The Boss finds the Middle in his first-ever TV commercial
DETROIT — Bruce Springsteen was one of the last music legends to agree to do a commercial, but he’s been active in presidential politics for decades.
And the 2021 call for “unity” hasn’t been going very well, so when Olivier François, chief marketing officer for Stellantis, the global company that includes Chrysler and Jeep, offered Springsteen the right script with the right message, Springsteen reflexively said, “Let’s do it.”
François, of course, had been courting the Boss for years, and every time Springsteen said “no,’’ François made another memorable Super Bowl ad with another star, including:
- 2011, when Eminem shocked the world with his “Imported from Detroit,’’ Super Bowl ad paying homage to the kind of blue-collar tough places Springsteen has been singing about all his life.
- 2021, when Clint Eastwood became the star of a powerful “It’s half-time America,’’ call to bring America back. Again, it was a political message that would have been perfect for the Boss.
What most Americans don’t know about Springsteen…
What few Americans know about Bruce Springsteen is he grew up across from a Catholic Church. His music is filled with Catholic themes.
While he’s never struck most people as particularly religious, Springsteen spoke movingly in his Broadway show about the neighbors.
He’d describe that working-class neighborhood in Freehold, New Jersey, where he routinely saw the rhythm of life passing through that church: “an eternal parade of baptisms, weddings, and funerals.”
“You get more spiritual as you grow older,” he told the Times of London. “You’re closer to the other world, so maybe that has something to do with it … I do still find myself drawn to the Catholic Church. I visit my small church quite often … I continue to feel the Catholic Church’s imprint on me rather strongly.”
The offer Springsteen couldn’t refuse: Combining spirituality, politics — and the great American culture
François finally found the offer Springsteen couldn’t refuse, a beautiful, almost poetic ad called “The Middle,’’ the perfect message to win over the Boss.
Southfield, Michigan-based advertising agency Doner bills itself as the agency “Where Main Street brands come to compete in the Modern marketplace and where Modern brands come to connect with everyday Americans.”
So they speak Springsteen’s language, the same working-class language spoken by most of the 75 million “Deplorables” who voted for Donald Trump. Doner executive creative director Michael Stelmaszek wrote the script. The message won over Springsteen quickly.
They tapped Thom Zimny, a longtime Springsteen collaborator, who worked on Springsteen’s 2020 documentary, “Letter to You.” Once Springsteen was in, he was all in, reviewing and contributing to every frame of the “two-minute film.”
“We wanted a spiritual experience from the first note to the last wave of Bruce’s hand as his Jeep pulls away,” François told AdAge. “When Bruce gives you his voice and his words, he doesn’t want people to be distracted by any music, not even his.”
Rather than a blatant ad for new Jeep models or even for this year’s 80th anniversary of the Jeep, we see Springsteen driving his own 41-year-old Jeep, a white 1980 C-5.
The other “star” of the film is a church, the tiny U.S. Center Chapel, a wooden “worship” house at the lower 48 states' geographic center, literally a church sitting in the middle and center of America.
Springsteen, driving through the snowy Kansas roads, tells us this church in Lebanon, Kansas, is “standing on the exact center of the lower 48. It never closes. All are more than welcome.”
Yes, there is division across the nation and even within the Church over a host of issues. Still, Springsteen focuses on true common ground, things nearly all (at least in the middle) agree upon, including the old church spiritual promising that “All are welcome in this place.”
Trying to be in the center is hard in our divided world, Springsteen tells us, “a hard place to get to lately — between red and blue, between servant and citizen, between our freedom and our fear.”
Instead of just hawking new Jeeps, we see Springsteen’s 1980 Jeep CJ-5 and a 1965 Willys Jeep CJ-5 and classic American scenes like the rushing water of Golden, Colorado, a Chuck Wagon Restaurant near Denver; and the rural backdrop of Hastings, Nebraska.
“Fear has never been the best of who we are,” Springsteen says in the ad. “We just have to remember the very soil we stand on is common ground. So we can get there. We can make it to the mountaintop, through the desert …and we will cross this divide.”
At the close, we return to the tiny church in Kansas and see Springsteen lighting a candle saying, “our light has always found its way through the darkness.”
Springsteen’s music has always focused on our culture — and cars
Even before the East Coast Springsteen was much of a driver, he was part of the generation of Americans that loved — and sang about — its cars.
He became a star with 1975’s Thunder Road, telling us not to, “Waste your summer praying in vain for a savior to rise from these streets. Well, now I’m no hero. That’s understood. All the redemption I can offer, girl, is beneath this dirty hood.”
A decade later, Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca offered Springsteen a fortune for his 1984 classic, “Born in the USA,’’ whose mantra went hand-in-hand with Iacocca’s entire marketing campaign. Springsteen wouldn’t commercialize his songs.
But he wrote the music that plays in the background of this 2021 “film,” and he posted the Super Bowl ad on his website, brucespringsteen.net. The ad is already being compared to “a prayer for America,” one of the most spiritual car ads in recent memory, recognizing that we disagree on much. Still, there are some areas of common ground where we can come together.
Springsteen knows this ad, other than his 2009 Super Bowl half time performance, may prove to be his most-watched work. Before it even aired on TV, the version on Jeep’s YouTube channel already had more than 10 million views (so far).