It was hard to miss the message of one of the biggest buzz-making ads during Sunday's Super Bowl. Though clips of the top-secret Chrysler spot starring Eminem began to leak out Friday, most viewers had no warning that Slim Shady would be appearing in two commercials during the big game — one of them funny, the other dead serious.
Em — in puppet form — played his usual violence-prone comedic hothead in an ad for Lipton Brisk Iced Tea that aired early in the night, then later surprised many viewers by popping up in a cinematic spot for the Chrysler 200.
"There was a secrecy around the spot on Chrysler's end that was something they were concerned about," said Andrew Hampp, Los Angeles bureau chief for Advertising Age magazine. "As much as the spot is about what it's like in Detroit, it's very much about having Eminem ... and it wasn't necessarily about a promotion for a particular vehicle, but I came away with a higher appreciation for the Chrysler brand."
Though the rapper is seen only in silhouette and from behind early in the ad, the dramatic arc of the two-minute commercial — the longest in Super Bowl history — follows the story of Detroit's decline over the past few decades. But like favorite son Eminem, whose own career stalled out due to his drug demons, the commercial tracks Detroit's eventual return and promises that the best days are still ahead. It concludes with a choir singing Em's iconic "Lose Yourself," and Eminem saying with a stern face, "This is the Motor City; this is what we do." Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told the Detroit Free Press the ad cost "less than $9 million."
The ads are just the latest part of a larger comeback strategy the rapper has been following since 2009's Relapse failed to spark the kind of interest he expected after nearly four years out of the spotlight. After that relative flop (it still sold 2 million copies),
target="_blank">Ad Agereported that Em's team knew they had to go after not just his hardcore fans, but also expose a bigger audience to his music.
"Everybody realized that Relapse was a very hard-core Eminem fan-based record, so the approach on the next album was to go wider,"
Eminem's manager, Paul Rosenberg, told the magazine. "The songs fit a much more accessible format so that was the approach in marketing the record as well."
The plan included licensing "Not Afraid" for the NHL's Stanley Cup final, Spike's Ultimate Fighting Championship, ESPN's basketball playoffs and HBO's sports docu-series "24/7," while "Won't Back Down" was featured in ads for "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare."
Hampp said that even though he's not as well-known to an older generation, Eminem's participation made sense because his music is more relevant again thanks to the licensing deals, his hit album, Recovery, and the strong ties he has kept to his struggling hometown.
"If anything, the spot did a good job coming up with a way to reposition Chrysler. ... He's authentic to a younger generation, which is what Chrysler needs. The toughest demo for them is not grandmothers, but younger kids who already listen to Eminem and might otherwise buy foreign cars."
The one downside to the unexpected double-dose of Marshall Mathers on Sunday night was that the Lipton ad's message — a kind of anti-corporate screed in which Em complained about not wanting to do ads because he can't have everything his way — might have slightly undercut the impact of the Chrysler spot's more sober feel.
In his first major attempt at being a serious spokesperson, Hampp said Eminem came off as "really authentic. He clearly doesn't do these things lightly, and it must really mean something if he's participating."
In their Monday-morning quarterbacking of
target="_blank">the Super Bowl commercials, Ad Age
target="_blank">the Super Bowl commercials, Ad Agegave the Chrysler spot high marks, writing, "It charges you up. Sure, U.S.
automakers have previously tried to convince us that 'We are all Detroit' before, but not with creative this captivating. And after a few years of a battered economy, most Americans are more inclined to identify with Detroit than with, say, New York or Sin City, both of which are name-checked here. As the spot says, 'We're certainly no one's Emerald City.' What starts out as a down-on-our-luck tribute to a broken city morphs into a defiant, we're-back rallying cry faced by none other than Eminem, another broken thing out of Detroit who happens to be staging a massive comeback."
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