Was the Chrysler Super Bowl commercial a boost for President Obama’s reelection campaign? Some happy Democrats thought so after they watched the spot, which features Clint Eastwood talking tough about Detroit and the auto industry’s recovery.
Some Republicans, on the other hand, were aghast. “Agh. WTH? Did I just see Clint Eastwood fronting an auto bailout ad???” tweeted conservative pundit Michelle Malkin as the Super Bowl's second half began.
Calm down people. Sometimes an auto ad is just a promotional tool for vehicles, not another division point in the endless war of words between the political red and blue. We think ordinary voters will see the ad as a good example of a common commercial category: the corporate flag-waver.
Yes, we can see how the excitement got started. The ad is a great piece of work. Mr. Eastwood narrates in a voice hard as granite chips. He walks down a dark alley, talking about how it’s half time in the game, and half time in America, too. People are worried and out of work, and they're wondering what they’re going to do to make a comeback, because their lives aren’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,” says Eastwood.
Eastwood goes on to say he’s seen lots of tough eras, and in the end Americans all rallied together and found a way out. While he talks, sepia cuts of industrial activity segue into shots of moms, kids, firefighters, and so forth.
Then, suddenly, at 1 minute 27 seconds into the commercial, Eastwood emerges into the sun, and the face of the toughest octogenarian in America looms into the camera. “All that matters now is what’s ahead. How do we come from behind? How do we come together? And how do we win?” he says.
Whoa. Images matter in ads, to point out the obvious. When that craggy visage appears, viewers aren’t thinking, “I guess it’s great the Obama administration ushered Chrysler through a managed bankruptcy, providing temporary financing that allowed assets to be bought by Fiat.”
No, they’re thinking, “That guy is over 80, but it looks like he could still take Eli Manning.”
The ad is selling pride, American pride. It implies that the good people of the United States rolled up their sleeves and brought the firm that controls Jeep back from the brink. It elides the fact that without government intervention, no amount of sleeve-rolling would have kept Chrysler alive.
You’ll notice that the brief shot of an actual identifiable auto in the commercial is of a Jeep, a brand whose strong sales are helping Chrysler into the black. No Fiat 500s anywhere. (Though Fiat had its own Super Bowl spot for the high-performance Fiat 500 Abarth.)
For the record, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne issued a statement saying that the Eastwood ad has “zero political content.” And Eastwood himself is a well-known Hollywood Republican. He’s said he always votes GOP for president, although he’s yet to indicate any preference in the current race.