“Halftime in America:” Communicating a Comeback

13 Feb

An American Voice

The Super Bowl just screams “America:” the juxtaposition of competition and camaraderie, the emphasis on consumerism, and the innate American-ness of “American football.” The Super Bowl is one of the few times a year that the whole country focuses its attention on a single event. This year, over 100 million viewers crowded around television screens across the country to watch the New York Giants defeat the New England Patriots – or at the very least, to check out those Super Bowl ads.

So can the Super Bowl really be considered a time for Americans to come together? No, not exactly: it is, after all, still a competition. But in a two-minute halftime commercial, Chrysler attempted to unify Americans under a single voice, with a little help from Clint Eastwood.

In Chrysler’s Super Bowl commercial titled “Halftime in America,” the car company invites actor/director Clint Eastwood to recreate that sense of patriotism that Americans today seem more likely to show to their favorite sport team than to their country. The result? An inspiring message about the trials and triumphs of America – about how together, we can pull out of this difficult time stronger than before. Chrysler communicates effectively with its audience.

Watch “Halftime in America” Here:


While Chrysler ultimately aims to sell cars, “Halftime in America” succeeds by capturing our attention through persuasive rhetoric that focuses more on the American people than on Chrysler’s products. By breaking our schema for car commercials and calling on our identity as Americans, Chrysler delivers an idea that really sticks with its audience.

Is This Really a Car Commercial?

“Halftime in America” itself is unexpected in two ways. First, the commercial opens with Clint Eastwood reminding viewers that it is currently halftime in the game. We are surprised by the ad’s self-awareness – by calling attention to the context of what is going on in real time, Chrysler speaks directly to its viewers, making them pay attention.

Cutting to clips of urban and rural American imagery, Eastwood explains that “it’s halftime in America, too.” After almost 30 seconds, we finally focus on Detroit and the auto industry. Still, the commercial continues as an inspirational narration set over images of Detroit, of news clips, of protests, of people – leaving us to wonder, what is this commercial for?

Only in the last seconds do we see Chrysler’s trademark. “Halftime in America” breaks our schema for car commercials (fast cars driving down winding roads in the middle of nowhere; moms pulling up to school in their shiny new minivans), giving us a commercial focused more on perseverance and unity than promotion. Through unexpectedness, the commercial grabs and holds the viewer’s attention.

At the End of the Day, We are Americans.

The commercial’s greatest success lies in its ability to tap into our emotion. Eastwood reminds us of our identity as Americans – we’re fighters. We play football, we “can’t be knocked down with one punch,” and we make big comebacks. “Halftime in America” is a call to action – yes, a call to buy American-made cars, but also a call to come together as a country.

The commercial appeals to the American people’s frustration with polarizing politics and economic uncertainty; we see individual people in relatable situations persevering. “Yeah, it’s halftime, America,” Eastwood tells us, “and the second half’s about to begin.”

In the silence that follows, an implicit question hangs in the air: “what are you going to do to help us win?” Chrysler wants you to buy one of its cars, but the emphasis on teamwork throughout the ad makes the message feel more altruistic. Emotion makes “Halftime in America” really work.

Does It Stick?

“Halftime in America” certainly fits the qualifications for a “sticky” idea, and it is still being talked about (and spoofed on SNL). While controversy over whether or not the ad supports the Obama administration’s bailout continues to circulate, that controversy would not exist if the commercial had not been so successful at communicating with its audience. According to auto-shopping website Edmunds.com, Chrysler has seen more than a 23% increase in online traffic in the days after the ad aired, so clearly something resonated with viewers. Personally, I’d like to see more companies promote the message of American unity and teamwork in their commercials: regardless of the motivation, I have a hard time not appreciating that message.

by Maggie Freier




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