What's with the jingoism in these Chrysler and Cadillac commercials?

2011 Chrysler 200 Super Bowl Commercial

American car companies love to remind us they're American. That's nothing new. Chevrolet, of course, is as American as baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie. More recently, George Washington defeated the British behind the wheel of a Dodge Challenger.

But in the last two weeks, we've seen two new car ads that go beyond merely wrapping themselves in the American flag. The ads, for the 2015 Chrysler 200 and 2014 Cadillac ELR, display an ugly streak of jingoism.

"We will build your car"

Against a montage of rodeos, cheerleaders, and baseball games, Bob Dylan proclaims all the ways we're the first and the best. We have vision, pride, and true cool. Our assembly line workers have hearts and souls. All these things, Dylan insists, "you can't import."

"Let Germany brew your beer. Let Switzerland make your watch. Let Asia assemble your phone," Dylan concludes. "We will build your car."

The first, and most obvious question for this ad's creators, the agency GlobalHue, is what foreign-made cars is Dylan referring to? The 2015 Chrysler 200's key "import" competitors are built in Ohio (Honda Accord), Kentucky and Indiana (Toyota Camry), and Tennessee (Nissan Altima, Volkswagen Passat). I also couldn't help but notice there was no reference to letting the Italians—who now own Chrysler -- cook your pasta.

Beyond the complexities of what actually constitutes foreign lies a more basic question: why does it matter? Before you insult my intelligence in the comments section, let me say I know why it matters. I grew up in a town that suffered badly when a General Motors factory closed (Framingham, Massachusetts) and I live in Southeast Michigan, where not just the assembly workers, but also doctors, lawyers, and writers rely on the health of the American auto industry. American cars are not important because we have diners, Route 66, Bob Dylan, or factory workers. I've visited assembly lines in Mexico, Japan, England, and Germany. The workers on those lines appeared to have hearts and souls, too.

Now, let's re-watch the brilliant ad Chrysler showed at the 2011 Super Bowl:

Note how this advertisement consciously avoids the old tropes about American versus foreign manufacturing. It doesn't even say, "America," until the very end. Rather, it presents an honest picture of Detroit, using the embattled city as a metaphor for ethos we all hold dear, like hard work and resilience. If anything, there's a subtle dig at the rest of the country for forsaking Detroit and these ethos. "We're certainly no one's Emerald City," the narrator reminds viewers.

"We're crazy, hard-working believers."

Chrysler isn't the only domestic automaker thinking it can sell more cars by telling us how superior we are. The first advertisement for the 2014 Cadillac ELR, which was developed by Lowe Campbell Ewald and debuted last week, indulges in clichés similar to the Chrysler commercial. We went to the moon! We have Bill Gates! But the commercial's core message is that Americans work harder than people in "other countries."

OR

Poolside - Lowe Campbell Ewald

"Other countries, they work, they stroll home, they stop by the café. They take August off," explains the pitchman (played by Neal McDonough -- apparently Macaulay Culkin was not available to reprise his role as Richie Rich).

This spiel, and the potshots at Europe, will probably appeal to Red State conservatives. Unfortunately for Cadillac, most in that audience are unlikely to buy an electric car from so-called Government Motors. (Even those who supported the bailout may chortle when the ad proclaims, "You work hard; you create your own luck.")

The ad opens Cadillac to uncomfortable questions. Like, if Europeans are so lazy and unproductive, how come their luxury brands have been cleaning Cadillac's clock since the 1980s? Why did Cadillac hire a former BMW executive (the very European Uwe Ellinghaus) to run its marketing? How does the brand expect to establish itself in Europe, as it still hopes to, if it derides Europeans? And, finally, what's a Cadillac ELR? The ad never really bothers to tell us.

Contrast this with rap artist Macklemore's ode to Cadillacs, "White Walls."

Macklemore, too, presents Cadillac as the reward for American ambition and hard work. But he does so with tongue firmly in cheek, and without alienating anyone. He also shows lots of actual Cadillacs.

To be perfectly clear, there's nothing wrong with celebrating America, and there's nothing wrong with Detroit-based automakers celebrating their role in the American story. The problem is with trumpeting American superiority as an argument for buying American cars. It's the difference between saying Chevrolets are as American as baseball and saying that baseball is much better than foreign sports and thus Chevrolets are better than foreign cars (a line of reasoning we're unlikely to hear so long as Chevrolet is locked into its sponsorship of the Manchester United soccer team). The Chrysler and Cadillac ads -- both of which, it must be noted, were developed by local Michigan-based agencies -- display the insular chauvinism that got American carmakers in trouble.

machine planet
I was deeply offended by the crass "Poolside," especially as it was run over and over during the WInter Olympics, a breathtakingly inappropriate venue for its miserable arrogance and pathetic attempt to link the ELR to truly great American accomplishments of the now-distant past. For Cadillac to desperately associate itself with the geniuses and heroes who put footsteps on the moon is the very height of moronic arrogance. What garbage. Shame on GM and shame on NBC for accepting this swill for broadcast during an event designed to promote friendship among nations. Stupid jerks.
Just Anon
Absolutely spot on. These ads represent the worst of disingenuous corporate pandering. Sad part is that so many fall for it.Just look at the comment below that somehow an Alabama made Hyundai isn't American but a Mexican made GM is. Why, because all that matters is where the CEO comp flows? Great brainwashing that the top .01% have done of so much of the middle class. Just wrap yourself up in the flag and rake in the cash (and funnel it to your offshore account after paying your 3rd world factory slaves $5 a day)
tt618
Why do these manufacturers still try to "guilt" us into buying American?  Why can't they just rely on the merits and strengths of their products?
Sten Deadio
 Just like Belgium-owned Budweiser waving the stars and stripes and aw shucksing it's way through vomit-inducing commercials about American pride...Ef you, companies that sell out to foreign owners, Ef you forever. I'm not against foreign products per se, but I despise companies that try to pretend they're all-American when their greedy owners SELL OUT to foreign buyers, throwing their workers and customers to the dogs for a handsome buyout.  I do my level best to never buy those products again.No Caddies or Buds for me...I'll have ACTUAL American products, thanks.

3ver
Thanks for writing this article.  Absolutely dead on.  
Frank Carlson
These ads offend me.
Billtrez
I'm glad you added your personal life in this editorial. I understand your point of view more clearly with that experience in mind. It seems that your bitterness for GM pulling out of Mass is pretty strong. I'm afraid that your current life in Michigan shows me more of an insular chauvinism than you project into the decline of an industry. Are you depicting the lives of Doctors, Lawyers and writers as part of a group of people dependent on the auto industry more so than the middle class of these ads? What is your perspective? Maybe Route 66 and the diners are metaphors for a bygone era but what about the survivors of that era. What about the cheerleaders, ballplayers and the families of factory workers outside of the assembly plants? I live in New Jersey and remember when GM And Ford had final assembly plants here. When they left, at least 13 other manufacturers disappeared. Assembly plants really shouldn't be the basis of the focus here. The carpet makers, injection molders, steel workers, brake manufacturers, truckers and so many other middle class Americans that worked outside the plant and sat in our diners are retired or their families have found lives in another state. A final assembly plant now is productive mostly because of robots and not the nice people lucky enough to be selected for a job there. Is a Hyundai from Alabama an American car? Nope.The ads are valid.
No one in the world puts in more hours making a decent living than the average American. No one.
The rise and decline of American manufacturing, (in the auto industry of this topic), is hardly the result of pride; it has been from the expense of making money in both a critical and an ignorant market. Perhaps Audi makes a fine car in Germany but Volkswagen employs more people in Mexico than any other manufacturer, including GM. I applaud anyone and support any company that is keeping American factories open. I wear sneakers manufactured in Maine. My sister-in-law bought a Mustang. My brother was about to pick on her until I stopped him dead in his tracks. He owns a BMW and wants nothing to do with a fairly recent "Car of the Year".  Maybe you guys can share some stories to confirm some old perspectives? 
These ads are for Americans to support Americans. Football in America shows how the contract with Manchester United wasn't such a good idea. (Wasn't that guy fired even though we loved his Chevy end of the world commercial?) Your editorial comes off as having a perspective that isn't so much educated in the auto industry but from a bitter personal experience.
I have a problem with people that won't put their money down on a Chevrolet.
deantrombetta
@Tweetermeyer The views in those ads are very popular here in Detroit. Maybe they need ad agencies outside of Detroit.
DERRECK
love them commercial 
loopless55
He is totally on the mark in this article. Both those ads were up-chuck worthy
IBD_ECarson
@Tweetermeyer The new Cadillac ad is a brilliant electric cars pitch to an audience that would normally sneer at electric car drivers.
Mike20009
This article does not make any sense, don't waste anyones time with this mumbo jumbo.
Tweetermeyer
@deantrombetta Excellent point.
Tweetermeyer
@IBD_ECarson Maybe. Too bad the batteries are Korean, the transmission is Japanese and a Tesla Model S beats it by every possible metric.
IBD_ECarson
@Tweetermeyer That's just nitpicking. USA!

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