It was one of Super Bowl Sunday’s most talked-about ads: a solemn two-minute Jeep epic where Bruce Springsteen pleaded for a divided America to find common ground. Just days later, as the auto manufacturer responded to news that Springsteen was charged with a DWI in November, the commercial, titled “The Middle,” disappeared from Jeep’s social media channels.
Consumers might welcome the effective action as marketers feel growing pressure to cut ties with troubling ambassadors and reckon with their troubled histories. The relationship with a DWI probably amplified the urge to act for an automotive brand.
A loss for Jeep, which likely spent millions on the campaign and managed to score a coup in signing Springsteen, who had not previously appeared in a commercial, is still chalked up by moving to damage control mode. In recent times, online discussion about Springsteen has outpaced that, according to a Brandwatch analysis shared with Marketing Dive, around the ad itself, throwing cold water on any momentum the effort could have come from the big game.
A lack of clarity as to the details of the arrest of Springsteen at the same time raises the issue of whether Jeep acted too quickly. Some experts moved further, speculating that Jeep’s move to nix “The Middle” could be one of convenience from platforms such as YouTube, where it accumulated more than 35 million hits.
For marketers during the pandemic, moving quickly to address a problem is top of the agenda. Last-minute cancellations have been made common by the health crisis while raising consumer sensitivities to what would otherwise be innocuous imagery and messaging. The effect of walking on eggshells helps explain why some brands sat out this year’s Super Bowl, while others played it safe to the point where advertisements felt tonally disconnected from reality.
The failure of Springsteen to disclose the November incident or Jeep’s to correctly vet the musician would be a noteworthy oversight for the Jeep brand, but not necessarily damning.
What is evident is that “The Middle” was not universally well-received, although in wading into the political sphere, Jeep probably girded itself for a divisive response. The spot was one of the few to tackle the national climate at the Super Bowl, and drew decidedly mixed reviews. The presence of Springsteen, a vehement critic of former President Donald Trump, put off the right-leaning camps, while more progressive viewers found the concept of the middle nebulous or even offensive.
What’s next here?
The maneuver provides the brand an opportunity to tweak strategy and refine messaging in a way that is potentially more resonant and attractive, regardless of Jeep’s motives for pulling the ad.
Jeep released a second digital ad after the Super Bowl as part of the campaign that does not feature Springsteen, called “The Road Ahead.” The 90-second spot is more focused on the products and heritage of Jeep than “The Middle.” At press time, it had over 16 million YouTube hits.
TMZ reported that Springsteen, who was allegedly supportive throughout his arrest, is set to face trial within the next few weeks. In the marketing world, that can be a modest eternity, but while the demand for quick responses has not made the job of brands easier, it also means that interest in the controversy may not linger.