Why Chrysler's Eminem Commercial Confused Viewers but Scored Anyway

Last Updated Feb 14, 2011 2:24 PM EST

Chrysler's Eminem commercial is the big winner in the Super Bowl armchair ad-critic postgame analysis. Unfortunately, it turns out that a huge number of viewers actually had no idea what it was about. What explains this massive disconnect? How can 4.5 million YouTube views (and counting) be... misguided?
Blame both the digital divide and the country's overall demographics. After the Super Bowl, I got an email from a PR firm doing work for a company called PSCars.com, which had conducted a "Super Bowl Ad Brand Survey." What grabbed me was that of 2,000 car buyers surveyed, 76 percent of men and women were "confused" by the Chrysler Eminem spot:


Not about the car, too much money, yada, yada, yada...
I checked with Evan Sneider of Red Rooster PR, who explained that he had followed up with "a majority of the respondents" and learned that they didn't get it because the ad was about Detroit's comeback rather than the Chrysler 200. They also said that Eminem made no sense in that car and that the $6 million Chrysler spent on the ad was excessive after the taxpayer bailout. Oh, and a lot of folks got bored at the beginning and stopped paying attention to the relatively long commercial.

Of course, Chrysler's YouTube channel is picking up 500,000 new views for the ad every day, so there's something far more engaged going on with the remaining 24 percent of PSCars respondents -- who were apparently so unconfused by the spot that they and their fellows have caused the thing not just to go viral but to become something of a rallying point for the beleaguered city of Detroit and America more generally.

Chrysler's unlikely connection with elite influencers

Before the bailout and bankruptcy of 2009, Chrysler was both noted for its distinctive car designs and considered the true basket case of Detroit carmakers. For all practical purposes, since it was taken over by Fiat, it hasn't just been off the radar -- it's been off the planet. In fact, it's been AWOL for so long now that its Hail Mary pass at the Super Bowl has effectively reintroduced it to the market as a whole new brand.

This coincided with Detroit becoming something of an art project for smart people. This cadre is sophisticated and urban and doesn't like the idea of a whole U.S. city decaying into oblivion. It also has a soft spot for industrial nostalgia, even as it embraces the iPhone economy.

Chrysler goes from clever to inspirational

This demographic always responds favorably to the work done by the Portland ad agency Wieden + Kennedy. But even W+K upped its game for the Big Game. Last year, it built buzz around Chrysler's Dodge brand, with a patriotic witty, in-your-face ad that focused on "a couple of things America got right: cars... and freedom." That spot also picked up hundreds of thousands of YouTube views and breathed some life in the neo-muscle cars, Charger and Challenger, that were pretty much the only cool rides Chrysler was selling.

Clearly, what matters to Chrysler now isn't winning over the masses. Rather, it wants to start over, released from the clutches of its former master, the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. An IPO will eventually be in order. The competition has bigger plans: Ford wants increase its status as an international brand and General Motors wants to be a major player in Asia. Chrysler just wants to stand for America and its economic comeback.

Related: Chrysler badge image via Flickr user MiK, CC 2.0
  • Matthew DeBord

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