Leave it to Chrysler to create controversy and debate with Super Bowl ads.

Last year's “Imported From Detroit” theme, featuring rapper Eminem, rocked our senses. It was like nothing we’d seen before.  

The creativity and power of the message was a study in effective delivery with indelible branding.  Throughout my career, I’ve been involved in delivering a message and trying to tattoo it on the audience’s memory.

As we know now, after Chrysler’s latest Super Bowl ad, “Imported From Detroit” was only the half of it.      

Under the inspirational leadership of CEO Sergio Marchionne, Chrysler followed up “Imported” with “Half time in America,” an ad that made many people stand up and cheer at a Super Bowl party, including myself.

It is ironic though; Chrysler is Italian-owned and still operating by the grace of a U.S. government bailout. Yet, it is this auto maker playing the American patriotic- pride card so effectively.

I’ve said before that Marchionne is either a genius or delusional. I’d bet 5-to-1 on genius. Chrysler’s recent sales numbers validate an effective business model, high-quality new product and powerful marketing.

I know a lot of Chrysler, Dodge, Ram and Jeep dealers who are euphoric about their prospects and products. It hasn’t always been that way.

For a long time, Chrysler products had widespread quality issues. The company had sales and public-perception issues. As a brand, it was on the wrong side of the tracks. If you owned a Chrysler product, it was because you only could afford that, not because it was the ride of choice.

I remember working at a Chrysler dealership in the 1980s. During some heat waves, the rearview mirrors fell off of the windshields of vehicles in the lot. We had to glue them back on when it got cooler.

If the rearview mirrors won’t stay on a car that hasn’t been sold yet, how many other quality problems will a buyer face up the road? A lot, it turned out.  

Marchionne has made a difference. I believe Chrysler products have greater quality, performance and design than when Daimler owned the company.

Chrysler has shown it is still in the game, as evidenced by “Half Time in America,” with Clint Eastwood walking out of the shadows and into our minds with a message that would, once again, inspire a nation.

Somehow, some people saw it as promoting President Obama for re-election. That wasn't my take on it at all. I’m a long-time conservative, but I find it a real stretch to claim that ad was a political payback to a Democratic president.

Although the ad focused on Detroit for obvious reasons, the entire auto industry took a hit when the economy melted down. We lived through the hard times, and now we’re on the other side.

Auto makers showed resiliency. Most dealers and their staffs toughed it out, although a lot of dear dealership friends, people I’ve known all my adult life, didn’t make it. They couldn’t hang onto their businesses.

Now, there is hope and optimism, as evidenced by the mood at this year’s National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention in Las Vegas.

Once again, Marchionne and his team exhibited the genius I’ve grown to appreciate and expect from Chrysler today.

When other businesses were spending unfathomable amounts of money trying to make people smile with cute ads, Chrysler did something memorable. It gave us “Half Time in America.”

It started last year with “Imported From Detroit,” with a powerful message yet a subtle one, too, that announced the arrival of a Chrysler under new Italian ownership.

And this year, Chrysler turns to 81-year-old Clint Eastwood to make an ad that says so much about America, what we’ve been through and where we are going.

As Clint would say, it made my day.

Jim Ziegler, president of Ziegler Supersystems, is a trainer, commentator and public speaker on dealership issues. He can be reached at zieglerss@aol.com.