Commentary

Born Free: The Jeep Cherokee Edition

This new 60-second commercial reintroduces the born-again Jeep Cherokee with the tagline “Built free.” And just as in the movie “Born Free” with Elsa and her cubs, the spot, called “Manifesto,” is filled with images of birth, newness, and freedom in nature: muddy trails, open skies, little boys swimming, jumping and showing their muscles.

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!

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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’.

14 comments about "Born Free: The Jeep Cherokee Edition".
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  1. Carol Gray from WriteAway, November 6, 2013 at 12:36 p.m.

    No one can wrangle a phrase like BL. Poetry in motion!

  2. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, November 6, 2013 at 12:37 p.m.

    QUOTE
    I ain't lookin' to compete with you
    Beat or cheat or mistreat you
    Simplify you, classify you
    Deny, defy or crucify you

    All I really want to do
    Is, baby, be friends with you

    I ain't lookin' to block you up
    Shock or knock or lock you up
    Analyze you, categorize you
    Finalize you or advertise you

    All I really want to do
    Is, baby, be friends with you

    UNQUOTE

  3. Laurence Bernstein from Protean Strategies, November 6, 2013 at 12:44 p.m.

    A brilliant critique, but it misses the point -- or maybe it is the point. The totality of the ad is brilliant: for a change it takes an insight and weaves it into the car's position as opposed to superimposing it on the position. Viewers are not likely to parse the thing as BL does, but will respond viscerally to the totality, to the triggered remembered emotions and dreams. Everything PB said is right, and the same deconstructive critique could have been made of Apple's 1984. But it wasn't, or if it was, at the very least nobody paid any attention to it.

  4. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, November 6, 2013 at 2:03 p.m.

    In 2008...near the end of the year...i was looking to buy a new car since i no longer would be having a company automobile which i had become used to since 1979. I asked Felix, a driver for a successor to Ding A Ling car service to recommend a new car. He is a emigre from the Soviet Union, Odessa to be precise. He said: "Buy a Chrysler. You get Daimler engineering and Detroit price." So I got a Jeep, the descendant of the fabled European touring vehicle (Car and Driver's Car of the Year in 1944) that helped defeat the Nazis, and it truly has been a fine experience. I can't say this commercial accurately captures the feeling of Jeep Ownership that I have, but that probably is a good sign for the marketing of the current brand.

  5. Kevin Horne from Verizon, November 6, 2013 at 2:09 p.m.

    "someone who looks like a woman with her hair blowing in the wind"...who also looks like she is wearing a priest's collar WTF ?!?....also, in the voiceover they refer to the Jeep as a "tool"...suppose we should be happy that at least they didn't call it a "solution"

  6. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, November 6, 2013 at 2:32 p.m.

    Thanks, everyone. Yes, Kevin, I meant to get to that four letter word, "tool" in the voiceover. Really, WTF? The most awkward terminology ever! BUt then again, I hate mission statement advertising and manifestos.
    Very indulgent-- just play em at sales meetings, not on the air!

  7. Stephen Block from Amazon Partners, November 6, 2013 at 5:22 p.m.

    The commercial does accomplish its basic mission for us 'married with children' folks... thanks to the Dylan track and the beautifully filmed scenes and portraits. Not to underestimate the wonderful edit. The script is on for about 75% of the time, making you think about your life, what you want to do with it, etc, etc. And about 25% of the time, the script and narrator get too pretentious and we are reminded that this is just a Jeep commercial, or perhaps a "Deep Thought," from Jack Handey. This one, I submit, is better than most of the other way over-the-top writing showing up in Chrysler brand advertising.

  8. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, November 6, 2013 at 6:07 p.m.

    also, making fun of that thing that zomboid people typically do at home once they grow up-- oh yeah, watching advertising-- was pretty rich. Ron Popeil is a clown, you say? And the office scenes looked like something out of Office Space mixed with Eraser Head.

  9. George Parker from Parker Consultants, November 6, 2013 at 7:04 p.m.

    Tom & Barbara...
    Don't rub it in about defeating the Nazis. You never know who you're going to run into at "The Four Seasons."
    Cheers/George

  10. Dorothea Marcus from Weichert Realtors, November 7, 2013 at 2:18 a.m.

    From Cannes years ago, I remember a Maxell tape TV spot from the UK (I think), that featured a Dylan song playing, and someone showing cards saying what they thought the lyrics were (with a non-Maxell tape) -- totally off. Maybe the song was Subterranean Homesick Blues? Mama's in the basement, etc.

  11. dave alpert from pmd, November 7, 2013 at 12:35 p.m.

    I'm with Barbara on this. It's a very complex spot and I don't know if it's appropriate for this sell. I'm not really copping to the soundtrack either except for the fact that they're trying to be edgy and maybe appeal to depressed baby boomers. Will people sit up and pay attention? I guess the answer is yes. Will they be more likely to purchase a Jeep? That is anybody's guess.

  12. dave alpert from pmd, November 7, 2013 at 12:38 p.m.

    On re-watching I realized that the spot may also have some legs with Billyburg type 20 and 30 somethings as it suggests "alt" darkness and moodiness.

  13. Jim English from The Met Museum, November 7, 2013 at 10:28 p.m.

    Sorry that Bob Dylan has become so comfortable with that "bitch/goddess." Sorrier still that Bob not bothered by authoritarian chiefs in China by playing his 60s songs for them ... and profiting by it.

  14. dave alpert from pmd, November 8, 2013 at 7:18 a.m.

    Hey, I was as shocked as the rest when Dylan did his Victoria Secret and Cadillac commercials. Have given it alot of thought. Four possible motivations:

    1 - his manager puts these deals together and Dylan does them without really understanding what he is doing (he is a little burnt guys)

    2. He thinks this exposure will extend his reach to younger audience.

    3. It's a goof. Dylan never tired of sticking it to his fans - he's been doing it for years. Likes to annoy them AND keep them guessing and they lap it up - just like I'm doing at this moment!

    4. He needs the money. Dylan has at least 6 kids and had a few secret marriages along the way. Paid alot of $ in divorce settlements.

    Anyway - thanks for bringing this to our attention Barbara. On further consideration - kind of an interesting spot. Worth discussing.

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