Today’s jingle is ultimately an earworm that’s persisted over roughly two decades, one that can easily be found on Spotify and Apple Music without a second thought. Chrysler’s “I Drove All Night” campaign of the early 2000s featured Céline Dion covering a… cover of a song. Yes, there’s three iterations here. Let’s dig in.
In 2005, my mom was on the hunt for a new car. I had earned my full drivers’ license and was about to start driving the family’s Ford Escape full-time, and we collectively decided that it was time for Mom to get the convertible she’d wanted for a while. After much deliberation and many test drives, the winner of the “fun but not too racecar two seat roadster with three pedals” competition was a 2005 Chrysler Crossfire in Aero Blue. The car came from a dealer in Ohio but was sold to us locally in Tysons Corner, Virginia.
The “I Drove All Night” campaign was in full swing, and Chrysler had three (!) convertibles on the showroom floor when we took the Crossfire home. Next to the Karmann-built SLK-in-drag were the Sebring and PT Cruiser convertibles. Who sells three convertibles now? No one.
Re-Recording Cyndi Lauper née Roy Orbison
I’ve known of Roy Orbison’s music since I was a little kid playing Big 100.3, the DC area’s oldies station at the time. Somehow it took until a few years ago to realize that Orbison recorded I Drove All Night first, in 1987. The song was written for him in the first place, though his version wasn’t the first to hit radio airwaves. It was first released on (really) a Super Mario themed album created by Nintendo called Nintendo: White Knuckle Scorin’ in 1991. The single was then released in June of 1992, several years after Orbison’s death.
Meanwhile, Cyndi Lauper also recorded I Drove All Night and released it on her 1989 album A Night to Remember. Both versions are earworm-y enough, but neither was apparently good enough for Chrysler. Deploy Céline!
Céline Dion and Chrysler
The “I Drove All Night” campaign wasn’t Céline’s first time working with Chrysler. She’d been featured in several commercials for Chrysler Canada in the 1980s.
First up, the 1987 Plymouth Sundance. Dion slips on some black leather driving gloves and takes off, working the poor turbocharged four cylinder and its 146 horsepower (presumably, it could’ve been a 2.2…) for all it has as she rockets up a 60-degree incline, that we later see is the side of a building.
The tach slaps against its limiter repeatedly as Céline takes flight, coming to land on the roof of the skyscraper she was climbing. The Sundance rests on its very soft springs as she gets out feeling accomplished. The commercial ends with “Prenez de l’avance, avec Chrysler!” which simply means “Get ahead with Chrysler.”
One year later we see Dion leaving a show, presumably one she’d headlined, excited about how she did and the pumped-up crowd. She hops in her Chrysler LeBaron droptop and takes off, ending the commercial with a small fist-pump and
Dion then created another commercial for the 1989 Plymouth Laser, one of the Diamond Star Motors (DSM) triplets that was sold alongside the Mitsubishi Eclipse and Eagle Talon. She plays less of a role here compared to actor Roy Dupuis:
The 2003 ‘I Drove All Night’ Campaign
Okay, back to I Drove All Night. Chrysler made a big financial commitment with Céline, signing for $14 million and a three-year contract. The intent was to use the song, with Dion prominently featured driving various new Chryslers, all in moody black-and-white. The campaign, created by agency Arnell Group, launched just before the Super Bowl in 2003, and Dion was even hosted at Chrysler headquarters to perform the song for employees. The exciting day even made local news.
The initial two spots were created for two significant cars about to launch – the Crossfire and Pacifica. First up, the Crossfire:
The same theme was then applied to the brand-new Chrysler Pacifica crossover, in which Dion cycles through various styles of singing her key lines as she’s driven – safely and confidently – in the back seat of a new Pacifica in the pouring rain:
A final commercial was created that showcased more of the Chrysler lineup for 2003, including that Sebring convertible, PT Cruiser (hardtop) and the Town & Country minivan.
It Landed Worse Than That Plymouth Sundance
This all went over really well and Chrysler sold a ton of cars, right? Wrong. Dealers apparently hated the ads almost immediately and USA Today’s AdMeter ranked the first spot very low on its list of Super Bowl commercials. By the summer of 2003, Céline was out – though some commercials still used the song, without her imagery – as was Chrysler’s VP of Marketing, Jim Schroer. Chrysler themselves fired Arnell Group and went back to BBDO Detroit for their advertising, who had allegedly advised against the campaign in the first place.
While the campaign itself was a bit of a dud, the song took off, propelling Dion’s “One Heart” album to double platinum status and driving tons of visitors to her residency in Las Vegas.
For those of us who love some behind-the-scenes content, new Chryslers of the era included a CD-ROM that had a “making of” video showing how the ads came together. At roughly five minutes, it’s a quick yet fun watch:
One big challenge with these ads, despite the dance-club vibe of the song that I absolutely love, is that they focus as much on Céline as they do on Chrysler’s hot new cars. They didn’t do much to show viewers why they should visit showrooms, and sales reflected that, with both Crossfire and Pacifica selling poorly at first. Sales of the Crossfire never really took off, with about 34,000 vehicles sold over five model years – despite the contract with Karmann targeting 20,000 per year. The Pacifica did better with roughly 227,000 sold in the same time period.
We still have our Crossfire, and at this point it feels like driving a concept car on the road. I upgraded the CD-only head unit to a more modern Kenwood (with matching silver faceplate) years ago that added Bluetooth. If I’m visiting my parents and want a taste of nostalgia, I’ll grab the keys, drop the top, and hit some back roads near their house with Céline pumping through the speakers. The campaign may not have resonated at the time, but I’d argue it’s endured among enthusiasts who know exactly which cars align to that song.