And THIS is how to use patriotism in an ad

Following my rant about the Cadillac ad the other day, a couple of readers questioned my reasoning. I wanted to make it clear that I have absolutely no issue with the idea of hard work and big ambitions, of people aspiring to better themselves, fulfil their potential and succeed in their chosen field. I’m a fan of Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, a celebration of uncompromising individual achievement. But, unlike the Caddy ad, it’s written with verve and (bonkers) style. I also have a lot of love for Eastbound & Down and Kenny Powers’ mentalist take on the American dream. He’s a nutter but his tongue’s always firmly in his cheek.

And while I’m not a petrolhead myself many of my friends are and I’m a dyed-in-the-wool, hardcore Bruce Springsteen fan. So I’m well aware of the passion people feel for cars and driving, the romance of the road, the themes of speed, rebellion and escape that cars are tied up with. And I have no issue whatsoever with people aspiring to own a great set of wheels. I’m totally down with the bit in the American constitution about ‘inherent and inalienable rights’ to the ‘preservation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. And if a cool car is part of what makes you happy, I totally get that.

What I hated about the Caddy ad was the way it took these themes and twisted them in a cynical, aggressive, blinkered way. How it played on fear and greed, leveraged xenophobia rather than pride. But it didn’t have to be that way. Patriotism can be such a rich vein for creativity. The Boss has proved that in the world of music; in the word of advertising there’s abundant proof. The two Chrysler ads above are shining examples of just how powerful and exhilarating great advertising can be.

The craft drips from every pore of this work – the writing, performances, cinematography, use of music. Both ads blend a deep understanding of their social context with a total respect for the audience. “It’s the hottest fires that make the hardest steel. Add hard work and conviction and the know-how that runs generations-deep in every one of us. That’s who we are…that’s our story.” Hearing this VO, you know you’re in the hands of people who believe in what they’re writing. It’s the same when Clint begins his Super Bowl half time state of the nation address, “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.” You lean in and listen hard and savour the drama, emotion, empathy. Both ads are goosebump-inducing works of brilliance. And both end with the absolute cherry on top, the smartest, simplest line, three words that leverage patriotism and land the idea so that it resonates powerfully in your mind: Imported from Detroit. Advertising doesn’t get better than this.


About antmelder
Executive Creative Director at Host/Havas Sydney; passionate vegetarian; lover of books, boxing and Bruce Springsteen.

2 Responses to And THIS is how to use patriotism in an ad

  1. dave trott says:

    Love both those ads Ant.
    Difficult to do straight and sincere well.
    Here’s another one that always gets me (the final ‘thank you’):

  2. antmelder says:

    Really good point, Dave. Straight and sincere can so easily tip over into cheesy and mawkish.
    The American Airlines ad is a great example – could’ve been schmaltzy but the idea’s spot-on and performances are perfectly judged.
    (Yeah, the final ‘thank you’ is a proper ‘lump in throat’ moment).
    What did you think of the Sainsbury’s Christmas ad with the returning serviceman?
    It got lots of criticism for being contrived/cynical but, as a dad, it really got me.

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