But there’s also a very weird undercurrent. Adulthood happens, and it all gets sinister. “People told you things,” the youthful-sounding announcer says. “Where to go. What to do. What not to do. Little by little, the world started to feel smaller."
“Only -- it isn’t,” he then reassures us, after we’ve seen some drab interiors contrasted with the openness of nature. “You’re still here. And you’re still you. The horizons haven’t gone anywhere.”
OK, that’s poetic. Cause now, with the help of a new Jeep Cherokee, we’re off-roading, baby!
Of course, the promise of being reborn, ridding ourselves of grown-up existential angst and being free, is hardly a novel theme for a car commercial. Both Toyota and VW have used the same claim in ads.
In fairness, though, this is selling a rugged off-road vehicle. And the spot is trying to be high-toned and real; the announcer is earnest and the film is scratched.
But let’s go back to the odd and the bleak, starting with the music. Bizarrely, in a spot so filled with water, birth metaphors, and the idea of reinvention, the song is about… dead mothers? The lyrics are about the saddest, most mournful thing I’ve ever heard, about motherless children having a hard time, and a hard road, when their mother is gone.
It’s an old blues dirge, originally recorded in 1927 by Blind Willie Johnson, and later captured on tape in 1962 by the bard of despair himself, Bob Dylan.
Even though Dylan is no ad virgin (more on this later), it’s still a coup to use his music. His primal wail on the track made me look up and pay attention to the screen.
Still, did any of the creatives at Wieden & Kennedy ever think, ”Since we’re rebirthing a car and the owner, maybe we should leave the dead mother thing alone?”
I’m not shocked by the commercialization of Dylan. “Selling out,” as a phrase, had become moot by the 1980s. Au contraire, with so few outlets for indie bands on air, these days some of the best music around is introduced by car commercials. (Or in spots for Apple, or Target.)
And Dylan himself has one weird history interacting with that bitch/goddess, advertising. During a 1965 press conference in San Francisco, a reporter asked the then-24-year-old Dylan, “If you were going to sell out to a commercial interest, which one would you choose?” Dylan promptly responded, “Ladies’ undergarments.”
His dream came true in 2004, when his music was used in a Victoria’s Secret commercial, set in an empty palazzo in Venice. The countercultural artist also appeared in the spot, a lone gargoyle in a hat and guyliner lurking in the corner, leering at the young lingerie models. It was not pretty.
Here’s another question, speaking of internal contradictions: It’s 2013, and Chrysler/Dodge is now known for its breakthrough creative. Obviously, with all these giant graphic images of isolated eyeballs and blood cells on the screen, and the shot of a dude jumping off a mountain, the spot is trying to be young and edgy. But can’t we get past the Levi’s/Mountain Dew approach of focusing on white teen boys in nature to show freedom? About 45 seconds in, for a split second, we see a shot of an African-American guy at the wheel. There’s also a very brief shot of someone who looks like a woman with her hair blowing in the wind.
That reminds me of Bob again. The answer, my friends, is that by focusing on white boys alone, this is a spot at odds with itself, and its message of “Built Free.” Because the times, they are a changin’.