Super Bowl: How Bob Dylan Jumped From Counterculture Icon to Car Salesman
Bob Dylan has moved from “Positively 4th Street” to absolutely Madison Avenue.
By appearing in a longer-than-usual commercial for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles during the Super Bowl Sunday night – and allowing the use of his wordy 1966 single “I Want You” in a separate spot for Chobani yogurt – has cemented an idea that few would have ascribed to him when he first came to prominence in the 1960s: He’s for sale.
“You can’t import the heart and soul of every man and woman working on the line.” Dylan said Sunday night in the latest of a series of Chrysler Super Bowl ads meant to spark pride in America and the cars it makes. “Let Asia assemble your phone…We will build your car.”
Dylan’s likeness and music have appeared in advertising several times in the recent past – he most notably allowed Pepsi to do a mash-up of his “Forever Young” with a new version by will.i.am in the 2009 broadcast of Super Bowl XLIII. So it’s not as if jaws should drop at the sight of seeing the man who once railed against “”Advertising signs that con you/Into thinking you’re the one/That can do what’s never been done/That can win what’s never been won.” But his appearance in such a significant commercial effort marks once and for all the fact that this one-time counterculture figure has been completely absorbed by the stuff he once seemed to keep at a tremendous distance.
Indeed, advertisers would do well to enlist Bob Dylan. “Having earned his stripes resisting ‘the man,’ he has now become a cultural icon representing unqualified authenticity,” said John Covach, director of the Institute for Popular Music at the University of Rochester. “Partly because his music is no longer current pop, there is no risk of fans perceiving him of being co-opted by big business. His position in music history assured, Dylan stands as an image of integrity, independence, and authenticity in a way that only a person with a long and established presence in pop culture can. I think fans will love seeing him. There will be no question of sell out, as there was at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, for instance. Dylan means quality.”
That’s a lesson many marketers have already learned. Victoria’s Secret, the lingerie retailer owned by LBrands, first tapped into the cult of Dylan by using his 1997 song “Love Sick” in a 2003 commercial – then upped the ante a year later by having the musician himself appear cavorting with models in a spot that debuted during Fox’s “American Idol.” Dylan is “so iconic and so arresting” said Ed Razek, the company’s chief marketing officer, told The Wall Street Journal at the time.