Sunday, March 05, 2006

Jeep Commander in Coral Gables Jazz Festival

I just came back from a jazz festival here in Coral Gables, Florida, where Jeep was one of the sponsors. Jeep had four cars on display: a Grand Cherokee (which every day looks more like a Chrysler Pacifica on steroids), a Jeep Liberty (mostly stock, nothing special) and a black Jeep Commander in full chrome gear, ultra low profile tires and 22" rims (it almost gave the impression that a pimp was driving by, got lost and just left his ride right there, in the middle of the street; I didn't have my camera but it looked just like this one).

The fourth one, a Jeep Wrangler Rescue Concept, was the only vehicle on display that evoqued qualities normally associated with the Jeep brand (ruggedness, trail-worthiness, no nonsense function over form design, the outdoors lifestyle, etc.). The fact that this is a nine year old concept (it was first shown in 1997) really tells you where the minds and hearts of Jeep's branding gurus have been lately: too busy trying to adapt to the aesthetics and attitudes pushed by the hip hop crowd and the entertaining industry to pay attention to protecting the core values that made the Jeep brand great. I can't help but think that this is a very dangerous game... Jeep runs the risk of becoming an also run in an already crowded playing field.

I have nothing against brands adapting to changing tastes and consumer preferences, expanding their market reach, and making some compromises to remain profitable, but at the same time I believe that brands have to work even harder to protect their core. If four Jeeps are on display at a mass event, and three of them are not representative of the brand's core value, one has to conclude that Jeep's marketing folks are having serious identity issues. Time for me to make a qualifying statement, though: contrary to what many people think, I don't think the Commander was a mistake (bringing back the unapologetically square lines of the Cherokee is a step in the right direction), but when you outfit the one Commander you are going to display with 22" rims and chrome accessories up the wazzoo, you are giving ammunition to those that insist that Jeep is selling out. Jeep's marketing gurus need to wake up, smell (and drink) the coffee, and get to work at protecting the core, or in a few years there will be nothing left to protect.

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