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Three Super Bowl Concerns About JEEP, Bruce Springsteen and Kansas Churches
Aaron Perlut | Partner

As has become the custom, in the shadow of Sunday’s Super Bowl LV, there has been quite a bit of conversation about the advertising (although I firmly believe most brands are simply mailing it in these days).

In particular, what was perhaps my favorite commercial has created quite the uproar: Jeep’s “The Middle” featuring legendary music icon Bruce Springsteen.

It was the first commercial “The Boss” has ever appeared in, and the immensely long two-minute opus made a surprising call for national unity. It featured a diminutive historic church — allegedly open to anyone, 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year — located in the exact middle of the lower 48 in Lebanon, Kansas. Get it? Middle?

Regardless, what I loved most about it was that the commercial never mentioned cars nor Jeeps nor SUVs. Sure, it showed Springsteen driving and standing near an iconic 1980 Jeep CJ-5 and a 1965 Willys Jeep CJ-5. But there was no discussion about the “immense off-road capabilities of the world’s greatest line of SUVs” and yadda, yadda, yadda.

It was one of those movement ads, working to position the Jeep brand as one more interested in healing a politically divided nation into a ReUnited States by finding commonality in the middle, both literally and figuratively.

“It’s no secret,” Springsteen says. “The middle has been a hard place to get to lately. Between red and blue. Between servant and citizen. Between our freedom and our fear. Now, fear has never been the best of who we are. And as for freedom, it’s not the property of just the fortunate few; it belongs to us all.”

As much as I love the ad — and as much as I am admittedly a diehard Springsteen fan — there were things I did not like at all about it:

  1. The Face: The choice of Springsteen was peculiar. Yes, he’s an icon and us old geezers love him. But he’s been rather vocal about his liberal views in recent years. In my opinion, they would have been better served to go with, for example, someone like Blake Shelton. He is beloved amongst younger and middle-age consumers and has not been outspoken about political issues, yet he still has that salt-of-the-earth quality they sought to achieve through Springsteen’s persona.
  2. The Church: Kansas and Christian tolerance are not often synonymous, largely due to the state’s political culture and religious beacons of hate such as Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka. And yet, Springsteen speaks of all being everyone and anyone being “more than welcome” to meet at this U.S. Center Church. But that’s not the message many viewers took away from the ad. One person wrote on my Facebook page, “The ad played to their audience, but it said to me ‘this is a Christian country and you’re not welcome.” Another person person wrote, “I thought it was going to be an ad for a new mega church. The Christian symbols were over the top for my taste. There was no diversity that I noticed. The words said meet in the middle but the visuals did not.”
  3. Authentically Inauthentic: Sure, Springsteen’s “Nebraska” record is legendary and he has been singing and writing about the west in recent years, as evidenced by one of his latest records (and accompanying film) entitled “Western Stars.” But in the end, he’s just a guy from New Jersey who pulled himself up by his bootstraps and became a rock and roll legend. I’d feel similarly about Marilyn Manson owning a fine tuxedo line or Gwen Stefani trying to be a human being.

Ultimately, these concerns are highly subjective. Ask 10 people what they think and you’ll find 10 different perspectives. After the ad ran, conservatives were crowing that Jeep just alienated them while liberals were pained that one of their movement’s spokespeople is speaking of compromise.

More than anything, I applaud Jeep for being bold, willing to disrupt and making a statement that the brand is going to stand for something.

Let the debates rage!

 

Aaron Perlut

Aaron Perlut is a cofounding partner of Elasticity with some 25 years of diverse experience in journalism, public relations and digital marketing. He is a former senior reputation management counselor at Omnicom company FleishmanHillard, as well as a communications executive for two of the nation's largest energy companies. Throughout his career, Perlut has counseled a range of organizations – Fortune 500s, state governments, professional sports franchises, economic development authorities, well-funded startups and large non-profits – helping manage reputation and market brands across a diverse channels in an evolving media environment.

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