Whether or not you’d like to believe it, Super Bowl commercials are approaching the game itself in terms of importance, which means that more and more companies are competing for an expensive ($5 million/30 seconds) chance at gaining popularity in the hearts of spectators with ever-rising expectations. Companies advertising have used countless strategies to vie for the audiences attention, from Go Daddy’s rather grotesque make-out scene a couple years ago personifying the amalgamation of sexy and smart, to this years strange Mountain Dew commercial featuring a creature consisting of equal parts puppy, monkey, and baby, there is little room anymore for shock-and-awe advertising.
This year, more companies and organizations focused their efforts on displaying more serious attempts at ad making, and as a car enthusiast, one in particular stood out to me, and it wasn’t Honda, Toyota, Kia, Hyundai, Audi, Buick, Acura, or even Mini. It was Jeep.
In their 75th anniversary ad titled “Portraits,” Jeep shied away from many typical conventions of modern advertising such as humor, wackiness, small-print legal jargon, video, and even color. Sticking to the basic combination of black and white photography, a simple and earnest piano melody, and inspired poetry, Jeep reflected on its colorful past, illustrating its varied customer base from all walks of life and situated at every corner of the globe.
“I’ve seen things that no man should bear, and those that every man should dare. From the beaches of Normandy to the far reaches of the earth, in my life I have lived millions of lives. I’ve outrun robots and danced with dinosaurs. I’ve faced the faces of fear and fortitude and witnessed great beauty in the making. I’ve kept the company of kings and queens, but I’m no royalty or saint. I’ve traveled, trekked, wandered and roamed, only to find myself right where I belong.”
The script, made specifically for the commercial, captures what everyone loves to think of as the essence of Jeep – exploration, freedom, hardship, toughness, and unity in spite of diversity – and packages it together with photos of war veterans, explorers, and celebrities in a way that perfectly encompasses that essence. At the end of the one-minute, $10 million advertisement, Jeep leaves you with the words, “We don’t make Jeep. You do.” wrapping up a sentimental commercial with an appropriately sentimental conclusion.
The powerful black and white images add to the storytelling effect, giving the impression that they were dusted off just before making the ad, and the faces, both familiar and not, display the varied faces associated with Jeeps, from celebrities (Marilyn Monroe, BB King, Steve McQueen), to soldiers, to explorers and laypeople. References to Terminator and Jurassic Park manifested themselves in the line “I’ve outrun robots and danced with dinosaurs” and an evolution of the Jeep from the original Willys military spec Jeep to the modern Grand Cherokee demonstrated its lasting presence. Whether or not you own a Jeep, you can’t help but feel proud at Jeep’s efforts to showcase the spirit of the brand rather than trying and failing at getting a few cheap laughs.
Though the ad is nostalgic and solemn, I wasn’t able to fully immerse myself in the spirit that the ad was trying to evoke as Jeep’s modern reality re-entered my imagination. While Jeep’s role in the development of 4×4 vehicles was profound and could contend with the likes of Land Rover and Toyota’s Land Cruiser, Jeep’s history after WWII has been marked by constant acquisitions by larger and larger automobile corporations. Jeep changed hands from American Motors Corporation to Chrysler, which later combined with the German Daimler-Benz, and finally, after selling most of its interest to a private equity company, Jeep was again dealt away, this time from DaimlerChrysler to Fiat Chrysler Automobile, the seventh-largest automobile manufacturer in the world.
In short, the humble, hardworking Jeep has been tossed around for most of its lifetime, and although the Jeeps of today may retain most of their off-roading pedigree, the spirit of the Jeep itself has been buried under a pile of mergers and acquisitions; its spiritual shell is all that remains, used as a façade of adventure appreciated only by suburban families on ski trips and people attempting to modify their car beyond the point of recognition or functionality as an outward display of their own ill-perceived superiority.
While Jeep did a great job capturing the romanticized version of its spirit, you can’t help but to feel that the attempt was a bit hollow given Jeep’s current position in the world.