Chrysler uses #VanLife as a foil to market its Pacifica


Most brands mine social media and influencer trends to tap into popular crazes. But Chrysler is using one rising phenomenon as a foil — #VanLife.

The hashtag, which is affixed to social content plugging the kind of nomadic lifestyle that has gained traction during the pandemic, serves as the inspiration for a new campaign for the brand’s Pacifica van, which has premium features like entertainment screens for multiple seats and a built-in vacuum. Ads tout those creature comforts by pitting Pacifica owners against the sort of van life proponents and influencers associated with social media content, which often involves DIY campervan conversions that lack bells and whistles.

Doner handled the campaign, which includes TV and digital buys.

One ad, called “Duel,” shows two families competing to see who has the better van. The Pacifica family boasts superior storage and other features, like the vacuum. Drivers of an older van—including a kombucha-drinking dad—are left showing off an ugly-green carpeted vehicle whose clean-up device is an old-fashioned broom. The spot ends by plugging the Pacifica as “the van life for real life.”

“The current van lifestyle phenomenon presented an opportunity for us to inject some levity into our newest Chrysler campaign,” Olivier Francois, global chief marketing officer for Pacifica-owner Stellantis, said in a statement. “What our Chrysler Pacifica and Pacifica Hybrid owners want and need is not what many van influencers want from their vehicles. Knowing this, we designed a light-hearted campaign that puts a spotlight on the unprecedented features and versatility of the Pacifica minivan from a family perspective.” 

“Duel” will run on TV including on Bravo, ESPN, HGTV and USA Network. Two other videos (below) will run on digital channels, including Hulu and YouTube as well as on parenting, home entertaining and travel sites. “Our van life is about comfort, not camping,” a dad says in one video that shows his Pacifica parked next to another van owner recording #VanLife content.

Chrysler is also developing an influencer strategy for the new campaign. But instead of leveraging hardcore #VanLife personalities, it will likely tap family lifestyle influencers, according to a brand representative.

With its upscale positioning, the Pacifica campaign hardly seems positioned to win over true van lifers. Rather, ads merely seize on a trendy social media topic.

Content about the lifestyle has been particularly popular on TikTok, where videos tagged #vanlife have amassed 8.3 billion views and counting. Influencers include TikTok stars Courtnie Hamel and Nate Cotton, who have gained 2.2 million followers with van life content, including a recent video that includes them changing out the compost in the toilet. “We were sick of paying rent. We lived in Huntington Beach in Orange County, (California), and our rent was super expensive, and we were just getting by,” Hamel told in a 2020 profile about why the couple hit the road.

Of course, with rising gas prices, in-vehicle living is not as cheap as it once was. And there are plenty of negative stories circulating about the hardships of van life. That includes an April story in the New York Times Magazine titled “I lived the #VanLife. It wasn’t pretty.” Writer Caity Weaver described the lifestyle as “cramped, slovenly and bad” after experimenting with living for a week in a 2013 Ford Econoline E-150 with 238,646 miles on it. 

The piece drew criticism by #VanLife supporters, including on a Reddit thread where one person observed: “I hate these articles written by people who aren’t suited to van life or even to camping.” Another van lifer welcomed the negative attention, saying, “I for one welcome less ppl.”

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