Can’t afford a new car? Try crowdfunding. This novel idea comes from Chrysler Group, which lays out the details in the latest ads for its 2013 Dodge Dart. A television commercial that began airing this week introduces the Dodge Dart Registry, a website that allows family and friends to help out with your next car purchase. The concept is similar to a gift registry, like those used for a wedding or baby shower. But this registry lists car parts, ranging from inexpensive items like an antenna to pricey ones like heated seats. “Let people sponsor the car’s parts as a gift,” says the announcer in the 30-second commercial, boldly titled “How to Change Buying Cars Forever.” “Dad sponsors the engine for your birthday. Grandma sponsors the rims for your graduation.” Anyone over 18 can sign up, configure a Dart to their liking, then launch a crowdfunding effort to raise the money to buy it. Aspiring Dart owners are encouraged to use their social media accounts to spread the word. They can appeal to Facebook friends and Twitter followers to contribute and publicly thank them for doing so. Chrysler certainly gets points for ingenuity, as does ad agency Weiden+Kennedy of Portland, Ore. This is a pitch ideally suited to the often cash-strapped, social media-savvy Millennial segment that the Dodge Dart is intended to win over. Still, the fine print contains some notable drawbacks. A big one is that 9 percent of the money raised through DodgeDartRegistry.com gets deducted for various fees. That could rankle some people, says Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, a brand consulting firm based in New York. “If I were your dad and I were going to give you a thousand dollars, I don’t see any reason why I should give 90 dollars of that to someone else,” he says. In that sense, DodgeDartRegistry.com—described in the commercial as being “like a wedding registry, but for a car”—is unlike a typical wedding registry, Passikoff notes. The website discloses the fees in several places, such as in the FAQ section and in the terms of agreement that appear in a pop-up window when someone registers. But there is a risk that not everyone will realize in advance how much of the money is going to be withheld, Passikoff says. “And when it comes as a surprise, it’s the kind of thing that bites you in the rear end as a brand.” Those who set up an account decide whether it will expire in 30, 60 or 90 days. But 90 days is the limit. At the end of the registry period, participants are mailed a check, which they can spend however they want. They are free to take the money to a dealership and use it for the purchase of a new Dodge Dart—or not. That is another risk with this marketing effort, if the goal is to boost sales of the Dart, says Passikoff. “By the time the campaign is over, there may be other things you want to spend the money on.” But maybe the intent is more to create buzz, in which case how successful the site is at crowdfunding new cars is less important, he says. “It’s one of those things where maybe it gets a lot of attention and maybe that’s all they want.” . . . The registry had 998 hopefuls sign up in the first week and, if their pictures are any indication, they generally fit the young demographic Chrysler is targeting. Several nonprofits and at least one college fraternity also are giving the registry a try. The account with the most money after the first week—opened by University of Southern California fraternity Zeta Beta Tau to benefit the charity Meals on Wheels—had just over $1,000, or about 6 percent of its $18,000 funding goal. Accounts are viewable by everyone. An activity feed at the bottom of the homepage churns constantly with announcements of new registrants (of which there are many) and updates on existing ones receiving funds (of which there are few). A search function makes looking up a particular person easy.
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