After driving “Thunder Road” for decades, Bruce Springsteen is taking a detour on Madison Avenue.
The musician known as “The Boss” will command two minutes of commercial time in Super Bowl LV Sunday night, all part of a mammoth Jeep ad meant to reflect a national mood of coming together after four years of politics and polarization. The spot does something else, too: It ends a decade-long quest by one of the industry’s most colorful marketing executives to convince the iconic artist behind stirring songs like “Born in the U.S.A.,” “Growing Up” and “The Rising” to do something he has never done before — align himself with an advertiser.
The commercial is designed to spur viewers to mend the various rifts that have erupted in the nation in recent years. “We just have to remember the very soil we stand on is common ground,” Springsteen says as he holds forth from a small chapel in Lebanon, Kansas, with his own 1980 Jeep CJ-5 in the picture. He adds: “Our light has always found its way through the darkness. And there’s hope up on the road ahead.” The ad ends with the tagline, “To The ReUnited States of America.” Springsteen and producer Ron Aniello scored the ad with original music that ends with a lilting violin.
The ad is inspiring, to be sure, but also certain to raise eyebrows. Springsteen is not known for taking part in commercials. Indeed, the only example one Springsteen expert could find is of the artist jokingly reading a promotion for wine while visiting Philadelphia radio station WMMR in 1974 before his landmark album, “Born To Run,” became a cultural phenomenon. “Since that moment, I don’t think he’s ever endorsed a commercial or a product,” says Louis Masur, a professor of American studies and history at New Jersey’s Rutgers University who teaches a course called “Springsteen’s American Vision.”
Meanwhile, executives at Stellantis, the large automaker behind Jeep, had no idea the commercial would even be made until a few weeks ago. Springsteen only agreed to do it after the start of 2021. It was filmed on location just last Sunday.
“This is the triumph of perseverance and stubbornness,” says Olivier Francois, chief marketing officer of Stellantis, in an interview. The executive says he has spent the past ten years suggesting potential ideas and concepts to Springsteen’s longtime manager, Jon Landau. “Bruce is not for sale. He’s not even for rent,” says Francois. “He certainly doesn’t need anything you think you have.”
Stellantis, however, may need Springsteen. Fewer automobile advertisers are showing up on Super Bowl Sunday this year, owing in part to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. One rival, General Motors, will come to Game Day fully loaded. The auto giant is running two commercials meant to burnish its new move into the production of electric vehicles and Will Ferrell, Kenan Thompson and Awkwafina are among those along for the ride.
Created by a merger between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Groupe PSA last month, Stellantis had originally purchased two 60-second slots for other commercials already created for the Super Bowl. So when Francois realized he had a short Springsteen film ready to go, he rushed to CBS, the network showing the game on Sunday, and asked if he could combine his purchases to show a single, long-form ad. Because arranging a Super Bowl ad roster can often be as complex as a top coach’s book of defensive maneuvers, Jeep considered a 90-second cut for its Springsteen ad. But Francois says he felt some other commercial showing up after Springsteen’s stirring oratory would ruin the ad’s effect on viewers, and so he pressed to have the new Jeep ad take up an entire break.
Springsteen has long sung of a “’69 Chevy with a 396,” of a Cadillac that is “long and dark, shiny and black,” and of the “crushed…