After Jeep secured Bruce Springsteen for a Super Bowl ad, the brand and its marketing leader, Olivier Francois, seemed poised for another big game hit, following on a successful run of celeb-studded spots that have included Clint Eastwood, Eminem and Bill Murray.
But instead of taking a victory lap after landing the Boss, the brand is now detouring as it deals with fallout from reports of Springsteen’s DWI. Jeep acted quickly to pull the spot from YouTube on Wednesday in wake of reports that Springsteen was arrested Nov. 14 at Gateway National Recreation Area in Sandy Hook, N.J., and charged with DWI, reckless driving and consuming alcohol in a closed area.
The incident puts a damper on the much-hyped ad. But it will likely result in short-term embarrassment for the brand rather than long-term harm, especially since Jeep moved quickly to take the ad down, according to brand communications experts.
“As a car company, you can’t be seen in any way supporting driving under the influence,” says Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University who studies Super Bowl ads.
“If Jeep wasn’t aware of [of the DWI], that is a miss,” he says. “They should have been aware that that was floating out there before they made him the star of a huge Super Bowl ad. If nothing else, his team should have brought that up and the Jeep team should have asked — is there anything that happened in the past few months that we need to be aware of?”
Asked on Wednesday if Jeep knew about the incident, the brand issued a statement that signaled it came as a surprise: “It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the details of a matter we have only read about and we cannot substantiate. But it’s also right that we pause our Big Game commercial until the actual facts can be established. Its message of community and unity is as relevant as ever. As is the message that drinking and driving can never be condoned.”
The spot, which was filmed in late January, came after Francois, chief marketing officer of Jeep-owner Stellantis, spent many years lobbying The Boss to appear in an ad. He finally broke through, securing approval earlier this year from Springsteen’s longtime manager and confidante, Jon Landau, a critical player in the rock icon’s inner circle. Now Francois, who has long put big-name stars in ads, is left dealing with the prospect that his biggest get was also his shortest one.