Manufacturing — The Super Bowl Commercial

What's different about 2015 Super Bowl commercials? An emphasis on manufacturing.
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With all the buzz about economic recovery in the U.S. and the role that manufacturing has played in that rebound, it’s no wonder that the reinvented image of modern manufacturing has started to become a focus for advertising. This week, manufacturing makes it to the big game with three Super Bowl ads that draw our attention to the manufacturing workplace, the role that engineering and manufacturing increasing plays in shaping the world around us, and our potential to rewrite some of our oldest and favorite stories when we embrace our ability to shape the world around us.

WeatherTech’s Super Bowl Commercial — “America Back at Work”

As anyone who’s read Karl Marx knows, pulling back the veil to show how something is manufactured can lead to a compelling story that opens eyes, stirs hearts, and promotes action. WeatherTech takes this tried-and-true approach with its 30-second spot, titled “America Back at Work,” to give Super Bowl XLIV’s audience a glimpse of how its car mats are made.

What’s interesting about the commercial is that the narrative focuses on the people and the process that produce the mats, rather than simply dwelling on the products. The short starts with a coffee machine filling a paper cup, which presumably fuels the human beings who hit the “Start” button to begin the day’s work. As the factory springs to life, we see molds, assembly lines, packaging, and CAD renderings of “laser-measured, custom-fit floor liners.”

The commercial ends with the inevitable URL accompanied by an American flag and the one-two punch of on-screen text and voiceover emphasizing how WeatherTech products are “Made in America.” What’s on display here is American ingenuity and economic recovery. If you’re one of the millions of Americans who’s bought a new car in the last few years after holding off to see how the Great Recession panned out, it’s time to get some homegrown all-weather mats.

BMW’s Super Bowl Advertisement — “Newfangled Idea”

While it’s nothing new for a car company to emphasize the technology included in its vehicles, it is unusual for an auto brand to talk about the technology it uses to create them. In this year’s 60-second Super Bowl ad for its electric i3, BMW puts words in Katie Couric and Brian Gumbel’s mouths as they try to decipher how the i3 is “built using wind, like from a wind mill” or “a fan, or a turbine? Or a fan … bine?”

As the more urbane voiceover at the end of the spot makes clear, the truth is that the i3 is “built in a wind-powered factory with the strength of carbon fiber and BMW performance.” With what may be the first-ever use of the word “factory” in a Super Bowl ad, BMW puts the provenance of the i3 — rather than the experience of driving it — at the center of its message, which goes something like this: If you’re informed enough to know a little about these advanced manufacturing methods, this car is for you.

And even if you’re not following the latest news on wind power or carbon-fiber technology (like Gumbel and Couric and the middle-America demographic they stand in for), it still might be worth taking a look at the i3. After all, Gumbel and Couric didn’t have a clue about email back in 1994 and look how that turned out.

Mercedes-Benz’s Super Bowl Ad — “Fable”

While BMW makes mention of its factory, Mercedes-Benz takes you to an idealized AMG production facility located in the forest of its 60-second “Fable” commercial, which offers a new spin on the classic tale of the tortoise and the hare. But rather than the tortoise’s slow and steady approach winning the race, it’s the “plot twist” of the his chance encounter with a Mercedes AMG GT manufacturing plant that gives him the edge he needs to come out on top.

While the standout moment in the commercial is the showboating slow-motion shot where the tortoise jumps the GT over the hare while smirking “Who’s your turtle?,” the tortoise’s encounter with the AMG engine being lowered onto its engine mounts is almost as much of a narrative highlight. It doesn’t really tell viewers much about how the car is made, but it does dare to go behind the scenes at a factory, however idealized the depiction.

In “Fable,” the AMG production facility is a sort of romanticized industrial research lab where machines capable of game-changing bouts of speeds are engineered. It’s integrated with the surrounding lush, green landscape, rather than opposing or overwhelming it in any way. And although this image self-consciously diverges from the clichéd idea of a factory as a place dominated by dirty, repetitive, and boring tasks, it’s still a dark and mysterious place where shadowy silhouettes of factory workers move around in the margins of the frame.

Rather than putting workers front and center, as did WeatherTech, the real meaningful interaction in the Mercedes-Benz Super Bowl spot is between the tortoise and the fully assembled car, which completes the tortoise’s pronouncement, “Slow and steady my . . . ” with a roar of its defiant engine. And unlike BMW, which underscores how the technology used to make the i3 is too new to be comprehended by the masses, Mercedes looks to the past to show how its latest product can be used to rewrite one of Western culture’s most enduring fables.

American Automakers Sitting Out This Game

It’s no surprise that the Super Bowl commercials that most directly touch on manufacturing are car related. Automobiles are a staple of Super Bowl commercials, and the trials and tribulations of the auto industry have been at the heart of all the bad (and now good) news about the economy, as well as debates about the future of manufacturing. What’s interesting, though, is that no American automakers are running commercials during Super Bowl XLIV, unless you count GMC’s official sponsorship of the NFL. Oh well, there’s always next year.

Leave us some Comments and let us know what you think about this year’s crop of Super Bowl commercials. And share images you’ve found of manufacturing in the media!

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Jake Gerli


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