THE GOOD, THE AD AND THE UGLY
By Luke Jerod Kummer and Erik Hayden Tuesday, February 7, 2012
WASHINGTON — Chrysler’s chief executive is insisting his company’s Super Bowl ad starring Clint Eastwood has “zero political content,” even though members of the advertising team that created the spot have ties to President Obama.
Democrats, including the White House, cheered “Halftime in America” and its upbeat message in which Eastwood offers the auto industry comeback as proof of America’s resilience. Many Republicans, though, panned it, calling it payback for the government bailout Chrysler received in 2008. And Eastwood confirmed CEO Sergio Marchionne’s contention that the ad was not an endorsement of any candidate.
“We are as apolitical as you can make us,” Marchionne said in a radio interview in Detroit yesterday. “I wasn’t expressing a view and certainly nobody inside Chrysler was attempting to influence decisions.”
Eastwood echoed Marchionne’s comments.
“I am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama,” Eastwood told Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor.” “It was meant to be a message ... just about job growth and the spirit of America. I think all politicians will agree with it.”
Still, the advertising agency that created the commercial — Wieden + Kennedy — has members who have designed Obama campaign items or who have worked on behalf of Democratic causes.
The creative minds behind the ad are in the agency’s Portland, Ore., branch. Aaron Allen designed a poster for the 2008 Obama campaign
and Jimm Lasser designed a basketball sneaker called the “Obama Force One,” with an image of the president on the soles and the message “A Black Man Runs and a Nation Is Behind Him.”
Lasser displayed the shoe in a 2008 gallery exhibition with the tagline “The Dunk on McCain.”
Elsewhere at Wieden + Kennedy, which has Kraft and Coca-Cola on its client list, global public relations director Joani Wardwell worked in the press office of the Clinton White House. She started as a grassroots organizer for Democratic causes in the early 1990s and continues to do political consulting
“I’ve managed to always keep my toe dipped in the water that way,” she said in 2009.
The Wieden + Kennedy spot set itself apart in two ways: its length — two minutes, compared with the standard 30 seconds — and its powerful message.
“Detroit’s showing us it can be done,” Eastwood tells the audience. “And, what’s true about them is true about all of us ... This country can’t be knocked out with one punch.”
American carmakers have seen better times since receiving taxpayer funds. Collectively, Chrysler, General Motors and Ford sold slightly more than 6 million vehicles last year, a 15 percent increase over 2010. However, taxpayers will never recover about $20 billion of the $80 billion spent on the bailout, according to a recent government report.
Obama has increasingly highlighted his role in keeping the auto industry alive after many analysts believed it — and the millions of jobs it supports — was on its last legs. The president frequently brings up Detroit as an achievement on the campaign trail and made it a centerpiece of his State of the Union address.
It was no surprise, then, that the ad was a hit with the West Wing, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer tweeting: “Saving the America auto industry: Something Eminem and Clint Eastwood can agree on.”
A top Republican had a far different take.
Karl Rove, the former adviser to President George W. Bush, told Fox News yesterday he was “frankly offended” by the commercial and called it an example of “Chicago-style politics” in which the president and “his political minions” were being repaid by Chrysler for the taxpayer money the company received.
But not every Republican thinks there’s such a clear-cut relationship.
“It’s only natural that people ask that question given how much this dovetails with the president’s own re-election narrative,” said Bruce Haynes, a GOP media strategist.
Haynes, though, dismissed the notion there was any active coordination, adding, “I think that it’s a bit of stretch to suggest that an agency in Portland did an ad about a car company in Detroit that’s owned by Fiat in Italy to fulfill the wills and aims of the White House in Washington.”