Dylan Pitching Fiat’s Chrysler Stirs Rock Star Sellout Talk

Feb 03, 2014 5:15 pm ET

(Updates with Coca-Cola comment in 18th paragraph.)

Feb. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Bob Dylan’s Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler Group LLC caused an immediate stir on Twitter, as fans debated the musician’s decision to narrate a patriotic spot for the redesigned 200 sedan.

“You can’t fake true cool,” Dylan intoned over images of autoworkers in Detroit, joining Eminem and Clint Eastwood, who appeared in past Chrysler Super Bowl commercials showcasing the U.S. auto industry. “You can’t duplicate legacy.”

Dylan, 72, began trending on Twitter after the commercial ran in the third quarter of yesterday’s game, won by the Seattle Seahawks in a 43-8 blowout of the Denver Broncos. Debates broke out over whether he sold out, whether Chrysler diminished the message by hiring a singer who spoke out against the Vietnam war, and why an Italian company, Chrysler parent Fiat SpA, was doing a patriotic ad. Some voiced support. The game was seen by a record 111.5 million viewers, Fox said.

“He’s someone who has confounded expectations for 50 yrs. Why anyone expects him to embody their squishy idealism is beyond me,” tweeted Seth Mnookin, a Vanity Fair writer who teaches at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At the end of the two-minute homage to American pride, the ad mentions Chrysler’s new 200 sedan, an improved version of the one Eminem pitched in a memorable 2011 Super Bowl ad.

Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of Fiat and of Chrysler, suggested to reporters at the Detroit auto show last month that the car featured in 2011 didn’t measure up to the quality of the ad itself. Fiat said on Jan. 29 the combined company will change its name to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and be based in the Netherlands.

‘Right Car’

With the tagline “Imported from Detroit,” the Eminem ad drew attention to Chrysler’s unfolding recovery and has been viewed more than 16.5 million times on Google Inc.’s YouTube.com.

The car it featured, the 200, was a facelift for a troubled model previously known as the Sebring, and never matched up to Ford Motor Co.’s Fusion, Honda Motor Co.’s Accord or Toyota Motor Corp.’s segment-leading Camry. The new 200, due in showrooms in the first half of the year, is redesigned throughout, improving upon the design, fuel efficiency, technology and performance.

“Somebody made the comment to me that I had the right commercial in 2011 and the wrong car,” Marchionne said in January. “I think we now have hopefully the right commercial and the right car.”

Clint Eastwood

In 2012, Chrysler offered a pep talk by Clint Eastwood and last year ran a black-and-white ode to farmers featuring the Dodge Ram pickup, narrated by the late radio host Paul Harvey. This year’s ad ends with Dylan imploring Americans to buy domestic cars.

“So let Germany brew your beer, let Switzerland make your watch, let Asia assemble your phone,” Dylan says. “We will build your car.”

Some fans on Twitter were disappointed. Some urged him to listen to his old records, with protest songs like “The Times They Are a-Changin.’”

“And you thought #Dylan going electric was his big sell out.......would you buy a used car from this guy?” said one Twitter post.

Chrysler wasn’t the only advertiser generating controversy.

Facebook Comments

Coca-Cola Co. attracted more than 20,000 comments on its Facebook.com page for a spot featuring “America the Beautiful” in multiple languages while showing images of a multicultural country. Some called the ad “beautiful” while others said it was in “poor taste” to feature an anthem like that in other languages and not show immigrants blending in.

“If we cannot be proud enough as a country to sing ‘America the Beautiful’ in English in a commercial during the Super Bowl, by a company as American as they come -- doggone we are on the road to perdition,” former Republican Congressman Allen West wrote on his blog. West, a commentator on Fox news, represented parts of Florida’s Broward and Palm Beach counties.

NBC News also reported that the spot featured the first gay family in a Super Bowl ad, a five-second clip with two male partners and their daughter skating.

“‘It’s Beautiful’ provides a snapshot of the real lives of Americans representing diverse ethnicities, religions, races and families, all found in the United States,” Coca-Cola said today in a e-mailed statement. “All those featured in the ad are Americans and ‘America The Beautiful’ was sung by bilingual American young women.”

Mideast Controversy

SodaStream International Ltd., the Israeli maker of home soda machines, was attracting attention to its Super Bowl marketing before the spot featuring Scarlett Johansson aired.

The Fox network censored the ad by demanding the company delete references to Coke and Pepsi, according to SodaStream. Lou D’Ermilio, senior vice president of communications at Fox Sports in New York, declined to comment.

In addition, Johansson publicly split with Oxfam last week after the U.K.-based charity criticized her role as as a celebrity spokeswoman for the company, which has a factory on the West Bank outside Jerusalem.

Yonah Lloyd, SodaStream’s executive director of corporate development, declined to comment today on either issue. He earlier defended references to Coke and Pepsi as a “legitimate and common form of comparative advertising.”

The complete YouTube.com spot received more than 10 million hits, an increase of 1 million from the day before the game.

“That’s pretty good,” Lloyd said today in a telephone interview. “We popped it up another 10 percent.”

Dylan Ads

Dylan has appeared in ads before. In 2004, he did a promotion for Victoria’s Secret, making good on a 1965 promise to a reporter that if he ever sold out, he’d do it with “ladies’ garments.”

The singer has even appeared in a Super Bowl ad. Clips of Dylan playing “Forever Young” backed a Pepsi commercial with Will.I.Am in 2009. Last night’s game included a spot for Chobani Inc. yogurt that featured “I Want You” as the background music.

The Chrysler ad prompted some customers to take a look at the car, according to Edmunds.com, which tracks online response. Consideration of the Chrysler 200 more than doubled during the ad, while some other carmakers, including Maserati SpA and Kia Motors Corp., showed much bigger reactions.

With 10 auto brands spending millions to win the attention of viewers during Fox’s network telecast of the game, it was inevitable the fight among marketers would spill out from the big screen to small screens, where fans share tweets from celebrities who appeared in commercials or watch instant replays of ads on YouTube.com.

New Models

Kia Motors Corp.’s K900 got the biggest lift in queries at the Edmunds.com website, with a 7,100 percent increase based on the average of the past four Sundays, according to the automotive pricing and data company based in Santa Monica, California. The Ghibli, from Fiat’s Maserati SpA, was second, up 455 percent.

Both carmakers were promoting entirely new models and enjoyed big jumps in queries from a low base, according to Aaron Lewis, an Edmunds spokesman.

Successful Super Bowl ads are enjoying a longer life, thanks to websites like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook Inc. Before the advent of online videos, game-day commercials had a shorter run than a traditional TV campaign. Now they draw audiences for years, as with the Eminem ad and the one Volkswagen AG has with “The Force,” a 2011 ad that’s been seen 59 million times at YouTube.

Whether Dylan delivers in the same way for Chrysler may depend on how he connected to younger viewers.

“Loved the #Dylan #Chrysler ad but how many under age 50 know what an American original he really is?” said a Twitter user, Guy Gordon. “How influential?”

--With assistance from Christopher Palmeri and Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles and Matt Townsend in New York. Editors: Anthony Palazzo, Dave McCombs