During this year’s Super Bowl, there were a number of really good advertisements, and, as usual, the car companies brought their best to the table. There has been some debate about this Volkswagen spot, concerning whether or not it is offensive or witty – or perhaps a bit of both – and there has been general consensus, from what I have read, that this Dodge Ram ad was a home run for the company.
There has also been some talk about a commercial from Jeep, entitled “Whole Again.” Opening up with a quote from Oprah Winfrey, and narrated by ‘O’ for the entirety of the commercial, “Whole Again” seeks to pay tribute to the troops while also calling us into action to welcome these heroes home. The main purpose of the ad, though, is to focus on the families of the soldiers – the mothers, fathers, and spouses who await their return; the children who pray for their parents’ safety before they go to bed; and the family pets that miss their walks.
The commercial ends with a nod to Jeep and their commitment to supporting our troops. The company followed up on the ad the next day, announcing a donation to the USO and ways in which the public can help maximize Jeep’s donations to support returning soldiers through Jeep’s “Operation SAFE Return” program. So, at first glance, this all seems like a positive move by Jeep: bring greater attention to the sacrifices that men and women in uniform, and their families, make every day; and continue to promote a U.S.-based company.
I did not see the negative aspect of this until a veteran I was speaking with told me: “It’s exploitative.” And he was not alone. I have heard several responses to this ad, in interviews and in person, that are very critical of the way that Jeep features the military in what is, at the end of the day, a commercial designed to enhance the company’s bottom line. There may not have been any mention of new products and prices, but I think most would agree that when a company seeks to bolster its public image, it does so because image is so closely connected to profit.
This idea that Jeep really is trying to be the definitive “all-American” car company has been mentioned before by no less than the CEO of Chrysler, who claimed in a recent interview that building all Jeeps in the U.S. is a crucial component to the Chrysler business plan and legacy. So what’s the problem with that?
The problem, according to some critics, is that Jeep used the military for its own benefit, and the use of the military is part of this carefully crafted image, as opposed to an honest rallying cry on behalf of veterans. It took advantage of the raw emotions that exist within military families, and the empathy from the public that is a result of the general awareness of those emotions, to push a product. According to these critics, Jeep was essentially saying, “We know you respect the struggle that military families endure. We do too. And we respect it so much that you should respect us, and buy yourself a new Wrangler.” Exploitative.
Or is it?
I do not think it is. And there is a simple reason for that: bringing more attention to a serious situation that people can help address is not a bad thing. Often times, when it comes to veterans, this attention-grabbing is done by nonprofit groups, vocal individuals, or political leaders (including the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden). The problem is, as we all know, it takes time, money, and resources to spread a message. Jeep had the money to buy the time, and the Super Bowl’s viewership gave them the resources.
Another reason that I am thankful for Jeep’s involvement in this cause is because the stakes here could not be higher. The stories I hear from Vietnam veterans about their returns home are incredibly painful. We cannot repeat that mistake. I would say that, based purely on personal observation, soldiers coming home now are returning to a much more welcoming, positive, resource-filled environment. While you still hear soldiers wonder about the “stigma” of having PTSD, or the “negative perception” associated with someone who has been to the hell that is a warzone, service providers, and the general public, seem much more receptive to the concerns of returning troops. Jeep created a positive ad to highlight and emphasize this positive atmosphere.
Does the ad help Jeep, as well? Sure it does. Would Jeep consider the ad a failure if it did not result in a single sale? They probably would. But these are the realities of corporate economics. Jeep is a big brand. They need to succeed. And I am rooting for them because I get the sense that the better they do for themselves, the more they will be able to do for returning troops – as long as we, the public, hold them to their word.