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Clint Eastwood’s Super Bowl ad: What do political ad folks say?

Clint Eastwood in a Chrysler ad that aired during the Super Bowl. (Associated Press)

In the ad, the iconic actor gives America a pep talk that some viewers took as a coded promotion for President Obama. “It’s halftime in America,” he declares (but did he mean it’s “halftime” in Obama’s two-term presidency?). “We all pulled together and now Motor City is fighting again,” he says (did he mean the auto bailouts?).

We checked in with a few political ad and image-makers to get their impressions.

Jon Downs, a partner at GOP firm FP1 Strategies, says viewers might be reading too much into the ad. “It’s a pro-America ad,” he says, and it’s only the “oversensitized political climate we’re in” that gives it political meaning. But did it have a pro-Democratic message?

“That was not my take-away,” he said.

Downs, who might be best-known for his edgy work on Rep. Ron Paul’s campaign, found a lot to like in the spot, including the pacing, production — and of course, Clint Eastwood’s distinctive voice. The highest praise he had for it was that it was effective at — go figure — selling cars.

“It was a big, epic ad that managed to still be about the product and not the creative team behind it,” he says.

Democratic admaker Joe Slade White says the commercial struck the right balance between optimism and realism, and that its pro-America sentiment speaks to Democrats’ current campaign themes. “It was the best Obama-Biden ad of the season,” he says. “It’s about strength, and comebacks and coming together. Optimism can be very realistic, and they played that very well.”

One technique he found effective was the use of black-and-white images of Americans. Counterintuitively, black-and-white footage stands out in an oversaturated visual medium, and it conveys realism and authenticity, he says.

And J.B. Poersch, a Democratic consultant with SKDK Knickerbocker, similarly finds no overt political motivation behind the Chrysler pitch. But, he says, there’s an unintended upside for the president in a celebration of the triumph of American car-makers: “It’s very hard to separate him from GM and Chrysler’s successes,” Poersch says.

And here’s an observation with political ramifications: The ad struck an emotional chord, he says, for viewers who are wary but still eager to hear an optimistic message, whether they are shopping for a car — or a president.


The Fix: Rove ‘offended’ by Clint Eastwood ad

Five must-see Superbowl ads

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.


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