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Jeep’s Super Bowl Ad: The Real Message

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Imagine taking a seat in a shelter that feeds the homeless. A lady walks over with a plate of food and gestures like she’s going to set it down in front of you, when all of a sudden she takes you in her free arm and breaks out into a jingle for Green Giant canned vegetables. She finishes, sets the plate down and walks off. If you’re thinking “What the hell?” then you have some idea how I felt after watching Jeep’s Super Bowl ad.

If you’ve not seen it, it’s posted at the end of this article. If you have seen it and liked it, I have a question for you. There were four main elements to that ad. Without watching it again, can you name them all? I’ll help you. The first three elements were Jeep (the product in the ad), Oprah (who narrated the ad), and the experiences of military families.

Before I married my Marine 22 years ago, I learned from my time as a homeless single mother what it feels like to be served down to by those who insist they’re helping everyone but themselves. I also understand why my peers, both military and civilian, think Jeep was paying tribute to military families. There was, after all, about $3.8 million worth of “Aww” in that ad – a lot of which my husband and kids and I can relate to because we’ve lived it, as have millions of military families. But I’d point out that at the homeless shelter where my kids and I were served, we were not exploited by someone’s effort to sell anything (although not all homeless shelters are so lucky).

Military families are not orphaned waifs whose station in life is such that we should be receptive to and grateful for a specifically-orchestrated morsel of attention. The United States Military is over 200 years old. Chrysler has been around for the last 88 of those years. The military has been at war since 2001. Chrysler-owned Jeep comes out with a two-minute tidbit in 2013 and all of sudden they’re the heroes?

Appropriating an experience one has never had to promote something that has nothing to do with those who have actually had that experience is shameful. If Jeep and Oprah were sincere, those to whom they wished to pay tribute should have been the only ones in that multi-million dollar spot. Instead, the portrayal of military families was used as a Pavlovian catalyst for future Jeep sales. I can’t say if or how much Oprah was paid for her time, but if she did volunteer it’d be the first time she was quiet about it.

Jeep combined the right imagery, music, and voiceover to create the fastest path between heartstrings and purse strings. And good on them; that’s what businesses do. But for anyone to insist that there was more going on in that ad than goes on in a loud and obnoxious mattress commercial is deluded. Yeah, great, last Sunday it was military families. Who will it be next year? I ask because it sure as hell wasn’t military families in any previous year (ad rule #1: never repeat).

The civilians who were reminded of military families by that ad are the same civilians who’d forgotten all about them until last Sunday when they turned on their TVs. Do you really think those people are going to remember military families tomorrow? Hell, you saw the ad. Without watching it again, can you even remember its fourth element?

The fourth element was the USO (United Service Organizations). And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how easy it is for advertisers to get you to remember their product without remembering why.

Come along now, Pavlov. I’ve a treat for you.

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About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.
  • Maskay

    Wow
    As a Chrysler employee, and the spouse of a veteran, I’m pretty insulted.
    Yes, it was an ad. Could have easily done a LOT with the money spent during that time. Choose to honor a spectacluar group of people in this country.
    And no, this is not the only thing Chrysler does. Internally there are numerous volunteer endeavors that employees undertake, including helping at a food bank for an afternoon, cleaning up parks, and mentoring at risk youths in Pontiac’s high schools, to name the ones I know of in my area. I’m sure there are many more, including things done during the holiday season.
    Additionally, the Chrysler Fund donates to many worthy organizations locally and nationwide.
    I’m sorry you think it was just ploy to sell more vehicles, but this is a business. Without selling more vehicles, there would be no money from charities, or employees who organize to help in other ways.

  • Ken

    This rant is unjustified.

    Jeep payed a lot of money to present an ad for the purpose of selling Jeeps. That’s perfectly normal and acceptable. The fact that they also honored our troops in the process is a plus.

  • Igor

    I didn’t see the ad, and I won’t but it seems like this was just an opportunity for a manufacturer to use free actors and props.

  • Doug Hunter-

    I don’t think military families are more worthy or special than any other family. My eyes glaze over when certain jobs, usually govenment oriented, are deemed ‘service’ and posted as somehow superior… they’re jobs just like everyone else has. Your job sucks sometimes, being a mine worker living hundreds of feet underground sucks sometimes, working construction and being exposed to dangers and harsh chemicals on a daily basis suck sometimes, picking berries in the 100 degree heat sucks sometimes… they’re called jobs and everyone has them… let’s not romanticize the military. If Jeep tried to piggyback on this nonsense it completely wiffed on my demographic… I vaguely remember the commercial but tuned out as soon as I saw the content.

    (Before someone asks, yes I am former military myself)

  • Danielle

    Diana,
    I think you need to understand the history of Jeep and it’s relationship with the military to get a better understanding of the commercial. Jeep started as a military vehicle, no other vehicle brand can claim this. The Willys MB Jeep was the first off-road vehicle and this was produced in 1941. This is Jeep’s DNA. The reason the commercial is relevant to the brand. (directed at Doug)

    The commercial serves as a way for the brand to honor it’s fellow soldier, to celebrate soldiers, officers… those who’ve served, a way to say, “Thank You.”

    If you watch the end of the spot, you’ll see that Jeep has a partnership with the USO. If you did more research, you will see that Jeep is donating $300,000 to the USO as well as $250 for every Jeep Wrangler and Patriot sold.

    Deep down, this is advertising and yes, Jeep is trying to sell their vehicle, but every brand has a story and DNA that resonates with consumers. Jeep’s brand started with the military.

    Igor- If you understand anything about production then you’d know that actors get paid and nothing is free.

  • Cindy

    Appropriating an experience one has never had to promote something that has nothing to do with those who have actually had that experience is shameful.

    When I researched the child slavery inherent in our 1st world chocolate products, I learned that the big 3 Cadbury, Nestle, Hershey agreed, via the Harkin-Engel Protocol of 2001, to take action eliminate the worst forms of child slavery. They gave themselves years and they did nothing. They were content to allow children to be used as slaves to get cheap chocolate.

    Now that consumers are, in places such as the UK, demanding slave free chocolate, Cadbury had (last I checked) turned only one chocolate bar (Dairy Milk) over to slave free status. They will not increase the use of slave-free chocolate until markets develops. Yet when a market does appear, by the sweat of activists, Cadbury claims the credit and glorifies itself in a way that makes them seem heroic for “their” efforts.

    All they have done is to refuse fair trade until a market created by protests and information develops that they can sell into and then take the credit for changing the world. Note that they do not turn all their products into fair trade products–that will have to wait until people demand it.

    It’s despicable—the villains with their larger advertising voice are now the heroes.

    But this is no surprise, this is business as usual according to the ethics of Capitalism.

  • http://www.jeep.com/en/operation_safe_return/ bob

    Diana
    I disagree with you as well about this article. I am of the same opinion as Maskay. I am not here to personally attack you or be rude to you. I am just commenting to submit my opinion and present dome facts. I am also an employee of chrysler too.

    First of All, If you knew anything about the history of our military, you would know that Jeeps were used in WW2, The Korean War, and The Vietnam war. Jeep has a long relationship with the military that is why they associate with the troops. They have basically been involved with them since they existed.

    Secondly, if you did the research you would know that Jeep has allied itself with the USO for an new program called “Operation SAFE”. I’m not going to go into the details of what the program does. If you really want to know just go to Jeep’s website. Basically it is a program to help troops returning home. I mean If you are starting a program which is devoted to helping servicemen and women across the country, I would say that that shows a pretty high commitment to the service men and women. I mean here at the headquarters they even put up a massive banner across the building which promotes the Operation SAFE program. If this isn’t commitment to helping the troops then I really don’t know what is, you’ll have to give me an example. I don’t claim to know what troops coming home want. I can’t answer for all of them. My hunch would be that they want to see their families, but the point is that at least Jeep is doing something as opposed to nothing for them.

    Thirdly, this is more of an agreement on what Maskay said. Chrysler DOES contribute a lot of funds to charities within the surrounding communities. I have only worked here about 1 month and I have already volunteered at one of these events, so to say that Chrysler doesn’t help people is both insulting to me and my fellow worker, but is also flat out untrue.

    Finally, you seem to be upset that chrysler ran an ad which honored the troops. I mean who exactly did you want Chrysler to run and add for, The Wall Street banker CEOs? Out of all the groups of people in this country I can’t think of another set of people which deserve a dedication for then our service men and women.

  • Doug Hunter-

    #6

    What kind of idealist are you? Of course companies will not change until you create a market for something. Once they figured yuppie idiots would pay $3 extra for the same thing if they labeled it ‘Fair Trade’ and all they had to do was give the overseas farmer a couple cents extra or fake some paperwork a market was born (plus as you aptly noted, they get to look like the heroes!). Fill markets, that’s what companies do… they’re not harbingers of morality, they just give us what we ask for.

  • Ann

    While I appreciate that the company wanted to raise awareness of the sacrifices that military men and women make to ensure freedom around the world, as a consumer, this commercial did NOT make me want to buy more Jeeps. What would impress me MUCH more AND inspire me to actually purchase a Jeep would be to hear/see that a percentage of every Jeep sold is going to programs that help our Soliders and Vets (many of whom are STILL disproportionately homeless in our country – a shameful fact of defending the freedoms that many of us take for granted).

  • Ann

    OK, Jeep is “donating $300,000 to the USO as well as $250 for every Jeep Wrangler and Patriot sold.” Not to offend any Chrysler employees, that still seems like small change considering that they benefit from their relationship with the military, and allowing the company to operate in a capitalist, democratic society. Are they making a commitment to hire former military? That would be an ideal, win-win way to show their appreciation for our military dollars supporting their business.

  • bob

    Ok Ann

    First of all, if you knew how much it cost to actually manufacture a Jeep you would understand why that is how much is being donated. Chrysler will not run itself out of business to support soldiers, that’s not their job as a company. That would be the dumbest business move ever. How much would be acceptable for them to donate in your mind, all of their profits? I would like to add that no other automotive manufacturer donates ANYTHING to soldiers so I feel like something is better than nothing. Jeep doesn’t have to this at all. They could just keep all the profits to themselves.

    Secondly, You want them to hire former Military, that is also part of Jeep’s “Operation SAFE” campaign also includes hiring former Military personnel. The A in “SAFE”

    Aid For Transition-As we welcome our troops home from deployment, the Jeep®
    brand will assist in their reintegration process through a veteran
    employment initiative as well as a military incentive toward the
    purchase of a Jeep vehicle.

    as a recent hired employee I can tell you that the benefits for working here are very good and any returning veteran will be treated very very well if they chose to work at Chrysler. To add to this point Chrysler is wanting to hire people for positions right now. when I went in I was told that there are currently 150+ engineering positions available within the company at the headquarters alone. The problem is to get a job like that you need a minimum of a Bachelors in Engineering to get a job like that. Most returning Veterans don’t have that degree, but like I said they have also made an initiative to try and hire Veterans. I’m really not sure what all you want from them.