Thursday, February 9, 2012

Clint Eastwood, Chrysler, and the Super Bowl Ad

As a group, automobile advertisements on TV may certainly be nowhere near as bad as the bulk of sophomoric ads for the more popular American beers. Nevertheless, they rarely manage to generate any sort of appeal, at least for me. Too many of them focus on the testosterone of fast driving, four-wheel drifts, and even four wheels off the ground, jumping some abyss, as if Evel Knevel were back in action.

For the most part, TV ads adhere to a fairly narrow set of themes, depending upon what sort of product is being featured.  Cars reveal their sleekness and power,  beers their loyal, hard-partying twenty-somethings,  detergents their comparative excellence in stain removal.

For me, the constant in all of these ads is how ineffective they are in appealing to my interest in purchasing the product.  I may marvel at the amounts of money spent to produce them.  I may admire the sophisticated visual production of many of them (even as I fail to recall the featured product).   Yet, I confess to an enormous difficulty in understanding why any thoughtful person would ever succumb to their transparent promotions.

But then I saw It's Halftime In America, David Gordon Greene’s ad for Chrysler cars,  narrated by Clint Eastwood, which appeared during halftime at the televising of the Super Bowl.  I was captivated.  I was blown away.   In fact, it gave me goosebumps; and, when I watched it again on You Tube in order to transcribe the exact wording, I actually teared up at its message.

Certainly, this must be the effect that advertisers seek, but hardly ever get.  This ad grabbed something so visceral in me that, had I not retired three years ago, moved to New York City, and thus sold both our cars, I would be visiting some dealership this week, trading in my Prius or Audi and selecting my new (and first ever) Chrysler.   Never in my life have I responded like this to an advertisement.   In fact, if I had any response at all to an ad in the past, it was one of disdain or possibly disgust.    This ad, however,  It’s Halftime in America, ranks as the best advertisement that I have ever seen in my entire life of seven decades!

Just as the message of the ad touts the importance of teamwork, so the unequalled quality of the ad itself is the product of the highest level of teamwork--Clint Eastwood as narrator, David Gordon Greene as director, Matthew Dickman and Smith Henderson as writers, the advertising firm of Weiden & Kennedy, and I’m-not-sure-who for the music.  


All is spot-on:  Eastwood’s gorgeous, gravelly voice;  the writers' moving words that conjure up our patriotic faith in this country;
the 
subtle and subdued musical orchestration, dominated by low register brass to create a serious, yet resolute, mood;  the visual images of people, places and events around America, some evoking another challenging period, the Great Depression, as captured by Dorothea Lange. 

Subtlety is the hallmark of the entire two-minute presentation of It's Halftime In America:   Eastwood is merely a dark silhouette at first--his voice is his presence--and only at the end do we see his iconic face.   So, too, the product is withheld: we briefly see a front fender of the Jeep, and then a brief, distant shot of an assembly line--no hood shots with logos, no stunt driving, no attempts to show the car in all its sexiness.   Only at the end, as the images give way to the text, “Imported from Detroit,” do the product names emerge below: Ram,   Dodge,   Jeep,   Chrysler.

Even if you have seen this ad before, please watch it again and, if you wish, follow its text which I provide here below.

Here is the ad, It’s Halftime In America, and its text: 


It’s half time. Both teams are in their locker rooms discussing what they can do to win this game in the second half.  


It’s half time for America, too. People are out of work and they’re hurting, and they’re all wondering what they’re going to do to make a comeback; and we’re all scared, because this isn’t a game.  


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.  


I’ve seen a lot of tough service; a lot of downturns in my life; times when we didn’t understand each other; it seems that we’ve lost our heart at times.  


The fog of division, discord, and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead.  


But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right and acted as one....because that’s what we do.   We find a way through tough times and if we can’t find a way, we make one.  


All that matters now it’s what’s ahead, how do we come from behind; how do we come together; and how do we win?  


Detroit’s showing us it can be done,  and what’s true about them is true about all of us.   This country can’t be knocked out with one punch.   We’d get right back up again, and when we do the world’s hearing the roar of our engines.  


Yeah!  


It’s half time in America, and our second half is about to begin. 


Imported from Detroit 




Now that you have watched the ad, I invite you to read the text again, but with a few, added interpretive annotations [in blue].  I annotate it because, like any great work of art--which it is--it embraces metaphor, expands beyond its ostensible purpose, and lends itself to interpretation. Yet, I will hold these annotations to a bare minimum because they pale against the expressive power of the ad itself.

"It’s half time. Both teams are in their locker rooms discussing what they can do to win this game in the second half."  
[The ad is part of the Super Bowl show, not a separate entity; in contrast to this, most ads are non sequiturs that can appear with any program and have no kinship to the program]

"It’s half time for America, too.  People are out of work and they’re hurting, and they’re all wondering what they’re going to do to make a comeback; and we’re all scared, because this isn’t a game."  
[The ad expands from the immediate event to our shared life and experiences as Americans in 2012.  It also emphasizes that our situation is more important than even this most important of football games]

"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."
[The ad gives focus to America’s general crisis and to that of a particularly hard-hit city and the home of the product, Chrysler.  The “we all” who pulled together to rescue Detroit and Chrysler can be interpreted as both the Bush Administration in its last year and the Obama Administration with their stimulus package, even though some present (Republican) members of America's “team” have chosen not to play ball because they are so determined to undermine President Obama, and thus our country as well]

"I’ve seen a lot of tough service; a lot of downturns in my life; times when we didn’t understand each other; it seems that we’ve lost our heart at times."

[The ad makes the narrator, Eastwood, not merely a disembodied voice, but an individual who is also affected by our malaise. We may infer that he represents some hard-bitten member of Detroit’s working-class]

"The fog of division, discord, and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead."

[The ad offers a covert admission to the partisan, political divisions that mire our progress; the implication is that, before the second half begins, we (America) need to get our entire team--Republicans and Democrats--on the same page]

"But after those trials, we all rallied around what was right and acted as one....because that’s what we do. We find a way through tough times,  and if we can’t find a way, we make one."  

[The ad stresses the importance of teamwork, which enables us to do what we like to think Americans do--find a way to overcome adversity.  How can any American find fault with this sentiment?]

"All that matters now it’s what’s ahead, how do we come from behind; how do we come together; and how do we win?"  

[These are actually the big question marks, and, with a leap, they could be interpreted as the essential questions before Congress in the coming months]

"Detroit’s showing us it can be done, and what’s true about them is true about all of us.  This country can’t be knocked out with one punch.  We’d get right back up again, and when we do the world’s hearing the roar of our engines."  

[Again, with that leap, we can read this as saying that Detroit has revived with the help and cooperation of two administrations; America needs to stay the course set by that example, and, if it succeeds in so doing, it can still be a world leader]

"Yeah!"

"It’s half time in America, and our second half is about to begin."

“Imported from Detroit”
[The American automobile industry began to rebound by the summer of 2010, and this trend has continued to the point where they are now announcing profits, and so there are several intriguing meanings to the use of the word, "imported"]

4 comments:

  1. I wouldn't have noticed this ad, Tyko, if you hadn't called attention to it, as I did not watch the Superbowl. I feel the same way as you about ads, and tv in general. However, watching the ad was very emotive and I could see the layers of meaning. It is a remarkably fine ad/statement.

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  4. I never realized how ineffective car commercials were until i read this. For example; one of my favorite commercials was when the kid thought he was getting a new car and it was actually just a small fridge. I couldnt stop laughing at how excited that kid was and the gift was a fridge. The sad part is I remember the kid in the graduation gown - i remember the fridge - i even remember the neighbor driving off in the car but i have no idea what car it was or the company yet i remember the commercial - and sadly - even if i did remember the vehicle - I wouldnt base my buying decision off of that commercial -especially, when they gave no details about the actual vehicle.

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