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 you
Into thinking, you're the one
That can do what's never been done
That can win what's never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you
© Bob Dylan
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 bad — 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 stranger to using music celebrities in their commercials. Eminem and Jennifer Lopez have been the subject of successful campaigns. But what did they see in 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.
By the mid-twentieth century, one in every six working Americans was directly or indirectly employed by the automotive industry. Detroit became known as ‘Motor City’.
But by the 1970s, Detroit was in decline. Buffeted by an oil crisis and the rise of international competition from Japanese and German carmakers.
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 buy American again.
Bob Dylan may have his critics, but he’s a worldwide celebrity loved by millions of people. To many, a national treasure.
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 is a narrative designed to convey the value of Detroit’s legacy. The story resonates 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 vision
You can’t fake . . . true cool
You can’t duplicate legacy
Because what Detroit created was a first, and became the inspiration to the rest of the world
Yeah, Detroit made cars, and cars made America
Making the best, making the finest takes conviction
And you can’t import the heart and soul of every man and woman working on the line
You 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 it
Because we believe in the zoom, and the roar and the thrust
And when it’s made here, it’s made with the one thing you can’t import from anywhere else
So let Germany brew your beer
And Switzerland make your watch
Let Asia assemble your phone
We . . . will build your car
The Ad played out over a well known Bob Dylan song called ‘Things Have Changed’.
Exactly the point Chrysler wanted to communicate.
The visuals are strong. But it’s the words that make the impact.
It’s not clear whether Bob Dylan wrote the script. But the script writing oozes the poetical structure and flow that makes Dylan’s writing so revered.