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How Jeep Landed Bruce Springsteen for Its 2021 Super Bowl Ad

Rob DeMartin for Jeep
  • Jeep's Super Bowl commercial starring Bruce Springsteen was a decade in the making, according to Olivier Francois, chief marketing officer of Stellantis, formerly Fiat Chrysler.
  • Every year since 2011, Francois said he's pitched an idea to Springsteen's manager, Jon Landau, for a Super Bowl commercial.
  • The commercial with Springsteen almost didn't happen, according to Francois.

Jeep's Super Bowl commercial starring Bruce Springsteen was a decade in the making, according to Olivier Francois, an automotive marketing executive who has become well known for convincing A-list celebrities to appear in such ads.

Every year since 2011, Francois said he's pitched an idea to Springsteen's manager, Jon Landau, for a Super Bowl commercial. It became somewhat of a tradition, although Francois thought there was little to no chance of it happening.

Why Springsteen, who had never appeared in a commercial before? It dates back to the automaker's former CEO, Sergio Marchionne, who unexpectedly died in 2018. The Italian-Canadian businessman was a fan of the singer and regularly used his music during presentations and events, linking Springsteen's persona to the company's.

"What you see today really is a 10-year story in the making," Francois told CNBC. "We started discussing Bruce – about Bruce, not with him, about – with my old boss, Sergio. … He loved Bruce Springsteen's music."

Francois, chief marketing officer of Jeep's parent company, Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler), has convinced Detroit rapper Eminem and musician Bob Dylan to star in the company's ads. He even landed Oprah Winfrey for a voiceover once. Last year, Francois convinced elusive actor Bill Murray to reprise his role from the 1993 film "Groundhog Day" for a Super Bowl ad.

He said his "biggest regret" was not being able to make the commercial with Springsteen happen while Marchionne was alive. "My biggest regret today is that they never managed to meet. I always promised him that I would make something happen and I delivered a little bit too late," Francois said.

Why now?

Francois first pitched Springsteen on a 2012 Super Bowl commercial called "It's Halftime in America" that ended up starring actor Clint Eastwood, who's another celebrity that's not known for appearing in ads or attaching himself to a product or company. The ad featured Eastwood as the nation's coach, urging the U.S. to learn from the resurgence of the Detroit auto industry.

Francois called this year's ad a "successor" to that commercial as well as others such as a 2013 Super Bowl spot called "Farmer." Both were cinematic, pro-country ads featuring few actual vehicles.

In this year's commercial "The Middle," Springsteen is driving around in an old Jeep and talking about a chapel located in the center of the country called U.S. Center Chapel in Lebanon, Kansas. He used the extremely small chapel as the basis to talk about the country needing to "meet here, in the middle" before the ad ended with "To the ReUnited States of America." That was followed by a website and logos for Jeep, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary in 2021.

Bruce Springsteen (left) with Olivier Francois, chief marketing officer of Stellantis, during filming of the company's Super Bowl LV ad for Jeep.
Rob DeMartin for Jeep
Bruce Springsteen (left) with Olivier Francois, chief marketing officer of Stellantis, during filming of the company's Super Bowl LV ad for Jeep.

In a press release, Landau said as soon as they saw the pitch, they decided it was something they needed to do.

"Olivier Francois and I have been discussing ideas for the last 10 years and when he showed us the outline for 'The Middle,' our immediate reaction was, 'Let's do it,'" he said. "Our goal was to do something surprising, relevant, immediate and artful. I believe that's just what Bruce has done with 'The Middle'."

Francois believes the message of the ad was on point with Springsteen's beliefs and struck the "right balance" between the company's objective and the singer's, who last year narrated a campaign commercial for Joe Biden.

Francois said Springsteen was intimately involved in creating the Jeep ad, and worked closely with director Thom Zimny. He wrote and produced the original score for the commercial with another one of his frequent collaborators, Ron Aniello.

The ad almost didn't happen

The commercial with Springsteen almost didn't happen, according to Francois. After 10 years of being rejected by the singer's manager, he had decided to not pitch an idea to Landau for Springsteen.

"I think it is the first year ever that I didn't ask to any agency to try to crack a Bruce Springsteen idea," he said. "I think it took me 10 years to understand that it's never happening. Obviously, I was mistaken, but that's what I thought. And it also was an abuse of John Landau and Bruce's time."

Bruce Springsteen starred in and narrated a two-minute Super Bowl ad for Jeep, which featured far more Americana and landscape than any vehicles.
Rob DeMartin for Jeep
Bruce Springsteen starred in and narrated a two-minute Super Bowl ad for Jeep, which featured far more Americana and landscape than any vehicles.

That is until Southfield, Michigan-based ad agency Doner pitched the idea of "The Middle." After contacting Landau to say Happy New Year in early January, Francois decided to send the ad agency's pitch to him. Francois said Landau, upon receiving the pitch, believed it was "the right message."

"Yes, he takes a stand, but he takes a stand for the middle," Francois said. "It is not liberal. It is not Republican. It is just something that is trying to stand for the nonpolitical. The common ground."

The message appears to have resonated with viewers. Since being published on YouTube early Sunday morning, the ad has been viewed about 24 million times. That's roughly four times more than the combined viewership of other automotive Super Bowl ads from General Motors, Toyota Motor and online car seller Vroom.

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