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Is Chrysler ready to stick its neck out for another prisoner?


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Is Chrysler ready to stick its neck out for another prisoner?



For the holidays, I'd like to see Chrysler put its money where its mouth is.

The automaker got a lot of attention last year for a TV commercial that called on Burma's military government to free Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize winner the junta had imprisoned for 14 of the previous 20 years.

The commercial showed other Peace Prize winners -- including icons of freedom Lech Walesa and Mikhail Gorbachev -- being chauffeured around Berlin in Chrysler 300s at a summit that coincided with the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall.

After the other laureates had arrived, an empty 300 pulled up to the conference center. Text identified it as the car for "Aung San Suu Kyi. Prime minister-elect of Burma. Nobel Peace Laureate."

The commercial ended with a powerful image: A poster calling for Suu Kyi's freedom hung on a wall the 300 had crashed through. The narrator said: "This film is dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi, still prisoner in Burma." She was released last month.

It was a stroke of marketing genius. The ad was incredibly economical. It cost almost nothing to make, aired a few times and drew disproportionate attention on the Internet and in the news.

Chrysler hadn't made a scrap of positive news in months as it went through bankruptcy and formed an alliance with Fiat. The uplifting, emotional images cast the company in a positive new light.

Calling for Suu Kyi's freedom isn't exactly a profile in courage, though. An automaker doesn't risk much by annoying the generals who run Burma, officially now known as Myanmar. With a per capita GDP of $1,100, the Burmese people don't buy many Town & Country minivans or Lancia Delta luxury cars.

Chrysler got the commercial courtesy of Fiat's Lancia brand, which shot a nearly identical ad. Lancia has a history of supporting human rights. It publicly promotes gay rights and opposes violence against women. Because of that track record, the conference asked Lancia to provide cars for the laureates.

Lancia had earned that honor. It risked alienating buyers with controversial ads that spoke for the oppressed. China is the world's largest market for new cars, but before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Lancia aired a commercial in which Richard Gere delivered a subtle but effective "Free Tibet" message by driving a Delta from Grauman's Chinese Theatre Hollywood to a Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas. The Chinese government went into orbit. Fiat apologized, but the ad lives on in cyberspace.

The 2010 Nobel Peace laureate will be in a Chinese prison rather than at the award ceremony in Oslo this Friday. Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese writer and dissident credited with saving hundreds of lives during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations, is serving his fourth prison term for pro-democracy efforts.

Chrysler is establishing a new identity, much like it's rebuilding its model line with cars like the new 200 and 300. It wants to emulate Lancia as a brand associated with human rights and social responsibility. The Suu Kyi commercial and this year's auction of a celebrity-autographed 300 to raise money for Haitian earthquake relief were a good start.

Companies don't have souls; they have profit and loss statements. But when a company decides that taking a moral stance is good for its bottom line, that company accepts a higher responsibility. It must take stands based on principle, not just the bottom line.

Otherwise, its acts are empty publicity stunts.

Chrysler's good deeds so far have been risk-free. If social responsibility is going to be one of the brand's cornerstones, this is the time to stand for something more controversial than motherhood and apple pie.

Chrysler should take on somebody its own size -- China -- and call for the freedom of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.



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interesting, this is the 1st I've heard of this.

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