SOUTHFIELD, Mich. -- Bob Dylan's Super Bowl commercial for Chrysler caused an immediate stir on Twitter, as fans debated the use of the septuagenarian rock star to narrate a patriotic spot for the redesigned 200 sedan.
"You can't fake true cool," Dylan intoned over images of autoworkers in Detroit, the latest of the automaker's Super Bowl ads that showcase the U.S. auto industry and have featured Eminem and Clint Eastwood in past years. "You can't duplicate legacy."
Dylan, 72, began trending on Twitter after the commercial ran in the third quarter of Sunday's game, won by the Seattle Seahawks in a 43-8 blowout of the Denver Broncos. Debates broke out over whether he sold out, whether Chrysler diminished the message by hiring a singer who protested the Vietnam war, and why an Italian company, Chrysler parent Fiat, was doing a patriotic ad. Some voiced support.
"He's someone who has confounded expectations for 50 yrs. Why anyone expects him to embody their squishy idealism is beyond me," tweeted Seth Mnookin, a Vanity Fair writer who teaches at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
At the end of the two-minute homage to America and American pride, the ad mentions Chrysler's new 200 sedan, a much improved version of the one Eminem pitched in a memorable 2011 Super Bowl ad.
Sergio Marchionne, chief executive officer of Fiat and of Chrysler, suggested to reporters at the Detroit auto show last month that the car featured in 2011 didn't measure up to the quality of the ad itself. Fiat said on Jan. 29 the combined company will change its name to Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and be based in the Netherlands.
With the tagline "Imported from Detroit," the Eminem ad drew attention to Chrysler's unfolding recovery and has been viewed more than 16.5 million times on Google's YouTube.com.
The car it featured, the 200, was a facelift for a troubled model previously known as the Sebring, and never matched up to Ford's Fusion, Honda's Accord or Toyota's segment-leading Camry. The new 200, due in showrooms in the first half of the year, is redesigned throughout, improving upon the design, fuel efficiency, technology and performance.
"Somebody made the comment to me that I had the right commercial in 2011 and the wrong car," Marchionne said in January. "I think we now have hopefully the right commercial and the right car."
In 2012, Chrysler offered a pep talk by Clint Eastwood and last year ran a black-and-white ode to farmers featuring the Dodge Ram pickup, narrated by the late radio host Paul Harvey. This year's ad ends with Dylan imploring Americans to buy domestic cars.
"So let Germany brew your beer, let Switzerland make your watch, let Asia assemble your phone," Dylan says. "We ... will build ... your car."
Some fans on Twitter were disappointed. Some implored him to listen to his old records, with protest songs like "The Times They Are a-Changin'."
"And you thought .Dylan going electric was his big sell out.......would you buy a used car from this guy?" said one Twitter post.
Dylan has appeared in ads before. In 2004, he did a promotion for Victoria's Secret, making good on a 1965 promise to a reporter that if he ever sold out, he'd do it with "ladies' garments."
The singer has even appeared in a Super Bowl ad. Clips of Dylan playing "Forever Young" backed a Pepsi commercial with Will.I.Am. in 2009. Sunday night's game included a spot for Chobani yogurt that featured "I Want You" as the background music.
The Chrysler ad prompted some customers to take a look at the car, according to Edmunds.com, which tracks online response. Consideration of the Chrysler 200 more than doubled during the ad, while some other carmakers, including Maserati and Kia, showed much bigger reactions.
With at least seven auto brands spending millions to win the attention of viewers during the Fox network telecast of the game, it was inevitable the fight among marketers would spill out from the big screen to small screens, where fans share tweets from celebrities who appeared in commercials or watch instant replays of ads on YouTube.com.
Successful Super Bowl ads are enjoying a longer life, thanks to websites like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Before the advent of online videos, game-day commercials had a shorter run than a traditional TV campaign. Now they draw audiences for years, as with the Eminem ad and the one Volkswagen has with "The Force," a 2011 ad that's been seen 59 million times at YouTube.
Whether Dylan delivers in the same way for Chrysler may depend on how he connected to younger viewers.
"Loved the .Dylan .Chrysler ad but how many under age 50 know what an American original he really is?" said a Twitter user, Guy Gordon. "How influential?"
By Mark Clothier and Anthony Palazzo