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Chrysler Super Bowl Ads:
Misadventures in Promotion

February 7, 2012 by Matt

Chrysler Super Bowl Superbowl Ad Advert 2012 Clint Eastwood Halftime

One of the larger “controversies” (if you can call it that) to emerge from our NFL-sanctioned Super Bowl entertainment spectacle this past Sunday evening was the hubbub generated by Chrysler’s latest TV spot.

Reprising the rah-rah pro-America theme from last year’s ad, Chrysler’s 2012 effort aired during halftime and features narration by Clint Eastwood. In his inimitable voice, he extolls Detroit’s “revival,” extrapolating that to the country at large and encouraging us to “pull together” to fully recover from the economic malaise of the past few years. Chrysler isn’t explicitly mentioned other than brief glimpses of their cars and trucks throughout the clip, and the ad seems to focus more on drumming up latent positive feelings of patriotism which the viewer may or may not then translate to the automaker’s cars in particular.

Most of the online hand-wringing over the ad centered on the impression that it was a sort of thinly-veiled campaign spot for President Obama’s reelection. Tenuous parallels were drawn between the “halftime in America” line and the fact that a reelection campaign is a kind of “halftime” of a two-term president’s tenure. Also, the ad’s pleas for Americans to “pull together” seem to echo some of the administration’s rhetoric as they chastise Congress for its (in their eyes) intractability.

Rich Lowry at NRO, on the other hand, takes primary aim not at the ad’s tone, or at perceived implications of certain phrases, but at the spot’s revisionist history:

[It] is a half-baked tale about the revival of the automotive industry wrapped in economic nationalism: Dirty Harry does chest-thumping corporatism. Eastwood says that Americans are hurting and that “the people of Detroit know a little something about this. They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together. Now, Motor City is fighting again.”

We all pulled together? As euphemism, this is clever; as history, it is false. Congress never approved the bailouts. Given the option to do so explicitly, it declined. The Bush and Obama administrations acted on their own, diverting TARP funds to Detroit regardless of the letter of the law. In Eastwood’s telling, a legally dubious act of executive highhandedness qualifies as patriotic collective action.

This is the correct line of criticism: Not directed toward vague implications of the ad, but at what it calls out explicitly. We can debate all day over what Chrysler may or may not have suggested, but when actual facts are presented, we have solid ground on which to build an argument.

In any case, in response to the flurry of conversation, Eastwood himself debunked speculation about his loyalties, and by extension, the actual meaning of several debated phrases in the ad:

l am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama. It was meant to be a message about just about job growth and the spirit of America. I think all politicians will agree with it. I thought the spirit was OK.

There you have it, from the horse’s mouth. If critics want something more substantial to seize upon, perhaps they should target last year’s Chrysler ad, which features rapper and Detroit native Eminem. The 2011 spot is a paean to Detroit’s resilience, much like this year’s ad, only it features an actual Chrysler product more prominently: the then-new 200 sedan. The spot is well-produced, to be sure, but I’d be hard-pressed to find a genuine car guy who wasn’t a little put off by the image of a gritty rapper cruising through downtown Detroit behind the wheel of a very un-thug-like vehicle, the kind of car more likely to turn up in a Kroger parking lot or be the mainstay of a rental fleet. For car buffs, that juxtaposition is more jarring than anything that graced the small screen this year.

Click on the jump below to watch this year’s and last year’s Chrysler Super Bowl ads:

2012:

2011:

Filed under: Car Industry, Chrysler, Media, News

3 Comments

  1. Mike B. says:

    Once again Chrysler tries to market cars based on the supposed “good feeling” of “American patriotism” rather than any positive tangible qualities of their product. No wonder they would have gone belly up without the tax payer’s help.

    • Matt says:

      I don’t have a problem with automakers “selling a feeling” (Honda kinda did it with their CR-V and NSX ads, after all) as much as presenting a kind of alternate view of history. But yeah, I am leery of ads that tout the warranty or the trunk space as the best “part” of the car. It’s like, is that all you have? :)

  2. Mike B. says:

    I get what you mean about selling a feeling, but it should be a positive feeling that comes from the car, not something arbitrary. The only two feelings that come from a Dodge are the feel of cheap Fisher Price plastic and disappointment. I always LMAO at the Ram commercials where they advertise 20 MPG like that is good.

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