Chrysler CEO Contradicts Romney Outsourcing Ad

We’re all a little obsessed with the after-effects of Hurricane Sandy right now, but our last post reminded us that there will be an election one week from today—and that its winner will be the nation’s next president.

The latest election-related PR news centers on Ohio, a land forever competing with Florida for “most important state in the nation” status. Here’s our (very quick) summary of the moment’s hottest topic:

The 2009 government bailout of the auto industry affected an estimated 1 in 8 Ohio natives’ jobs, and Mitt Romney understandably wants to convince these voters that President Obama didn’t help them out at all (and encourage them to forget that he wrote an op-ed arguing against government intervention on the auto industry’s behalf).

In an effort to turn the issue to its advantage, the Romney campaign created an ad playing off Chrysler/Fiat’s plans to begin manufacturing more of its iconic Jeeps in China, which happens to be the world’s fastest-growing automobile market.

The ad implies that these new overseas manufacturing operations will come at the expense of American jobs and vaguely pins responsibility for the supposed job loss on President Obama. The general response within Ohio has been swift and decisive—nearly every significant local paper (even those papers whose editors endorsed Mr. Romney) questioned the ad’s accuracy  this week. Some pundits now speculate that the campaign’s bold move could amount to a PR fail.

Today brought the most decisive statement on the issue to date:

Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne’s letter to the editor of the Detroit News makes quite clear that the company itself strongly disagrees with the Romney campaign’s claims. In the letter, Marchionne asserts that some China-based manufacturing centers are necessary to avoid costly shipping tariffs and that any related move will not endanger any American jobs—in fact, the CEO writes that the act of building Jeeps in China “will ultimately help bolster the Jeep brand, and solidify the resilience of U.S. jobs.”

We know this is politics, but it’s hard to imagine a bigger smackdown than a public rebuke from a company’s CEO. Seems like Romney will have a hard time using this ad to sway anyone who isn’t already set on voting for him.

The main issue as we see it is: What’s the value of this perceived backlash? How many truly undecided voters remain in Ohio, and will any of the fact-checking drama truly affect the election? Are PR failures even relevant at this point in the campaign?

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.
Publish date: October 30, 2012 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT