Selling America | A Continuous Lean.

Selling America

Aug 14th, 2011 | Categories: Advertising, Americana | by Michael Williams

These commercials have been floating around in my head for a while and for whatever reason today I felt compelled to get them all down here together in my little corner of the internet. While there is no arguing that many will find these stimulating in one way or another, I have to think this post will spawn a massive flame war in the comments. But I’m not going to let that stop me from sharing. Actually, I’m interested in hearing what you all think about all of this.

One thing’s for certain, there’s a darkness that runs through these videos (with the exception of the Dodge Freedom spot), a gritty, almost, reassuring quality in these. It’s a provocative bit of salesmanship all the way around, if you ask me. All that aside, even with a shaky economy, there seems to have never been a better time to be a man working in the world of advertising voice-over.

Update:

What commercials did I miss? Drop them in the comments.

Comments: 53

53 Comments to “Selling America”

  1. robbie
    on Aug 14th, 2011
    @ 10:52 PM

    gag

  2. ktm
    on Aug 14th, 2011
    @ 11:05 PM

    http://youtu.be/rFnPsLrjXdw

    You forgot Tar-jay.

  3. Ross
    on Aug 14th, 2011
    @ 11:06 PM

    One ad agency did all that work.

  4. Michael Williams
    on Aug 14th, 2011
    @ 11:13 PM

    I know that it was at least two agencies involved here, possibly more. Arnold in Boston did the Jack Daniels piece, Wieden + Kennedy Portland did Levi’s. Not sure who did all of the Chrysler work…

  5. Greg
    on Aug 14th, 2011
    @ 11:20 PM

    There is also the “We Are All Workers” ad campaign from Levi’s, which highlights (some critics have said exploits) the down-and-out town of Braddock, Pennsylvania and the campaign it is undergoing to reinvent itself in a sustainable way. I really love the use of the classic 1930s Disney song and the quick profiles of the town’s residents looking a bit exhausted but with a strong resolve and just a glimmer of hope.

  6. Michael K
    on Aug 14th, 2011
    @ 11:50 PM

    The Levi’s and Chrysler commercials have been striking a chord with me for some time now. I think they are both brilliant. To me they are some of the best TV ads I have ever seen. I love them. They really bring out emotion in the viewer.

  7. jules
    on Aug 14th, 2011
    @ 11:51 PM

    The Levi’s, Chrysler, Dodge & jeep work is all Wieden. They are the anthem builders of the moment.

    What’s more interesting is what grassroots & VC & community are doing in detroit to support burgeoning business and economy. I love inspirational anthem spots as much as the next ad person but…

  8. Esher
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 12:23 AM

    Levis, while 99% of their products aren’t made in the US. Having a laugh while the Union worker suffers. Just like Carhartt and Dickies.

    You know if you order a Ford F150 and it ends up being one made in Mexico you can get them to knock off close to $10k since it wasn’t made in the USA

    America sold itself and it’s workers and their pride.

  9. Maclellan
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 1:06 AM

  10. Ted M.
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 1:55 AM

    These spots wouldn’t resonate with so many viewers if they weren’t tapping into something authentic.

    Thanks to globalization, every luxury imaginable is available in mass-produced form on American shelves and showroom floors. At the same time, we watch the industries that built this country die slow and ignoble deaths. I think American consumers long for a time when the goods they bought carried value far beyond how efficient the supply chain was. Props to W+K and Arnold for recognizing this.

    @Esher True that some of these brands still outsource production, but they would have been out of business long ago if they didn’t. Hopefully the popularity of ad campaigns like these signal that consumers are willing to pay a premium for brands that provide quality jobs here in America.

    (Also, Robbie liked America before it was cool. ^^)

  11. Dave DH
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 3:41 AM

    These ads and some other somewhat unrelated trends make me feel cautiously optimistic about America economically and culturally (politically, we’re hosed). There’s the “heritage movement” that has been turning up everywhere in the last several years, and then there’s the growing interest in craftmanship (knitting, blacksmithing, homemade jam, Maker Faire, you name it). And sustainability and energy conservation which makes shipping/flying resources and products back and forth across thousands of miles of ocean look stupid.

    On an unrelated note I’m starting to see articles about the rising labor wages in China and other developing countries which will bring work back to America. Then there are the articles about how disenchanted college grads are with their degrees (no job waiting for them, student loan debt, etc) and wondering whether they should have studied a trade instead, then advising their children to think twice about an academic degree.

    So while things are pretty bleak now, it’s very possible these factors may lead to a revival of sorts in the next 10-20 years . . .

  12. CS Berry
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 6:18 AM

    I am all for the acknowledgement of great american craftsmanship and loyalty to that which would contribute to the american working man, but these look like pure exploitation. To use our american heritage as a standing point to sell us something will always be a very delicate endeavor, and a very difficult balance of integrity and salesmanship to attain. I am not saying that it cannot be done, but these advertisements simply do not cut it in this regard.

  13. Bryan
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 8:11 AM

    I always like the 2009 Wieden+Kennedy Levi’s Go Forth spot as well, with the Whitman quote.
    Cary Fukunaga in the directors chair, and McGinley doing the stills for print.

  14. Ryan Hines
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 9:55 AM

    So… I only watched the Jeep one but it seems strange to me because:

    1. We’ve never treated our working class particularly well

    2. Working-class people can’t afford a Grand Cherokee

    3. Our lust for impractical luxury SUVs is emblematic of what is ruining us.

    I bought a Japanese Hybrid, and by doing so I’m probably doing more for America than those that buy that Jeep.

  15. Tim
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 9:59 AM

    it’s all about the Benjamin’s baby

  16. randall
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 10:07 AM

    It seems to me that ads exist for really one purpose and that is to manipulate people into buying the product they’re trying to sell and the way they do that is to play to people’s emotions. Now clearly American isn’t doing so well right now so what better way to pull at those emotional strings than to show an idealized version of an America that probably never really existed, obviously the implication is do your patriotic part and buy a Chrysler or Jack Daniels or Levis jeans, certainly these ads play to the ideal while ignoring the racism, classism, xenophobia, ie the ugly truths about the America that don’t neatly fit into the “American Dream”

    Personally, I lay some of the blame of the mess we’re in right now on advertising (I realize this may draw some heat from those of you in the creative media/advertising industry). In so far as ads are pretty much the public face of companies who’s interests lay in bottom line and share holder return (think “They Live”) they put on a nice, palatable, easy to consume image to mask the not so nice business practices that drive jobs overseas and manipulate markets for the all holy dollar. They also create competition and stir inadequacies in the populace causing people to want things and buy things that they really have need for and also can’t really afford (I generally use the flat screen TV as the symbol of this) so instead of engendering a spirit of thrift and waste not want not, they create a rush to the new and shiny and people go into debt for stuff they don’t need and can’t afford without any consideration about paying the piper and it is is also a machine that needs to keep perpetuating itself, because once the engine stops the companies start to take their hits and share holder returns drop and the bottom line dries up. Now, fully aware that there are other factors at play, that people should exercise some self restraint, when most people are constantly bombarded with messages, buy this, buy this, buy this, buy this then that is what they are going to do; obviously or else the advertising industry would have nothing to do.

    So I guess this is a long way around of saying, “big fucking deal” madave has sniffed out another trend to keep the machine rolling. Show some images of a bygone idealized America and some bygone idealized ameicans, throw in Whitman and Eminem and some hipsters making out and claim that we can still have it all and that the American dream is still alive and kicking even in the face of a failing capitalistic economic system and for god’s sake keep buying. You NEED a new Jeep, you DESERVE a new pair of jeans.

    Also, I really do like that Dodge ad, with Geo. Washington.

    OK the guard’s down now, start punching.

  17. Drew
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 11:05 AM

    While I totally understand the appeal of these ads (and thus, the idea behind their creation), it makes me uncomfortable to see these multi-billion dollar corporations fetishizing manual labor and factory work, neither of which have been respected until now.

    I read an interesting quote a few weeks ago that went something along the lines of (and apologies for butchering this): “People subscribe to the whole heritage movement because it allows them to be materialistic without feeling like they’re being materialistic”.

    At the end of the day, I suppose that relative to other things that we could be idolizing, American ingenuity is as good as any, but it still feels exploitative to me.

  18. Michael
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 11:11 AM

    These commercials are all really well done. The problem is that the people who buy products based on adverts are the people that don’t look below the surface, they take things at face value, they are lazy. There are a lot of these people. They are the same people who vote for their leaders based on television commercials. It’s certainly not the fault of the agency creating the ad, they are doing a wonderful job of helping companies sell their (often) third rate products to us under false pretense. When the majority of Americans start to think as individuals, check their mirrors and pump their brakes, before handing over the plastic or pulling the lever, then we will get true authenticity.

  19. Mark
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 11:23 AM

    to think that there isn’t some genuine glimmer of hope in these pieces probably overlooks the emotions that the admakers bring to the table, and what they hope for as a future for america.

    but they are recognizing in themselves a desire for better times, something idealized and probably never completely true about our world to begin with. and they figure, if this is true inside me, it must be true for others, so let’s use it to make some dough. and it destroys it completely.

    do these ads well something up inside me? sure. but i know better. i know this isn’t real life. so for me, while there is a little hope visible inside there, they ring mostly hollow.

    besides, i have no interest in a new car. navigation? buy a map book. air conditioning? roll the windows down, son. open the butterfly window…

    live it if you mean it. the f150 made in mexico doesn’t make you a better american.

  20. Kyle
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 11:37 AM

    There are genuine people still making things in this country because we believe in it.

    http://youtu.be/WxFDqg08Ctg

    No frills, no sugar coating, just skilled craftspeople creating beautiful products.

  21. Richard Austin
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 12:37 PM

    I love this site, probably as much for the liberal arts hang wringing over-wrought whiny analysis of every goddamn thing as the cool stuff it features. Is the Jeep ad portraying an America that never was, does it force people to want something they don’t need? Can I quote something I heard on NPR.

    Get this. Some people are in the market for a new 4×4. I am. I have a Jeep on its last legs. I was going to shop around, but yeah, I am going to try out the new ones and I am happy that it’s made in the USA. And I bet the guys who make it are happy that ad is out there putting it in front of my face.

  22. randall
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 12:51 PM

    obviously some people are actually in the market for stuff to buy. Did you forget that jeeps were still being made until you saw the ad or would you have considered a new jeep as a replacement for you old jeep?

    Maybe if you tried thinking instead of just acting you’d see some things that you’ve never considered before. Have fun voting for Rick Perry.

  23. Matt
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 2:32 PM

    In related news, we now export chopsticks to China, via Georgia sweet-gum trees. Taking back heavy industry, one dumpling at a time.

    http://www.economist.com/node/21525961

  24. FAME
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 3:18 PM

    I love this new wave of “Made in the USA” advertisment campaigns. Gives everyone a sense of hope and American pride!

  25. Eighteen
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 3:38 PM

    I got as far as the first Levi’s commercial. Somehow, queuing them all up like that is really effective — it’s funny how you can pick out the BS/problematic things within a certain topic when you group their media representations together. Which is to say, I got to that Levi’s commercial and saw that tall, skinny, long-haired model chick, writhing around in various (innocently) sexualized ways, and was done. Sexual imagery and models that embody (really tired, boring) idealized beauty standards are whatever, but once you pair that with all the American Heritage messages, it blows the cover on the whole thing for me. It makes the whole message a fake. I’m not a leggy long-haired model chick, and my Levi’s aren’t “hand crafted” by rustic dudes in the American countryside.

  26. Kirk
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 4:29 PM

    Eighteen has given me an idea for my own blog – rusticdudes.com. This will feature handmade goods curated by me and made EXCLUSIVELY by rustic dudes. If you aren’t rustic, then I will not expose your product to my audience of dozens! But if you labor away in a Kaczynski shack somewhere making horween leather condom bandoliers, I will share you with the world!

    I just finished up that miserable book about the dismantling of the Budd Automotive Plant in Detroit, so I’m not holding my breath for the resurgence of the American factory worker.

  27. chunkybalunky
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 5:35 PM

    I’ve spent 12 years working within the ad world. There is no doubt that several of these ads are well done and well executed. Its hard to fuck up when its W&K hiring Mark Romanek to make something to feel anthemic and beautiful. As a person who gets paid to work with images I can completely understand why the folks here who have written about these ads with a sense of affection feel the way that they do. Its because the advertising is working. Its the art of manipulation. There is something absolutely insidious about the way global brands like the above toss the working class out to dry, cut them of their jobs and then attempt to fetishize (as pointed out above by Drew) their work in plea to sell their products right back to that very same working class.

    Did W&K make a hip as hell campaign for Levis? Sure. But the reality is simple. Levis make almost none of their products here. W&K has been clever enough to sponsor every maker fair related project and event that they can. It is Levis mission to be synonymous with craft, work and Americana much in the way that Nike owns the word “sport”. No surprises then that they went to Nike’s very own agency to make this happen. Also, consider how Levis donated a very small amount of money to Braddock PA and built an entire campaign around their so called “good deed”. I have worked on many commercials with higher budgets than what they donated to the town. Their actions are disingenuous. Il’ll go further, there is something very odd about the idea of liberal hipsters in Portland drinking the cool-aid and making propaganda for multi-national corps whose agendas without a doubt so fiscally conservative that they care not about that very worker whom they celebrate in their ads.

    As someone who has spent years in the industry – I’ll very candidly say that I do find this work attractive, that I’ve certainly be happy to take a check making such ads but its also part of what makes it so completely offensive.

  28. aizan
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 7:23 PM

    you mean i can solve (or at least mitigate) our problems with unemployment, financial irresponsibility, and growing income disparity just by purchasing some clothing and automobiles “made in u.s.a.”? awesome.

  29. jiheison
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 7:23 PM

    We’ve been hearing for years from the management of these companies that factories are leaving because of our lazy, entitled American workforce, and that quality is disappearing because ignorant American consumers only care about price.

    Now they want to sell use traditional American quality, as inspired by the sensibilities of the hard-working American?

  30. Esher
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 8:39 PM

    Can we get a LEVIS commercial with maybe some construction workers or some guys who build their own motorcycles in their garages with dirty/beat 501′s or something? That’s America, hands on.

  31. Esher
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 8:44 PM

    Check my friends video

    http://vimeo.com/20789680

  32. robbie
    on Aug 15th, 2011
    @ 9:49 PM

    Levi’s is selling a lie with this ad. That’s what bothers me, that is why I wrote ‘gag’. This ad leads one to believe that their product is both ‘American’ and ‘egalitarian’. Unfortunately, the small handful of their products manufactured domestically are anything but ‘egalitarian’.

  33. Logan
    on Aug 16th, 2011
    @ 2:02 AM

    I’m not picking up any message about America or Americana from this Levi’s spot. This one, as well as the Whitman pilfering one, seem to only be concerned in selling some notion of youth.

  34. CWW
    on Aug 16th, 2011
    @ 7:15 AM

    I think the first two, which are practically identical aside from the product, could easily be combined to advertise that great, time honored American tradition: Drunk driving.

  35. CWW
    on Aug 16th, 2011
    @ 7:20 AM

    Also, if I was still 14-16 year old, I would buy the crap out of some Levi’s based on that one Go Forth spot alone. Fire, babes, rock and roll, and rebellion just from buying jeans? Give me 365 pairs.

  36. Robert
    on Aug 16th, 2011
    @ 10:02 AM

    these ads all strike a positive emotional chord. but in the case of levis that wanes quickly, as it has been pointed out, 99% of their goods are sourced and produced overseas. i have no problem with outsourcing – but to try and maintain an image of ‘american made’ when they have sold that out long ago is just wrong.

    @ Ryan Hines – your Japanese Hybrid does not make you more American, it makes you a sheep. what do you think will happen to those batteries when they wear out.

    @ aizan – yes. that is a great place to start.

  37. jbourbonjones
    on Aug 16th, 2011
    @ 10:19 AM

    i wish such advertisements extolling the virtues of academic achievement and career- mindedness existed. and i just noticed the tiny happy face in the center of the orange bar at the bottom of the page.

  38. Brad
    on Aug 16th, 2011
    @ 1:45 PM

    jbourbonjones, if you want to see people extolling the virtues of academic achievement, flip to CNBC, my friend. Perhaps they offer slow-motion commercials of thin, pasty people working in cubicles. ; )~

    And thx for pointing out the smiley face – that’s kinda fun.

  39. Brad
    on Aug 16th, 2011
    @ 1:52 PM

    As for the two ads included in the original post, here’s my thoughts since nobody asked:
    - I’m old enough to know this is done to sell products, and no other reason.
    - I’m smart enough to know they aren’t some harbinger of a new American dominance of manufacturing.
    - I’m jaded enough to see that a big company will say anything, including lying that their stuff is made here when it clearly isn’t.
    - And I’m sappy enough to just let these things be. They’re nostalgic, maybe of a past reality, maybe not.

    Regardless, they make me want to go fix my American letterpress, tow my American Airstream someplace with my Japanese SUV, tune up my Italian Vespa and have a satisfying day doing something with my hands.

    Til’ then, trolling the ‘comments’ sections of my favorite blogs will have to suffice.

  40. Paulo
    on Aug 16th, 2011
    @ 8:53 PM

    Hmmm I had a Jeep Cherokee here in New Zealand, it basically fell apart, rusted super fast because of the sea air and broke down when it shouldn’t have, I sold it (for peanuts) and bought an old series 2 landrover which is still going strong.

  41. Thomas
    on Aug 17th, 2011
    @ 2:20 AM

    As commercials, I think they are brilliant. But this “whatever could have happened” approach to the state of the economy, especially in advertising, is driving me a little nuts. First we use China as our sweatshop, then cry foul when they don’t make things the way we want, THEN make it sound like we had nothing to do with it in the first place, and now we’re setting things right by bringing jobs back here.

    I agree with the commenter above – we – culturally, socially, economically – treat people who make things with their hands like shit. This whole “hey, let’s pull up our boot straps” is a slap in the face to everyone who would done so if all the factories, shops, school metal work courses, et al. hadn’t been shuttered in the name of the “creative economy”.

  42. danrydell
    on Aug 17th, 2011
    @ 4:43 PM

    I love those Levi’s ads, even if they are disingenuous. I like all these ads in one way or another, actually. I’m not a diehard Republican — actually Democrat — but I like ads that give a sense of America restarting, building on the foundations of the past, rediscovering our work ethic, and making things again, leading the way. It’s a brand new frontier, and I’d like to see us blaze the trail once again.

  43. vaughn
    on Aug 17th, 2011
    @ 8:20 PM

    They’re all bullshit.

  44. Tom H.
    on Aug 18th, 2011
    @ 12:58 AM

    Not sure if this ever aired in full…or ever…but I think it fits the bill:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=et82azCcuP8

    Raspy voice-over? Check.
    Nostalgic images of Americana? Check.
    Well placed products? Check.

    This makes me want to toast a high life more than their “beer delivery guy” spot ever has.

  45. steven threndyle
    on Aug 18th, 2011
    @ 2:40 AM

    I wonder what the late, great comic Bill Hicks would have said about those ads?? Well, through the miracle of YouTube, we know. “You do what you can…”

  46. Graham
    on Aug 18th, 2011
    @ 3:30 AM

    I am actually quite a big fan of of most of these ads. I imagine they strike a very different chord with me than many of the other readers and posters on this site, as I am not American but rather Canadian but still I find them for the most part entertaining.

    I am particularly fond of the Chrysler ads (including this one featuring John Varvatos which was not posted originally: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_xvIC-4AvcI).

    No doubt these ads like many others are in part disingenuous.

    Chrysler is trying to sell luxury cars with an idea of a red-blooded and blue-collared America which are not necessarily antithetical but certainly somewhat opposing conceptions.

    And as was mentioned above, Levis sells its clothing with copious explicit references to workwear and numerous references to America while most of its product line is produced overseas and anyone who actually performs manual labour wouldn’t dream of doing it in their expensive Made in the USA products.

    And the Dodge Challenger “Cars and Freedom” commercial’s ending statement is just so pregnant with factual and conceptual issues as to be too dizzying to bother responding to.

    But to return to my opening statement, I like these ads. Why? Because they are good ads, they are funny or inspiring, they make you feel something, and I imagine if I was an American what I might feel would be pride. And ultimately, I think that is the purpose of advertising, so I commend the artistic minds that made them because they could easily have aimed for these concepts and missed horribly.

  47. jiheison
    on Aug 18th, 2011
    @ 2:51 PM

    These ads are good as entertainment. At least we still make (some) good entertainment in America.

  48. Clark
    on Aug 19th, 2011
    @ 11:16 AM

    Slick ads are nothing new, stealing the current zeitgheist and repackaging it is nothing new. Celebrating America is nothing new.

    But I find this a disturbing trend, as it steals the spotlight and waters down the impact of businesses that are actually doing it – making a go right here in the USA, building a product with integrity and making it last.

    That should be celebrated and these ad men are good at the psychology, but they are pimps selling a fake. What next, an ad campaign by Walmart celebrating how many great jobs they have created?

    http://youtu.be/BDv5-LDQeus

    or maybe they will just convince us that they are all here to save the planet: http://youtu.be/hf65xUKRCuk

    truth is a funny thing, and rarely does a company get better sales by telling the truth – so they sell us on illusion and aspiration.

    I am glad we are more aware of the value of ‘Made in the USA’ – I just wish the businesses selling it so proudly actually could live it.

    Nickle and Dimed indeed.

  49. Lauren
    on Aug 21st, 2011
    @ 7:49 AM

    This is especially interesting in light of the new GAP 1969 campaign attempting to highlight American craftsmanship.

  50. Jay Kay
    on Aug 22nd, 2011
    @ 1:13 PM

    I really wanna go to US after watched all these stunning videos.

    Hello From London
    MENS FASHION

  51. Simon
    on Aug 22nd, 2011
    @ 1:54 PM

    I don’t understand why there is no law or at least regulatory agency that binds these companies with the messages that they directly or indirectly deliver. Or is there? And if it does, does it work?

  52. tyler
    on Aug 24th, 2011
    @ 7:25 AM

    on the whole, as a sceptic, as a previous jeep owner, as a current levi’s wearer, as someone who declines jack in favor of a proper grog, as a decent american, i enjoy these ads. as far from reality as they may be, i enjoy that the conversation is happening on a large scale in america about the ailing pastime that was making our own shit and then using it. i’m pretty confident that these ads are not built on anything substantial, but as long as the ideas are popping up the potential to reinvigorate this pastime still exists. on a whole, i like that.

    IN PARTICULAR, does anybody else find it wildly f-ed up in that levi’s “go forth” spot that one of the last images is of a kid provoking the riot police? have we not seen enough real footage of what happens when people provoke riot police–gun shots, tears, screams, confusion, panic, death–to see this as disingenuous and irresponsible on the part of the advert? with all the protests going on in the world as we speak, it’s pretty clear that the spirit of protest is much bigger than a single person facing the gun.

  53. jiheison
    on Aug 25th, 2011
    @ 3:52 PM

    @Simon

    I’m not suggesting that there is any viloation of truth-in-advertising type laws here, but I am sure that if any law enforcement or regulatory agency looked at these sales tactics sideways, these companies would threaten to move their operations overseas.