Chrysler Group LLC, following a two-minute Super Bowl ad that became the center of a political debate, said the idea to use Clint Eastwood came two months ago and that the actor helped shape the message.
“We had to write it together with him,” Olivier Francois, Chrysler’s marketing chief, said in an interview at the Chicago Auto Show yesterday.
“Clearly, he felt like endorsing the message because the message is clearly not sales-oriented,” Francois said. “It is even hardly corporation-oriented. It’s about values.”
The number of people who’ve watched the Chrysler Super Bowl ad on Google Inc.’s YouTube is more than double the number of viewers of the company’s Eminem ad at the comparable time following the 2011 National Football League championship game, Francois said.
The ad’s only references to Chrysler came from a few images of cars and trucks, shots of sport-utility vehicles being built at a Detroit factory and the company’s brand logos in the closing shot. The automaker ran a similar ad last year, using music and an appearance from hometown rapper Eminem that focused more squarely on the city of Detroit itself and the Chrysler 200 sedan.
While Chrysler didn’t want to create a sequel to the Eminem ad, it did want “to keep building on the ‘Imported from Detroit’ platform but still be respectable to this message of resilience, hard work, drive and humility,” Francois said. “But bring it from Detroit to America.”
Chrysler sought Eastwood, 81, because it wanted somebody “who had the authority, the credibility” to be the voice of the commercial, Francois said.
Francois and Saad Chehab, head of the Chrysler brand, worked on the script proposal along with ad agency Wieden & Kennedy and took input from Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne.
The ad featured Eastwood giving a halftime pep talk to America.
“This country can’t be knocked out with one punch,” Eastwood said in the spot. “We get right back up again and when we do, the world is going to hear the roar of our engines.”
“Yeah, it’s halftime, America,” said Eastwood, who was mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, from 1986 to 1988. “And our second half is about to begin.”
The spot became the subject of a political debate. Chrysler was reorganized in a government-backed bankruptcy in 2009 and is now majority owned by Fiat SpA.
Republicans, Democrats Differ
Karl Rove, a Republican political strategist, criticized the ad on Fox News Channel this week, saying he was “offended” by Chrysler’s commercial and it was an example of “Chicago-style politics.” President Barack Obama, a Democrat, lived in Chicago before moving to the White House.
“Saving the America Auto Industry: Something Eminem and Clint Eastwood can agree on,” Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, said in a post on Twitter. “Powerful spot,” David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political strategist, said on Twitter.
Francois said he was surprised by the amount of controversy the ad generated.
“It is not a political message,” he said. “We did that to reflect the spirit of our organization.”
“We have no doubt that this ad had no political agenda of any kind,” David Kelleher, president of Chrysler’s national dealer council, wrote in a blog post. “This ad was simply a recount of the achievement of Chrysler.”