By Bernie Woodall
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Is what is good for Chrysler good for America?
The auto maker courted controversy and won kudos for a two-minute Super Bowl advertisement that was less a car sales pitch than a political message in a presidential election year.
Rugged Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood proclaimed it was "Halftime in America" in the spot that did not mention a Chrysler car or truck but intoned that the automaker's successful turnaround could be used as an example for the United States as it struggles with high unemployment and a slow economic growth rate.
"Detroit's showing us it can be done," Eastwood said.
Traffic on Twitter showed overwhelmingly positive comments for the advertisement. The "Dirty Harry" star and Academy Award-winning director spoke to Americans as if he were a football coach making a halftime speech encouraging his team to work together to win in the second half.
"This country can't be knocked out with one punch," Eastwood said in the ad. "We get right back up again and when we do the world is going to hear the roar of our engines. Yeah, it's halftime America. And, our second half is about to begin."
In the second half of Sunday's game, the New York Giants overcame a one-point halftime deficit to win the NFL's championship, 21-17, over the New England Patriots.
The TV spot was the last shown before the start of the second half of Sunday's game.
A 30-second spot in this year's game televised by NBC cost $3.5 million. Chrysler has not said how much the Eastwood spot cost.
It was the second straight year that Chrysler ran a two-minute spot that was unconventional and drew much internet buzz.
Last year's ad featured rapper Eminem and attached "Imported from Detroit" to Chrysler products, a moniker present in this year's version as well. That ad has been seen more than 21 million times on YouTube and Chrysler executives say it helped push U.S. sales of the automaker's brands including Jeep, Dodge, Ram trucks and Chrysler up 24 percent last year.
Chrysler, the third-biggest U.S. automaker, faced liquidation in 2009 before it was bailed out with $12.5 billion in loans from the Obama Administration. It underwent a restructuring bankruptcy that left it under the control of Italy's Fiat SpA and its hard-charging chief executive, Sergio Marchionne.
Marchionne is now the CEO of both Fiat and Chrysler. Fiat owns 58.5 percent of Chrysler.
Chrysler, which employs the most auto workers in the city of Detroit, last week reported its first full-year profit since 2005. It forecast operating profit would rise 50 percent to $3 billion in 2012, based on an expected 30 percent jump in sales of its cars and trucks.
Last May, the company repaid its U.S. government loans.
Marchionne was in Las Vegas on Sunday where he showed the "Halftime in America" advertisement to Chrysler dealers at an auto dealers convention.
The dealers received the ad warmly, giving it and Marchionne a standing ovation. He did not talk with reporters on Sunday and refused to talk about the Super Bowl ad on Saturday when he held a press conference.
"I think it was the best Super Bowl ad," Joe Massey, a Chrysler dealer in Alabama who was in Las Vegas for the dealer convention, said after the advertisement aired on television. "It hits the right tone and goes straight to your heart."
The Chrysler ad featuring Eastwood generated the third-most Twitter traffic of Sunday's Super Bowl ads, according a measure by Boston advertising and social media agency Mullen. That was the highest Twitter volume of any of the nine automakers airing pitches during the game's broadcast.
The 81-year-old Eastwood played a retired Ford factory worker in Detroit in the 2008 movie, "Gran Torino" and he received high praise from some in the auto industry for his pitchman performance.
Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation, the largest U.S. auto dealership group, on Twitter reposted a comment saying: "Clint Eastwood could get elected president with that ad."
"Powerful spot," David Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Obama's re-election team, said on Twitter. White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer also on Twitter said: "Saving the America Auto Industry: Something Eminem and Clint Eastwood can agree on."
Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said the campaign had no involvement with the ad.
The Obama administration has yet to act on a $3.5 billion loan proposal from Chrysler for Department of Energy funds to help spur the development of more fuel-efficient automobiles.
Gualberto Ranieri, chief spokesman for Marchionne and for Chrysler, declined to comment on the notion that the advertisement was a thank-you gift to the Obama administration.
"The advertisement speaks for itself," said Ranieri.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Editing by David Holmes)