A Risky Lesson in Branding

Some thoughts on one of the more interesting Super Bowl commercials this year.

In the ad, SUV manufacturer, Jeep, decided to begin marrying its iconic US brand with an equally iconic US folk song. The commercial starts out in typical Super Bowl “patriotic” fashion, showing a rugged American-made Jeep traversing across the most stunning of America’s countryside. The soundtrack is Woodie Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land, which in the first verse provides the travelogue; “from California to the New York Island,” “from the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream waters” and so forth. For domestic viewers, the images evokes awe and pride in “our” land, subtly associating these feelings with our country’s signature vehicle, the one which first came on the scene in WWII and has embodied the country’s rugged, free spirit ever since.

Then the ad changes. The soundtrack continues, but the scenes are distinctly non-American. In their place we see China, Japan, Australia, North Africa, South America, etc. People portrayed in the ad also represent the global community, clad conspicuously in their native garb. The distinction between “us” and “them,” America and the rest of the world, so artfully crafted in the first scenes, disappears. America is not as we had thought “our land,” the “world” is our land. We are not Americans, we are citizens of the world. And Jeep is not an American brand, it is a global brand.

In our view, this is one of the most dramatic and perhaps risky examples of rebranding to date. It is also another stark reminder of the power of globalization and its impact on how products are designed, manufactured and sold.