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Chrysler, Clint Eastwood, Again Lead Super Bowl Ads

Stocks in this article: F GM

DETROIT MainStreet) -- For the second year in a row it appears Chrysler has the dominant ad of the Super Bowl, passing the role of spokesman from Eminem to Clint Eastwood.

Last year the automaker topped most tabulations of the best Super Bowl ads with its "Made in Detroit," featuring Eminem extolling the city's virtues. The ad is credited with helping Chrysler achieve a 26% sales gain last year. It was so successful, in fact, that initially Chrysler could not keep up with the demand it stimulated.

Its ad featuring Clint Eastwood gave Chrysler another strong year at the Super Bowl.

This year, Chrysler turned to another crusty, tough-talking superstar, Clint Eastwood, who seemed to continue his role from the 2008 movie Gran Torino, which was set in Detroit. Or perhaps we should just say Eastwood played himself, as he has always done.

For us, the former mayor of Carmel, Calif., made a far bigger impression than the animated polar bears selling soft drinks and dogs doing tricks in some other ads. Once again, Chrysler seemed to realize that Super Bowl ads, watched simultaneously by tens of millions of Americans, can come across as being about more than just selling stuff.

Perhaps Chrysler's success is because ever since Alexis de Tocqueville visited in the 1830s, Europeans -- such as those who run Chrysler -- have often seen us more clearly than we see ourselves.

Last year's Eminem ad was the brainchild of Olivier Francois, then Chrysler's CEO and now head of Fiat, who is French. Francois discussed his concept in a 2010 interview with TheStreet.

In this year's ad, placed at halftime, Eastwood talks about how it's also halftime in America, when "people are out of work and they're hurting and they're all wondering what they're going to do to make a comeback. And we're all scared, because this isn't a game."

Next comes a transition to Detroit. "The people of Detroit know a little something about this," Eastwood says. "They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together. Now Motor City is fighting again."

Then, in a few sentences, Eastwood details our problem, basically that "the fog of division, discord and blame made it hard to see what lies ahead." But then he says "we find a way through tough times, and if we can't find a way, then we'll make one." And then he says that "Detroit's showing us it can be done."

In other words, he says, we should take a lesson from a city that toughed it out and emerged stronger after the recession.

Among the other members of the Detroit Three, Ford (F) chose to stay home during the Super Bowl (and its $3.5 million price tag for 30 seconds of exposure). During Ford's sales call last week, Ken Czubay, vice president for U.S. marketing, sales and service, said "Some of our competitors have chosen a very expensive arena."

Actually, Ford found itself unwillingly injected into an ad in which GM (GM) portrayed end-of-the-world destruction, survived by a group of friends who arrived at a meeting place in Chevrolet Silverados. Another friend, who drove a Ford truck, didn't make it.

Ford wrote GM a letter demanding that it not show the ad, but GM declined, and the pre-game dustup generated publicity for both companies. "We can wait until the world ends, and if we need to, we will apologize," said GM's chief marketing officer, Joel Ewanick, in a statement.

We're not alone in thinking "Halftime in America" is a little more compelling than driving to the end of the world in a Silverado. In a Detroit Free Press reader poll, 45% of the 1,321 voters responding by early Monday afternoon had selected "Halftime in America" as the best ad, while the Silverado ad was second with 9% of the voters.

>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

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>To contact the writer of this article, click here: Ted Reed

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