Chrysler’s ‘Halftime in America’ Spot Touches a Chord

Among a sea of memorable commercials aired during the Super Bowl, many of them with a sense of humor or a nostalgia for times passed, Chrysler aired a two-minute spot during halftime that was obviously, and perhaps powerfully, contemporary, and serious.

The commercial, narrated by the unforgettable graveled drawl of film icon Clint Eastwood, spoke about how it wasn’t only halftime in the game, but “halftime in America.” As Eastwood spoke, the spot showed images that harkened to the public consciousness of the American people in the last few years of economic hardship. “People are out of work and they’re hurting,” said Eastwood, “And they’re all wondering what they’re going to do to make a comeback.”

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The commercial specifically went on to spotlight the people of Detroit, who supposedly have the “answers” for which the nation has been looking.  When the rest of the country was devastated by the collapse in 2008, Detroit and most of Michigan had already been enduring hard times for many years. The recession during that period made things much worse, especially after both General Motors (NYSE:GM) and Chrysler LLC were plunged into bankruptcy.

Nevertheless, the region has seen an impressive return; after being the recipients of a government bailout, Chrysler and GM both bounced back. In fact, GM has again returned to prominence as the world’s leading car manufacturer — dethroning Toyota Motor Company (NYSE:TM).  More importantly, with the increased hiring, the area’s jobless rate, which had reached heights of almost 17 percent in the summer of 2009, is now at about 9.7 percent (which, it should be noted, is still above the national average of 8.3 percent).  According to Bloomberg, Michigan had the second-best ranking in its economic evaluation of all states (second only to North Dakota). “They almost lost everything…now Motor City is fighting again,” praised Eastwood in the commercial.

The commercial was ostensibly apolitical, and even acommercial, as it only touched on Chrysler’s actual automobiles in a few brief images. Competitor GM, though a leading contributor to Detroit’s turnaround, was not referenced, though GM themselves mentioned Dearborn-based Ford (NYSE:F) during an earlier, 2012/apocalypse-themed spot that insinuated that someone didn’t survive an apocalypse because he drove a Ford truck. GM is expected to report that its 2011 net income jumped 70% to a record $8 billion when it releases its results in ten days time, according to the Wall Street Journal.

However, the commercial did contain some blatant political subtext. The bailouts of GM and Chrysler were a major part of President Obama’s recovery package. The success of the bailouts, with GM’s resurgence and Chrysler now stewarded by majority owner Fiat, could very well be hailed by the Obama camp in the president’s bid for re-election. Eastwood is a former mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, and his 2009 film “Gran Torino” was set and shot in Detroit, its main character a former auto worker who owned the eponymous Ford automobile. In a seeming reference to the current political situation, Eastwood  described “the fog of division, discord and blame” through which America is now trying to navigate.

The piece closed with Eastwood optimistically stating, “and our (America’s) second half is about to begin.”  The average cost for a thirty-second Super Bowl spot was $3.5 million; the cost of running the two-minute spot has not been disclosed.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan Morris at staff.writers@wallstcheatsheet.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Damien Hoffman at editors@wallstcheatsheet.com