Springsteen's DWI Should Be a Reminder to Marketers: Thoroughly Vet Your Talent

Now Jeep faces scrutiny

When casting actors for content like commercials, there are some things that are absolutely necessary to consider when making that person the face of your brand, whether it be for years or for 60 seconds.

In 2014, Michael Phelps famously lost at least five sponsors after a second DUI arrest. While DUI/DWI arrests have become the most benign of celebrity hiccups these days, it hits differently when you’re representing a vehicle manufacturer.

In 2020, Jeep ran an incredibly nostalgic ad with Bill Murray reprising his role as Phil Conners in a spoof on the 1993 film Groundhog Day. That spot had it all—a lovable celebrity, furry friend, bright visuals. And you knew from the beginning you were watching a Jeep ad.

This year, Jeep pulled another American icon out of its ad embargo: The Boss, Bruce Springsteen. From the first frame of the ad, it was a very different approach. Jeep opted for moody and poignant in tone.

Casting and vetting brand ambassadors in the days of instant feedback has become tricky, but more important than ever. With internet pundits so quick to call out hypocrisy, a brand must ensure that its house is in order before putting out content that will be highly scrutinized. It was reported that the ad was only shot a week prior to its running.

You want to have someone who is authentic to your brand. Your audience needs to feel as if the person they are watching on-screen is a user of the product. (See Lebron James and Kia. We all know LeBron isn’t driving one.) The 1980 Jeep CJ-5 seen in the ad is actually Springsteen’s!

With that said, it is imperative that the brand ambassador you cast in your ads also have a reputation your brand is willing to go to bat for.

We all make mistakes. We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t. But mistakes don’t come without consequences. In Jeep’s case, it goes beyond that.

Jeep. Makes. Cars.

Drinking and driving do not go well together.

Lo and behold, TMZ reported that in November, Springsteen was arrested for DWI. He’ll have a court appearance coming in the next few weeks. According to reports, he was cooperative throughout the arrest, and this was his first DWI.

Content for brands—even internally only—goes through layers of vetting, from comms to PR to C-suite to legal, and sometimes through that loop a couple of times. I find it hard to believe that Jeep (and further, Fiat Chrysler), its legal team, PR team, comms team, ad agency and their teams, didn’t dig deep enough to find this.

Or, is this a case of the brand being infatuated with the celebrity enough to disregard the vetting process altogether?

Sergio Marchionne, the late and former CEO of FCA, was a big fan of Springsteen and regularly used his music during presentations, linking Bruce Springsteen to the persona of the company. Here’s the nuance about the vetting process: It must be not only extremely thorough, but you sometimes have to disconnect from any emotional connection to a celebrity or brand ambassador.

We may have wish lists and dream opportunities, but when our brand and reputation are on the line, years of work to get to that pinnacle can come crashing down faster than it takes to take a drive down Thunder Road.