Raiders Running Back Josh Jacobs Talks to His Younger Self in Poignant Kia Super Bowl Ad

The carmaker again focuses its efforts on philanthropy

josh jacobs
Jacobs stars in powerful Super Bowl ad that reflects on his past.

For the second year running, Kia has decided to shelve the tactics that car brands so often employ in their Super Bowl ads—celebrity endorsers, stunt drivers, adolescent-grade humor—in favor of a sober and provocative message.

Released today, Kia’s spot for the Big Game pretty much leaves aside everything you’d associate with a car and instead uses its 60 seconds to talk about youth homelessness—starting with a guy you’d never associate with it.

“Tough Never Quits,” produced by Kia’s agency of record David&Goliath, stars Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, and tells a story you won’t find on his Wikipedia page. Jacobs grew up homeless on the streets of Tulsa, Okla., raised by his father and frequently sleeping in his car.

The poignant ad, narrated by Jacobs, returns to those Tulsa streets, where Jacobs spots his younger self (portrayed by Boston Horne) running along the broken sidewalks. “Sometimes I wonder what I would tell my younger self if I ever saw him,” Jacobs intones. “I’d tell him, ‘Josh, it’s going to be hard growing up homeless. But you’ve got to believe in yourself. Be tougher than the world around you.’”

Directed by John Hillcoat (whose films include 2009’s The Road), the spot is heavy on gritty gray streets and predawn murk. The notable pop of color comes courtesy of the mustard yellow 2021 Kia Seltos SUV that Jacobs is driving. (This is still a commercial, after all.)

Given the extravagant and fatuous nature of many Super Bowl ads, Kia’s decision to take a serious direction, while not without precedent, is still a bold one. It’s also thematically consistent, given the route that Kia took last year.

For its 2019 Super Bowl spot, Kia not only tore up the playbook for spending megabucks on a celebrity endorser, but it was also overt about doing it. A young boy narrator reminded viewers how much money celebrities make to endorse brands, then asked: “What if a few of those celebrity paychecks got set aside to help un-famous people? What if this year, in some way, it was about the rest of us?”

To muscle up its ad, Kia created what it called the Great Unknowns Scholarship. Aimed at helping underprivileged young people gain access to higher education, the automaker granted $5,000 awards to 16 students “with limited resources and limitless potential.”

For 2020—and in conjunction with “Tough Never Quits”—Kia has created a new charitable initiative called Yards Against Homelessness. For every yard gained in the game, the company has pledged to donate $1,000 to Stand Up for Kids, Covenant House and Positive Tomorrows, three charities that focus on youth homelessness.

Jacobs—whose four-year contract was worth close to $12 million—is no longer homeless. Earlier this month, the 21-year-old tweeted his exuberance over buying his father a house. But no NFL salary can diminish the hard facts of Jacob’s youth, and it’s unlikely there’s a more inspiring figure for a car brand than a football star who grew up having to sleep in one.

“I can’t imagine a better purpose for a brand than to share this amazing story of Josh Jacobs and how he was able to find his way through his toughest challenge,” said David Angelo, founder and creative chairman of David&Goliath, in a statement.

Added Russell Wager, director of marketing operations at Kia Motors America: “An ongoing tenet of Kia’s Give It Everything philosophy is to give back in meaningful ways, and we at Kia both admire and identify with Josh’s tenacity and determination.”

This year marks the 11th consecutive Super Bowl in which Kia has advertised.

For all the latest Super Bowl advertising news—who’s in, who’s out, teasers, full ads and more—check out Adweek’s Super Bowl 2020 Ad Tracker. And join us on the evening of Feb. 2 for the best in-game coverage of the commercials anywhere.

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