Jeep's Advertising Turns A Corner

Once upon a time, I wrote short reviews of automotive TV commercials and videos for another automotive website.  I had a very simple rating scale: Hate/Not Terrible/Good/Shell-Ferrari.
People seemed to appreciate the scale as well as my POV as the co-owner of a small advertising agency in the middle of New Jersey.  So it seemed logical to revive the series here on Hooniverse.
It’s no secret that I’ve felt the ads from Jeep over the past few years have mostly fallen into the “Hate” category.  The “I live.  I ride.  I am Jeep.” tagline they were using for a while is among the worst I have ever seen.  I don’t even understand it.  I mean, I thought you “rode” a motorcycle and “drove” a car.

It kills me when a big brand/major advertiser does stuff like this because I know that the agency was paid big money to develop the creative, a production company was paid big money to make the spot, and various media outlets were paid big money to run the spot.  And none of that money trickled down to a good cause like the restoration of a certain 1961 Lotus Seven.
So the other day, I was pleasantly surprised to see a Jeep commercial that I did not hate.  In fact, I really liked it.  It’s for the 2011 Grand Cherokee.
To my ears and eyes and experience set, this commercial is so much better than the “I Live” work that, before the spot had even ended, I was wondering if Chrysler had switched agencies.
A quick online search confirmed my suspicions.  Wieden + Kennedy (the agency that put Nike on the map back in the 1980s) is responsible for this commercial as well as some of the recent Dodge work, though it seems like the folks at Global Hue (creator of “I Live” campaign) are somehow still on the Chrysler agency roster.
Creative Challenge: To convince me that the Jeep brand means anything in the wake of products like the Compass and an across-the-board level of driving sophistication that is on par with a Fisher-Price Power Wheels vehicle would be an uphill battle.  Throw in a few too many viewings of the “I Live” spots and it’s pretty much an impossible task.
But I’m happy to report that the team at Wieden + Kennedy has done it.
Concept: While not as nakedly “Our product wasn’t great, but we’ve recently improved it.” as the recent Domino’s Pizza campaign, the new Jeep Grand Cherokee spot hints at that.
It goes a step farther and connects itself to a nostalgic sentiment.  To a time when “Made in America” meant something to a lot more people.  The voiceover invokes the cotton gin, the Colt revolver, and yes, “Jeep four by fours”.  The visuals include a catcher’s mitt, the telegraph, and the friggin’ Empire State Building.  I almost expected to hear “Amazing Grace” in the background…Jeep was lost, but now is found.
I happen to like commercials that admit past failures without dwelling on them, mostly because they instantly ring truer to me than spots  which use expensive footage and co-opted music (I’m looking at you, “I live. I ride. I am Jeep.”).  I know not everyone is a fan of this approach, but I am.  And it seems to be working well enough for Domino’s.
Execution: After grabbing the viewer’s attention with an image and sound of a railroad spike being driven, the front end of the spot consists of a montage of archival or archival-looking footage, coupled with an even, calm voiceover.  The montage transitions into present day about halfway through with a literal flip of a switch.
Here are a few choice lines from the VO: “The things that make us Americans are the things we make.”; “This has always been a nation of builders.  Craftsmen. Men and women for whom straight stitches and clean welds were matters of personal pride.”; “This was once a country where people made things.  Beautiful things.  And so it is again.”
As this last line is delivered, we are shown a beauty shot of the new Grand Cherokee in a grove of trees.
Probably the only thing I found out of place in the entire spot is the exploding bulb at the start of the second half of the commercial.  Perhaps they were going for an interruption similar to that of the sight/sound of the opening railroad spike…but it didn’t really work for me.  Especially because the second half is supposed to be about turning the corner and moving Jeep/America ahead.  A very small blemish on an otherwise perfect commercial.
Casting Judgment: A difficult creative challenge, a simple concept, and near perfect execution add up to a great spot.  Even better than the Dodge work (especially that surreal “Freedom” one), in my opinion, because it feel more true and less like hyperbolic marketing.
And so, I really have no choice but to give W+K and Jeep my highest rating.
RATING (on the “Hate/Not Terrible/Good/Shell-Ferrari” scale): Shell-Ferrari
POSTSCRIPT: This morning, I caught the Corvette “We build rockets.” commercial on TV.  At first I thought it was the next installment of the Jeep campaign…similar retro imagery contrasted with modern car footage.  I have to say that I think the Corvette spot is a lot more chest-thumping braggadocio than the Jeep one.  And apparently, that clever concept is a total ripoff of a Chrysler group spot from last year that ended with the super “We build rockets.”  10 demerits for GM.

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  1. Tim Odell Avatar
    Tim Odell

    Do not show this to engineers unless you want to see a choked up engineer.
    Agreed on the exploding lightbulb thing. I understand they wanted to make a sharp transition, but as executed it just looks like a sei-random flashbang.

  2. Astigmatism Avatar

    A bit jingoistic for a car that’s how much German underneath?

  3. Seth L Avatar
    Seth L

    Can I just kick the "Iliveirideiam" commercial once more? Because it took me a long time to recognize the auto-tuned voice was singing "iliveirideiam" over and over, and it was really irritating. I hope those spots are gone for good.

  4. Al Navarro Avatar
    Al Navarro

    Here's the thing, it's not. That piece of genius will never be topped.
    But on my scale, in my opinion, this Jeep spot was better than good…and that left only one choice. Perhaps if we think of the Shell-Ferrari rating as an "A", with room for A-minuses and A-pluses in there.