2021, and make a treasure of what we learned. Be more sustainable, give value to what really matters like family, to the human relationship, the simple moments. I think what probably will inspire us, because it inspires me, is the value of the simple things, like being together, celebrating together, having a meal together, hugging a friend, all the things that literally we take for granted. And so I think back to the value of simple things, and which are really the values of life — family, love, friendship and, for sure, a more sustainable approach to our daily life and to the planet. So I think this is what is going to inspire the next stage of our communication because this is what will resonate with our global audiences.
With the chip shortage hurting production across the globe, are there concerns that there might not be enough trucks when people see these commercials and go out to buy them?
That’s where the brand comes back to the center of the equation. The brand needs tools. They know what inventory they have, where they have it, what they need to sell, what they need to push. Based on this, we have a great creative, we have a great campaign and they are obviously going to use it as a tool to push what they have to sell, where they have it to sell.