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Comedian Craig Robinson sprawls over his new Dodge Dart.

Craig Robinson is deeply protective of his vehicle in a sly new multimedia campaign from Dodge.

Dodge – a brand that likes to flex its muscle cars – upends that tradition with its summer campaign for the New 2014 Dodge Dart. The result is a testosterone-fueled send-up of male stereotypes that is hilarious and sly, ticking things up a notch in what is still a relatively new format: content marketing series.

The 20-plus narrative spots star Craig Robinson (Hot Tub Time Machine 2, Mr. Robinson, “The Office”) and Jake Johnson (“New Girl,” Let’s Be Cops) as bickering neighbors who turn car-envy into a territorial battleground where male tropes play out in suggestive splendor (think Freud meets Ferrell). The campaign’s theme: “Don’t Touch My Dart.” (“You want to touch it.” “No I don’t!” “Yes you do!”)

A demographic bull’s eye, the everyman humor is sure to appeal to males of all ages while scoring an obvious hit with the ladies (who, it must be said, love watching guys look silly). All of which works very nicely with the Dart brand – a sensible vehicle that combines C-class economies and techno-forward features with a sprightly, somewhat unexpected, pizzazz. (“Your inner-geek will high-five you awkwardly,” reads one website advisory.)

“Dodge is a really fun brand,” says Randy Ortiz Head of Advertising and Communications, Dodge & SRT. “Even though it’s been around for 100 years, it’s full of energy and passion and we have loyal enthusiasts that follow (us).” Ortiz says the cheeky attitude has its roots with the company’s founders, John and Horace Dodge, Michigan-based machinists who got their start selling bicycle parts then began a lucrative supplier relationship with Henry Ford. Incensed to find he’d unwittingly funded a new competitor, Ford instigated a sequence of financial roadblocks that the duo outmaneuvered (waxing subtext to the name “dodge.” The company was purchased by Chrysler in 1928).

Jake Johnson hangs a bird house.

Jake Johnson plays Wyle E. Coyote to Craig Johnson’s elusive Dart.

The one-upsmanship of these beta-males seems to nicely summarize the suburban angst of our times, Y-chromosomes fueled through a controlled IV drip. (There’s even a catchy ditty, improvised by Robinson, of which Barry White would be proud.)

Craig and Jake – “We had them use their real identities,” Ortiz says. “We thought it was hilarious that they refer to themselves as Craig Robinson and Jake Johnson”) – have an edgy chemistry, managing to be both bland and whetted. The trivial is infused with pathos. Fans of Seinfeld and Larry David will find a lot to love in Craig and Jake … and Craig’s Dart.

Alluring, yet always slightly out of reach, Jake’s pursuit is as inventive as that of Wyle E. Coyote (and alas, just as doomed, though the campaign is ongoing, so we may yet see Jake get to touch Craig’s Dart in season two or three.)

Randy Ortiz of Dodge

Dodge’s Randy Ortiz

In Birdhouse, Jake tries to make Craig’s driveway an avian destination. In other episodes, he commandeers the Bluetooth for Voice Touching and attempts an inaugural keying (“your car…you’re a little too precious with it”) in First Scratch. Produced in conjunction with Dodge’s agency of record, Widen + Kennedy, the spots were directed by Jody Hill (Advise and Consent, HBO’s “Eastbound and Down” and Toyota’s amusing “Swagger Wagon”) and shot over a two-day period in Los Angeles.

“We developed six core scripts, and as we were filming the lines came from every which way,” Ortiz explains. “We ended up with 20 spots and one special song that Craig performed for us on set on his keyboard. So we went in expecting six spots and came out with 20 and a song.” Ortiz says some of the more risqué outtakes will eventually appear on CollegeHumor.com.

Media-wise, the Dart has been something of a character actor while hunkier siblings like the Charger (Bullitt, “The Dukes of Hazzard”) and Challenger (Vanishing Point) have hogged the spotlight. The Dart, onscreen for hundreds of roles in the ‘60s and ‘70s, was always relegated to bit parts (although its very ubiquity bears witness that the model was in wide use, a popular means of transporting the middle class).

When Ortiz cites the company’s history with comedy – George Washington Freedom, for Super Bowl XLIV, Man’s Last Stand; last year’s Durango ditties with Will Ferrell – he’s alluding to pop culture hightlights for the power, not economy, lines.

dodge-dart_text

Craig and Jake are shifting that dynamic. And the little Dart — now vividly drawn! — rises to the occasion. The New 2014 Dodge Dart was reintroduced in 2012, the first Chrysler Group vehicle based on the Fiat architecture (Chrysler and Fiat joined forces in 2009). Adapted from the award-winning Alfa Romeo Giulietta, the new Dart is the Dodge brand’s first entry into the U.S compact sedan market in 7 years.

The five models range in price from $16,495 to $22,995. A fuel-efficiency rating of 41 highway miles-per-gallon and state-of-the-art digital enhancements (an 8.5” touchscreen, USB ports and the Dodge-branded “Unconnect,” which offers hands-free and WiFi hotspotting, are among the cool features).

“No one ever grew up with a poster of a Corolla on their wall. That’s kind of our North Star,” Ortiz explains, summing up the challenges of making C-class sexy. The touching combination of Craig and Jake is certainly pointing things in the right direction. This week, the company unveiled a new component to its YouTube page that allows visitors to interact amusingly with Craig (be careful where you touch him, or you may be forced to read the leasing terms!).

In addition to YouTube, Dodge has found Facebook to be effective in terms of social outreach. “Our page has north of 5 million ‘likes,’ and we find the engagement very strong,” Ortiz shares. Targeting the right audience is key, and millennials are squarely in Dodge’s sights with the new Dart campaign. It remains to be seen whether the company can indeed cultivate bragging rights in a C-class. The attempt is, in itself, as cheeky as the spots.

“You have to have the appropriate message in your creative,” Ortiz says, indicating research showed “current Dart owners are “extremely proud of their cars, reminiscent of the ’70s muscle-car era. So we thought this approach would resonate well with current and prospective owners. Content is king, but it all starts with the product.”

Craig and Jake are mesmerizing — epic in their banality in a way that’s amusing, because it’s so relatable. With the two-dozen spots and outtakes behind them, one hopes to see more of this duo and the Dodge Dart. Leaving us to speculate yearningly, how long can they keep it up?

New 2014 Dodge Dart YouTube home page

Visitors to the Dodge Dart YouTube page can experience touching interaction with funnyman Craig Robinson.

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by Brandon Gutman
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Brandon is an expert connector and seasoned business development professional. As Principal of Brand Approved, he's led the advisory to become the bridge between brand marketers and best of breed service providers that are reshaping the industry.

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