Super Bowl Advertising – It’s Halftime in America, Do You Feel Lucky?

Who won the Brand Bowl for you?

Ever since Apple’s “1984” commercial launched the Macintosh, the Super Bowl has been as much about commercials as football. And at an average cost of $3.5 million for 30 seconds of airtime, the price reflects the great expectations of both the audience and advertisers.

The Nielsen Co. reported a record 111.3 million viewers watched the 2012 game, narrowly topping last year’s Super Bowl TV audience of 111 million.

Four major product categories dominate the big spenders, according to Daily Finance: “automotive, film, food, including snacks and fast food, and beverages. Four of the top 10 Super Bowl advertisers are auto companies. Another four are food and beverage manufacturers. Three movie studios are in the top 25.”

One of the most talked and tweeted about commercials of the 2012 Super Bowl of Advertising was the automotive spot narrated by Clint Eastwood.


Unlike other advertisers who released previews on YouTube, Chrysler played it close to the vest, airing their spot only after Madonna’s unpaid halftime commercial (let’s be honest: she’s promoting a new single, album, tour and a movie).

Immediately after the spot aired, the Twitterverse was all… a-twitter. Some people got a lump in their throat. Others got heartburn.

Ostensibly promoting GM brands (Ram/Dodge/Jeep/Chrysler), it ended with the tag line “Imported from Detroit” just like last year’s commercial, which featured rapper Eminem, a native of the Motor City.

But people seem to differ on the whole point of it. Was the actor trying to promote American-made cars, give the country a pep talk, or re-elect President Obama? Or perhaps all of the above?

Whatever the case, it certainly cut through the chatter and clutter and had unmistakable political overtones.

Politico declared “the Chrysler ad featuring actor Clint Eastwood seemed more like an Obama-reelect campaign video than a car commercial.”

Eastwood, who has held political office (as Mayor of his hometown, Carmel by the Sea, California, in 1986), has even been hailed as a candidate for President by some enthusiastic tweeters.

Several pundits noticed that “Halftime in America” was reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection commercial “Morning in America,” one of the most effective political advertisements ever.

Salon summed up the key themes of “Halftime”: “The commercial analogizes Detroit’s comeback from hard times to the still unrealized recovery of the United States from the Great Recession. And it bemoans not just the hardship, but the hard feelings and disunity that currently define our political landscape.”

Salon quotes this passage from the spot as an example of “Halftime’s” political subtext:

I’ve seen a lot of tough eras, a lot of downturns in my life. And, times when we didn’t understand each other. It seems like we’ve lost our heart at times. When the fog of division, discord, and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead.

During that section of the commercial, demonstrators are shown holding protest signs. At first glance, it’s tough to tell whether they are Tea Partiers or Occupiers, but it turns out they’re union supporters in Wisconsin, protesting Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to reform public sector unions! (The Nation notes that wording on the signs was strategically removed.) Yeah, that’s political all right.

As Clint tells it, “we all pulled together” and “now the Motor City is fighting again.” (I half expected him to end with, “Do you feel lucky?” or maybe “Get off my lawn.”)

As The Nation points out, we did not all pull together. “Obama bailed out Detroit, and faced enormous criticism for it.” In fact, Clint himself opposed the bailout! Conflicted much?

Amidst the cheers, Clint and Chrysler also got plenty of criticism for the commercial:

Meanwhile, Chevy took the low road, claiming that unlike Ford, their trucks can save you from the coming 2012 Mayan Apocalypse.

It’s too early to tell whether Chrysler’s “Halftime” will be as effective as Reagan’s “Morning in America.” But one thing’s for sure: it’s already getting a lot of mileage.

What’s your take on “Halftime”? Share your favorite Super Bowl ads in the comments. While you’re at it, feel free to help Madonna promote her new album. Oh yeah, and “World Peace.”

UPDATE: Detroit ‘Comeback’ Ad Filmed in New Orleans, Los Angeles [That’s not exactly in keeping with the spirit of “Imported from Detroit.”]

UPDATE 2: The Good, The Ad & The Ugly: Chrysler’s chief executive is insisting his company’s Super Bowl ad starring Clint Eastwood has “zero political content,” even though members of the advertising team that created the spot [at Wieden + Kennedy of Portland, OR] have ties to President Obama.

UPDATE: 3: Super Bowl Backlash: The Five Most Debated Commercials [AdWeek cites “Chrysler’s Halftime Hope for Obama” as the #1 most debated spot.]

14 responses to “Super Bowl Advertising – It’s Halftime in America, Do You Feel Lucky?

  1. This was definitely one of the best commercials in Super Bowl history. It was the inspiration and motivation that the United States needs during these hard times.

    • Thanks for weighing in, Chris. It definitely resonated with a lot of people. For me, it would’ve rang more true coming from a company like Ford that didn’t accept bailout money.

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  3. I am not into football, or watching sports. I worked for Apple in 1984 and saw that Superbowl commercial the National Sales Meeting that year. It was so exciting!

    • The Apple “1984” spot has become the yardstick by which Super Bowl commercials are still measured. I’m not into football either, but I enjoy the party aspect of Super Bowl. I also need to keep up with the commercials just from a business standpoint. 😉 Thanks, Sally!

  4. As I watched the spot I wondered, “What does Fiat (owner of Chrysler) hope to gain from supporting Obama?” and “I wish they’d used a hot chick like Fiat did.”

    All kidding aside, I found it far less motivating (from the standpoint of rah rah USA) than many of my friends, most of whom are a couple of decades my junior. Perhaps I’m a bit cynical, but I’ve been fooled before.

  5. Most of my friends must be cynics. Maybe because we’ve been in the marketing/ad biz too long! The sentiment was nice, and we can all use a pep talk now and then, but it just raised a lot of questions for me. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Rick!

  6. I think they are “reaching” because who really buys their products anymore? I had a Chrysler minivan for a few years and it was a POS!

  7. I didn’t watch this year and caught the commercials online. I only liked a few of them and thought most of them wasted their time and money to be featured during the Super Bowl.

  8. At least they don’t have “One Million Moms” stalking them.

  9. Clint is good, he can make painting the garden shed sound exciting. As said before, it would be good if people did pull together. Do they/we?

  10. I’ve watched the spot a number of times and I just don’t see the political overtones. I think it is very much an American pep talk designed to give people encouragement and the motivation to keep on working hard.

    I have been a big Clint Eastwood fan for many years. He is a known die-hard Republican. I just don’t see this as an Obama ad at all.

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