Created by a merger between Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Groupe PSA last month, Stellantis had originally purchased two 60-second slots for other commercials already created for the Super Bowl. So when Francois realized he had a short Springsteen film ready to go, he rushed to CBS, the network showing the game on Sunday, and asked if he could combine his purchases to show a single, long-form ad. Because arranging a Super Bowl ad roster can often be as complex as a top coach’s book of defensive maneuvers, Jeep considered a 90-second cut for its Springsteen ad. But Francois says he felt some other commercial showing up after Springsteen’s stirring oratory would ruin the ad’s effect on viewers, and so he pressed to have the new Jeep ad take up an entire break.
Springsteen has long sung of a “’69 Chevy with a 396,” of a Cadillac that is “long and dark, shiny and black,” and of the “crushed velvet seats” of a “pink Cadillac.” But Francois was convinced the songwriter embodied many of the attributes that make Jeep appealing to car buyers. “It is obvious to anyone. He is exactly like Jeep — iconic, American, rugged and authentic,” says Francois. As he cast about to try and put different concepts into action, music producer and executive Jimmy Iovine helped him strike a relationship with Landau in late 2011.
“I thought he could be a good candidate, and that is when I met Jon, who very nicely, kindly, explained to me that this will never happen,” recalls Francois. “He starts telling me all these stories, how [former Chrysler CEO] Lee Iacocca reached out really offering him a ton of money to just get a song in a commercial, with Bruce always turning down every offer.”
Even so, Francois and Landau kept in contact. “Along the way, from time to time, not presuming too much, I would try to pitch some ideas. They would turn me down — always. Obviously, I didn’t want to abuse my relationship,” says Francois. “But I’m a car salesman, so I can’t help but try to sell my ideas. It never worked. It never worked.”
Until early in 2021. David DeMuth, the CEO of Doner, one of the company’s ad agencies, reached out to Francois with something he thought warranted attention.
Based in Southfield, Michigan — close to Detroit, America’s auto-manufacturing center — Doner has a history of helping to sell cars. Its executives devised the famous “Zoom Zoom” slogan that was a big hit for Mazda for nearly 15 years. Now DeMuth had a script for a commercial called “The Middle.” The ad describes the tiny U.S. Center Chapel in Lebanon, purportedly in the exact geographic center of the contiguous 48 United States. The ad copy told of a church that “never closes. All are welcome to come meet here — in the middle. It’s no secret: the middle has been a hard place to get to lately, between red and blue, between servant and citizen, between our freedom and our fear.” Francois stored it in a folder in his computer.