Are Super Bowl Backers GE & Chrysler Being Political?


Is there a place for politics in sponsorship activation?


This debate has resurfaced in the USA after NFL sponsors Chrysler and GE used their spots in this year’s Big Game to deliver a serious message about the state of America, its economy and domestic manufacturing.


The ads have even sparked a debate about whether these bellwether US brands have used the country’s biggest TV event to deliver a political message in an election year.


This strategic shift to serious messages follows in the footsteps of fellow NFL partner Pepsi, which last year shifted its Super Bowl spend from hugely expensive TV spots to its more serious community-based CSR Refresh Everything programme. A move many saw as some form of semi-political statement. Perhaps this was also a result of earlier media speculation about Pepsi’s aligning its marketing and messaging (from its new logo to its Refresh campaign) with the Obama campaign in 2008/9.


This renewed focus on using sponsorships and partnerships to help revive post industrial America from Chrysler and GE also draws comparisons with Levi’s much discussed ‘Ready To Work’ initiative dedicated to the revitalisation of the Pennsylvanian town of Braddock.


The Chrysler ad, which is fronted by Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood, echoes similar themes of making things in America and the role of domestic manufacturing as a route out of the economic downturn.


The spot, titled ‘It’s Half Time In America’, focuses on how motor city is up and fighting again. Speaking about the emerging revival of Detroit’s car business, Eastwood says: “We find a way through tough times. And if we can’t find a way, we’ll make one. Detroit’s showing us it can be done.”


It is this latter comment that has sparked the political debate and has been interpreted by in some quarters as a statement of support for President Obama’s huge $80bn government bailout of the US car giants during the nadir of the recession in 2008. Chrysler was reorganized in a government-backed bankruptcy in 2009 and is now majority owned by Fiat SpA.


Chrysler insist it is not a political message, but one that reflects the spirit of the company. “We have no doubt that this ad had no political agenda of any kind,” blogged David Kelleher, president of Chrysler’s national dealer council. “This ad was simply a recount of the achievement of Chrysler.”


But Republicans and Democrats seem to differ on this. Perhaps this isn’t surprising in a US election year.


Karl Rove, a Republican political strategist and President George W Bush’s Deputy Chief Of Staff, criticized the ad on Fox News Channel saying he was “offended” by the Chrysler commercial and that it was an example of “Chicago- style politics” ( aareference to the fact that President Barack Obama was involved in Chicago politics before moving to the White House.


Of course the Democrats have a different view. “Saving the America Auto Industry: Something Eminem and Clint Eastwood can agree on,” tweeted White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer. “Powerful spot,” agreed Obama’s Chief Political Strategist David Axelrod.


Eastwood himself says it is not a political ad. “l am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr Obama,’ Eastwood said. “‘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.” In his statement, the actor/director said he believed the ad was being ‘spun’ by political partisans.


Eastwood himself helped shape the message. “We had to write it together with him,” explains Chrysler marketing boss Olivier Francois. “Clearly, he felt like endorsing the message because the message is clearly not sales-oriented. It is even hardly corporation-oriented. It’s about values.”


Indeed, the ad’s only references to Chrysler comes from a few images of cars and trucks, shots of sport-utility vehicles being built at a Detroit factory and the company’s brand logo in the closing shot.


The campaign is running under the umbrella ‘Imported From Detroit’ tagline and has close ties to other similarly-themed commercials from the automotive manufacturer including Jeep Cherokee’s 2011 ‘Manifesto’ commercial,



and the 2011 Eminem-fronted ‘This Is What We Do’ Super Bowl spot.



GE, a preferred partner of the NFL and parent company of the media broadcaster NBC, also used its Super Bowl ads to focus on national pride in the quality and heritage of American manufacturing. Part of its ‘What Works’ initiative, the two GE’s commercials aired during the game highlight the fact that GE’s domestic manufacturing example proves the United States is still capable of manufacturing impressive big-ticket consumer products.


One features employees at GE’s Appliance Park (in the Kentucky town of Louisville), and the other focuses on its turbine manufacturers (in the New York town of Schenectady).


In the first spot, one production line employee is quoted as saying: “We’re on the forefront of revitalizing manufacturing. We’re proving that it can be done here and it can be done well.



While in the second, an engineer says that GE invented the turbine business at the NY plant.





Whether they are overtly political or not, both spots use emotion to highlight the issue of where products and components are made. They use patriotism, pride, emotion and aspiration and aim to cut through the Super Bowl clutter of ads typically dominated by clichéd sports fan/frat boy humour.


Chrysler is at least being consistent in its NFL activation messaging. It came on board as an NFL partner last year and has used its rights to connect its pride in America message to the ultimate American game. It is even extended this message abroad. For example, this year it extended its NFL sponsorship to become Presenting Partner of official NFL Super Bash in the UK (a country where Chrysler is currently running a heavy marketing push).


Interestingly, the Chrysler ad generated further media controversy and interest because during the game it was accidentally pulled from the NFL’s official YouTube Super Bowl ad channel – the NFL says that this was simply a ‘mistake’. But that hasn’t stopped speculation that it was pulled because certain individuals felt the message was too political. It was quickly reinstated when the NFL ‘discovered the error’.


Chrysler’s ad was one of the few Super Bowl commercials not to be seeded online in the run up to the game. But the subsequent media and PR coverage it has gained through both this YouTube incident as well as the political controversy it has generated have surely more than made up for a lack of pre-game social buzz. Indeed, within 48 hours of its Super Bowl debut, the spot had received 1m plus YouTube views (twice as many as the 2011 Eminem ad from the same brand) and has now been seen almost 6m times on YouTube.







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