In his self-penned 1963 song ‘It’s Alright Ma I’m Only Bleeding’, Nobel winning poet, singer and songwriter Bob Dylan mused that advertising is a lie and the promise unattainable.
"Advertising signs that con youInto thinking, you're the oneThat can do what's never been doneThat can win what's never been wonMeantime life outside goes onAll around you."
There’s no denying lousy advertising exists.
Volkswagen’s ill-fated diesel emissions claims became a PR disaster, and billionaire Elon Musk's purported $72 million investment in BitCoin Code duped thousands of people with a website using stock images of a fictitious Managing Director and voiceover artists masquerading as real customers.
Promising what can’t be delivered is terrible. Advertising untruths are dishonest, and businesses using these tactics soon get found out.
So in 2014 when Detroit automotive manufacturer Chrysler announced that Bob Dylan would be the face of its new ad campaign, the news was met with scepticism. Dylan, after all, was anti-establishment and anti-capitalist.
Chrysler is no strangers to using music celebrities in their commercials. Eminem and Jennifer Lopez have been the subject of successful campaigns but what did they see in Bob Dylan that the sceptics missed?
Far from blowing in the wind, the answer is all the story.
During the early twentieth century, Detroit emerged as the epicentre of American automotive manufacturing. A powerful symbol of capitalism and the labour that worked there.
The automotive industry directly or indirectly employed one in every six working Americans by the mid-twentieth century, and Detroit became known as ‘Motor City’.
But by the 1970’s, Detroit was in decline. Buffeted by an oil crisis and the rise of international competition from Japanese and German car makers.
Although Detroit is now a shadow of its former self, the industry has been steadily fighting back, and Chrysler was keen to capitalise on this with a new campaign.
Selling features and benefits wouldn’t cut it in the competitive world of car advertising. Chrysler needed to make people proud to rebuy American.
Bob Dylan may have his critics, but he’s a worldwide celebrity. And to many, a national treasure. Millions love his music, and he has an appealing voice-over quality.
But above all, Dylan is fiercely patriotic.
Chrysler’s new commercial was broadcast during the 2014 Super Bowl. The cries of ‘sell out’ aimed at Dylan weren’t concerning as this increased the number of people talking about the ad.
The script was written to highlight the value of Detroit’s legacy and designed to connect with an America at odds with the influence of the outside world:
"Is there anything more American, than America?Cos you can’t import a visionYou can’t fake true coolYou can’t duplicate legacyBecause what Detroit created was a first, and became the inspiration to the rest of the worldYeah, Detroit made cars, and cars made AmericaMaking the best, making the finest takes convictionAnd you can’t import the heart and soul of every man and woman working on the lineYou can search the world over for the finer things, but you won’t find a match for the American road and the creatures that live on itBecause ‘we’ believe in the zoom, and the roar and the thrustAnd when it’s made here, it’s made with one thing you can’t import from anywhere elseAmerican pride"
Dylan's 2006 Academy Award and Golden Globe Award-winning song ‘Things Have Changed’ provided a background to the narrative.
Precisely the point Chrysler wanted to communicate.
The visuals are strong. But it’s the words that make the impact. That’s why I didn’t include the link at the beginning of this article.
Enjoy the commercial: