SAN FRANCISCO – Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne was intimately involved in the creation of the “Born of Fire” ad the automaker ran during the third quarter of the Super Bowl.
Marchionne helped conceive the idea for the 2-minute commercial “from the inception of it to the making of it, to how to make the story, to the words, and the imagery,” said Saad Chehab, head of group advertising for Chrysler.
The ad is as much about the rebirth of a city – Detroit – that was given up for dead and its parallel – a company that almost died less than two years ago.
“It matches our story, which is Chrysler and Detroit,” said Chehab, 43, who was hired from Ford Motor Co. by Marchionne after a chat over a cup of coffee turned into a passionate five-hour exchange of ideas. That was in July 2009, just a month after Chrysler emerged from bankruptcy.
The ad was shot in Detroit and made entirely with local actors, including a church choir and a young ice skater.
As the camera pans to Detroit's gritty industrial landscape, a male voice intones: “What does a city that's been to hell and back know about luxury. More than most.”
Accompanied by a slowly pulsing rhythm track, the camera shows scenes from around the city, including the Spirit of Detroit statue at Detroit's city hall and the Diego Rivera auto industry murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
'What we do'
As the spot climaxes, Detroit rapper Eminem drives a 200 up to the showplace Fox Theater downtown, gets out of the car, walks into the theater and onto the stage. Pointing at the camera, he intones: “This is the Motor City, and this is what we do.”
The ad is meant to show that “you no longer have to cross oceans to get what you can have from these shores,” Chehab said.
Eminem, whose struggles with drugs and his turbulent personal life have been tabloid fodder in recent years, was the perfect character because “he is a local export” who "symbolizes the city's history, stumble and recovery. It matches our story, which is Chrysler and Detroit," Chehab said.
The spot was made by the Portland, Oregon-based ad agency Wieden + Kennedy, the same ad that created Dodge's “Man's Last Stand” commercial last year.
'Awesome piece of art'
The ad launches the Chrysler brand's new slogan - “Imported from Detroit.”
Chehab said 30- and 60-second cuts of the ad will now be aired regularly on a variety of national television programs.
“This ad will continue for the foreseeable future,” said Chehab, who came to San Francisco to show Chrysler dealers the commercial during the Chrysler NADA franchise meeting. The commercial drew a standing ovation.
Dealer reactions were mostly positive.
“I cried and then I cheered. It's a powerful, moving awesome piece of art,” said David Kelleher, owner of David Dodge Chrysler Jeep in Glen Mills, Pa., near Philadelphia and a member of the National Dealer Council.
Sid DeBoer, chairman of Lithia Group, which owns 23 Chrysler dealerships, described the commercial as: “Brilliant. Game changing. People teared up. It was powerful.”
But Bill Kelly, president of Kelly Cars Chrysler Jeep Ram Dodge in Moon Township, Pa., wished the commercial had shown more of the car's attributes: “While I appreciate the points about the revitalization of the American car industry, which is remarkable and great for our country, I think Chrysler should have focused on the 200 and it's features. It is a terrific vehicle," Kelly said.
"Chrysler doesn't need to tell the country about the rebirth of the automobile industry in America. The American press can do that. Chrysler missed a great opportunity to launch a very important vehicle to a 100 million-plus audience.”
Chrysler is also preparing its ad campaign for the 200's big brother, the 300 sedan, due in dealerships in March. Chehab said the 300 commercials would start running “as soon as there's critical mass in dealerships.”