Leslie Koster writes:

In his ‘winners and sinners‘ post yesterday, Alex Steer mentioned that Chrysler’s Superbowl ad split opinions in our US offices. It’s worth pulling some of those different views – which have been circulating on email – out of the mix.

On the upside, Chrysler’s 2-minute spot for its new 200 sedan tugs at heartstrings. Its film-like quality captivates—as it started we sat up and took notice, and when it ended we wanted more. The piece oozed authenticity, mixing up older aesthetics and symbols (Diego Rivera mural, Joe Louis, and even the American flag that stands alone in the park that the great Tiger Stadium once stood) with the modern, luxury-oriented aesthetic.

It was made with Detroiters in mind, not just Americans, using phrasing like “That’s who we are”, “That’s our story” mixed with imagery and tone that is recognizable only to Detroit natives. It is poetic, using clever casting to mirror Detroit’s fall and hoped-for rise with Eminem’s recovery from near ruin.

But the ad triggered negative feelings too. Chrysler’s survival as a business is mainly down to taxpayer dollars, so is it irresponsible to use nearly $9 million to produce and air the longest Superbowl ad in history? Its CEO, Sergio Marchionne, is negotiating with the government for more loans, on better terms, which might make the ad simply an expensive sales presentation. Taxpayers could be forgiven for thinking, “Our money saved a car company from bankruptcy and all we got was this lousy Superbowl commercial.”

On top of that, there was a set of questions about whether the ad was better at promoting Detroit than Chrysler – which might make Ford and GM the beneficiaries of Chrysler’s investment merely by accident of geography.

Finally, there were strong feelings about the story the ad told in romanticizing Detroit and its history. Of course ads aren’t documentaries, but when they get too detached from the world the cracks start to show. Detroit fell because it refused to change, holding steadfast as it got passed by, feeling entitled to a way of life that was clearly being eroded. It built its economy and workforce on newspapers and automobiles but failed to innovate, tied up in hierarchy and tradition, as other companies lapped them by being nimble. These days, Detroit is a poster child for urban farming rather than the emblematic Motor City. It makes you wonder if Chrysler is  prepared for the future, or living in the past. Comments are open; your call.

Thanks to Sean Kernick and Chris Hloros.

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