How to Make the Heart of Your Customer Roar with Passion for Your Brand: Deconstructing The Dodge Challenger Freedom Ad

In this post, I’ll deconstruct the Dodge Challenger “Freedom” ad, and peel back its many layers of persuasion.

First Mental Image (FMI):

A Revolutionary era British soldier/scout running, frantically, through a wooded trail; alerting his troop of the impending American attack.

The ad begins with captivating first mental image that leaves the viewer eagerly anticipating the story’s next scene. Clearly, you get the feeling something significant is about to happen.

The Message:

American pride, power, innovation, freedom and independence.

Oh, where to begin? I haven’t seen an ad this rich with emotion in a long, long time. So, let me give you five reasons why this ad roars!

5 Reasons Why the Dodge Challenger “Freedom” Message is Powerful and Persuasive

1.) Believability: Pay particular attention to the single line of copy delivered at the end of the ad, which reads, “Here’s a couple things America got right: cars and freedom.”

Now, most ad writers would have written the following line instead: “Here’s a couple things America got right: Dodge Challenger and freedom.”

Yes, it’s a subtle distinction. But boasting about the Dodge Challenger would have only triggered a hefty dose of skepticism and rejection from the viewer.

The Dodge Challenger “Freedom” ad resists the allure of chest-thumping. It never once mentions the car by name; allowing the viewer to draw his own conclusions about the Challenger’s status in American automotive history. It’s a brilliant move that elevates the believability of the message.

2.) Absence of Clichés: The Dodge Freedom ad is refreshingly absent of automotive advertising clichés — both in the form of copy and imagery.

First, there are no overt attempts to guilt-trip you into “Buying American.” Oh yes, the “Buy American” message is present, but it’s communicated by imbuing the viewer with American pride.

Second, there’s no winding race track or road. Who needs pavement? George Washington is driving his Dodge Challenger down a dirt hill, baby!

Finally, there’s no mention of the 5.7 liter Hemi engine with 475 horsepower packed under the hood. Nope… again, the ad prefers to show rather than tell. The power of the Hemi is demonstrated as it roars over the somber background music.

3.) Relevant Metaphor: Anchoring the Dodge Challenger to concepts such as power, freedom and independence perfectly aligns the ad’s message with the muscle car’s performance and heritage. The use of metaphor also resonates with the customer; speaking to his need to identify with and express these same emotions.

4.) Symbolism: Scenes from the Revolutionary War evoke strong emotions of patriotism and freedom in every American.

And then there’s the undertone of American power vanquishing foreign invaders.

Recently, as you know, The Big Three U.S. Automakers were under attack from foreign car companies. This ad symbolizes the resurgence of American automakers who were nearly bankrupt and begging for a government bailout.

5.) Playfulness. Introducing the Dodge Challenger into a Revolutionary War battle speaks to the unconscious mind’s desire for fantasy. And I’ll bet my bottom dollar that most of us have imagined what it would be like to travel back in time, bringing with us a piece of modern technology. I know I have.

My partner, Roy H. Williams, best describes the importance of playfulness in ad copywriting: “The left hemisphere of the brain wants facts, details, descriptions and benefits. Lefty is all about sequential logic and deductive reasoning. Lefty looks for loopholes and discrepancies and is full of doubt.

But the right hemisphere cares for none of that. The right half of the brain is where fantasy lives. And Righty doesn’t know fact from fiction.

If you merely exaggerate, your customer’s left brain will shoot your claims full of holes. But if you go beyond mere exaggeration – so far beyond it that the left brain knows you’re just clowning – the right brain will happily embrace your glowing fantasy in all its positive glory.”

Let’s see, George Washington leading the attack while behind the wheel of a Dodge Challenger with an American flag proudly waving from the car’s passenger window?

Yeah, I think the right brain knows we’re just clowning around.

Stylistic Signature:

Authentic looking Revolutionary War battle scene. (That is, up until the appearance of the Challenger.) Voices, barely audible, as the British troops prepare for battle. The somber violin howling in the background only to be silenced by the roar of the Challenger’s Hemi engine — a proxy for America’s power.

I mean, what’s not to like?

But I find the music choice most interesting. It certainly presents a twist that elevates the viewer’s interest.

Most of us would have selected background music that struck a more upbeat and powerful tone… something in alignment with the ad’s main message. Maybe the beating of a marching drum, for example. After all, America’s power is being communicating here.

But the ad doesn’t go there.

The somber violin music diverges from the ad’s other layers of communication. It’s the kind of eerie music that would typically accompany a disaster scene, or a hero’s death.

But the serious tone of the violin perfectly balances the playfulness of watching George Washington behind the wheel of the Dodge Challenger.
Somehow it all comes together and works beautifully.

Last Mental Image (LMI):

American power pushes back the foreign invaders into full retreat.

What better spokesperson for a message communicating American pride, power, freedom and independence than George Washington?


Gawd, I love this ad. It does everything right… it breaks conventional wisdom, it shows rather than tells, and it speaks directly to the viewer’s established beliefs.

That’s one heck of a compliment, since, as many of you know, I prefer simple and direct advertising messages. Generally speaking, your customer is too distracted to give you the attention needed to communicate a message so heavy with deeply layered messages. And frankly, there are few among us that can pull off an ad as clever, creative and relevant as the Dodge Challenger “Freedom” ad.

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6 Responses to “How to Make the Heart of Your Customer Roar with Passion for Your Brand: Deconstructing The Dodge Challenger Freedom Ad”

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  1. Rob Wallis says:

    Man that IS powerful. Thanks for sharing this, as it is the first time I have seen it. The juxtaposition of the somber violin, at first kind of annoying, fits well as you said with the image of Washington driving a Challenger (Wha?)

    A couple of things I noticed about this ad, and most really good ads, is (1) you don’t know what’s going to happen, so (2), you keep watching to find out. I feel like the good ads make you ask (in the beginning) “Where are they going with this?”


  2. Mike says:

    question, as far as the mind frame of positioning, is Dodge trying to use “Freedom” in the same way Harley Davidson uses freedom as a lifestyle? Are they trying to convey that driving a Dodge Challenger is having a sense of freedom and is this the physiographic person they are going for?

  3. Tom Wanek says:

     Rob, thank you for your reply. I agree, especially with your second point. It’s nice when everything falls into place and the message is clear at the end.

  4. Tom Wanek says:

    Hi, Mike. Sorry for the slow response. Yes, I believe that the Dodge Challenger shares many of the same traits as Harley Davidson, and that’s the type of person the company is trying to identify with. 😉

  5. Mihai says:

    Love the Symbolism part !


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