- in a first for bruce springsteen, the legendary musician appears in a commercial.
- he is shown alongside his own personal 1980 jeep cj-5 in a two-minute spot for jeep parent company stellantis, carrying a message of unity.
- the super bowl ad will be broadcast only once, and it features an original score by springsteen.
in the mid-1980s, then chrysler chairman lee iacocca approached bruce springsteen and offered him a large pile of money in exchange for the use of "born in the u.s.a." in a chrysler ad. iacocca kept his money and springsteen kept his song.
more than 30 years later, in 2018, olivier françois, then chief marketing officer of fiat chrysler, told ad age that he had continued the pursuit of springsteen, also without success. "he's not for sale," françois said. "he's not for rent. and there's nothing you have that he wants."
all it took to finally change springsteen's mind was persistence, a pandemic, a political chasm, and a just-right pitch from françois, who's now global chief marketing officer for what we now know as stellantis. "the middle," a two-minute spot from jeep that will appear during the second half of the super bowl, marks the first time springsteen has applied the weight of his career to a commercial, even if it is one that looks and sounds a lot like his recent work.
it was shot in kansas, colorado, and nebraska, and there's no new jeep pitched in the piece, only a web address that steers viewers to a site focused on future products. springsteen appears behind the wheel of a 1980 jeep cj-5 that variety reports is his own. instead, the film's focus is centered on the literal center of the country and the u.s. center chapel in lebanon, kansas, the geographical center of the lower 48. "it never closes," springsteen narrates. "all are more than welcome. to come meet here, in the middle."
rather than license an existing song for the occasion, springsteen composed and produced an original score with ron aniello, with whom springsteen has worked closely since his 2012 album wrecking ball.
another longtime springsteen collaborator, filmmaker thom zimny, was also involved. among many projects, zimny directed and co-directed films related to springsteen's last two releases, 2019's western stars and last year's letter to you.
"the middle," which jeep says will air just one time, wears the stylistic touches springsteen and zimny applied to the western stars film, which found springsteen roaming wide open spaces and looking to the past to help settle the present. and if springsteen appearing in an ad is a surprise, it does make sense it would be a car commercial.
he has been mythologizing the automobile since "thunder road" opened 1975's born to run, since before he was even much of a driver. as he explained during a 236-show run on broadway in 2017 and 2018, he couldn't drive a stick the first time he drove cross-country. his manager had to get the truck moving, and then they'd switch seats on the move. not too many years later, he wrote "racing in the street."
over time, springsteen himself became as american as t-shirts, blue jeans, telecasters, and the automobile."this is my 19th album and i'm still writing about cars," springsteen says in the western stars film. "writing about the people in them, anyway. why? i don't know. i guess the car remains a powerful metaphor for me. we still live a lot of our lives here in america in cars. just trying to get from one place to another, from one place to another."
this year marks the 10th anniversary of chrysler's 2011 "imported from detroit" super bowl spot starring eminem. françois told variety it was back then that record executive jimmy iovine connected him with springsteen's longtime manager, jon landau. "i thought [springsteen] could be a good candidate, and that is when i met jon, who very nicely, kindly explained to me that this will never happen," françois said. springsteen played the 2009 super bowl halftime show in tampa, and that seemed as close to the game as he'd get.
but doner, an advertising agency in southfield, michigan, sent françois the script for "the middle." françois sent it to landau. landau, françois told variety, reminded him not to get his hopes up, it wouldn't happen.
it happened, and fast. the ad was shot over five days in late january. rumors of its existence hit the internet after a private jet arrived in nebraska from new jersey. reaction among springsteen fans is mixed, as is to be expected. but if ever there was a year for springsteen to make a leap, this one makes sense.
many automotive brands that usually advertise during the super bowl are sitting this one out. of the ads that will hit the airwaves during the game, most are aiming to inspire something other than just sales.
"we just have to remember the very soil we stand on is common ground," springsteen says, winding up to the film's big finish. "so we can get there. we can make it to the mountaintop, through the desert, and we will cross this divide. our light has always found its way through the darkness.
"and there's hope on the road . . . up ahead."