Bruce Willis is back as John McClane in DieHard battery's 'Die Hard' reboot

Advance Auto Parts spends big on the brand months after acquiring it from bankrupt Sears

Published On
Oct 19, 2020

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Advance Auto Parts has tapped Bruce Willis to recharge DieHard, the 53-year-old car battery brand it acquired from Sears last year. In an ad that broke today, the actor reprises his role as detective John McClane from “Die Hard,” the action film franchise that began in 1988.

A two-minute version of the ad—which debuted during Fox’s National Football League coverage—was filmed like a Hollywood production, with plenty of references to the movies. 

Willis, playing McClane, encounters one of his old foes from the original film Theo (played by the original actor Clarence Gilyard Jr.) after his car battery dies, then hurls himself through the glass window of an Advance Auto Parts store, grabs a DieHard and escapes through a ventilation duct. De’voreaux White reprises his role as Argyle the limo driver, assisting McClane. And yes, the ad steals the famous Yippee Ki Yay line, except this time Argyle says it (without the ensuing F-bomb).

The ad, handled by The Marketing Arm, carries the earmarks of a costly Super Bowl production, complete with teasers. The brand seeded a short clip with Willis’s children, who tweeted it out on Saturday. The teasers did not carry any branding, amounting to a head fake that made it appear as though a new sequel was in the works, using the phrase #DieHardisback.” 

The brand declined to reveal how much it spent on the production and media buy, but the investment marks a major step up in marketing attention for a brand that had withered under Sears, which shed the battery at the end of 2019 amid its bankruptcy. 

DieHard’s share of the automotive battery market was at 2.4% in September 2019, down from 5.5% five years earlier, according to figures from market researcher TraqLine cited by Motley Fool. “With customers abandoning the retailer in droves and sales plunging from one year to the next, DieHard's ability to maintain any market share was an achievement,” Motley Fool reported in January.

Advance Auto Parts, which scooped up the brand for $200 million in late December, is now spending big to reignite interest in the battery, while using it to lure customers into its nearly 5,000 stores and e-commerce offerings.

“In the early 80s [DieHard] was extremely well-known for its boldness in creative in advertising. For the last bunch of years that has just been a lot less,” says Jason McDonell, who joined Advance Auto Parts as its exec-VP and chief marketing officer last year after a long career at PepsiCo. “What we wanted to do is re-ignite the equity that is still there for the brand.”

But doing so during the pandemic is easier said than done with big ad shoots complicated by social distancing. The DieHard shoot occurred over four days in California’s Simi Valley near Los Angeles in August. “We all got tested prior to going on the site and when we were there it was social distance, masks and making sure we were doing what we could to make sure everybody was safe,” McDonell says.

The brand could not afford delays because of the seasonality of battery business. “This is a critical time for the auto parts industry—this window is key for car batteries in particular,” McDonell says. “The cold is coming and when that happens you get battery failure. We felt this was the perfect time to be able to do it.”

In a statement provided by the brand, Willis said: “I’ve never done any sort of commercial with the John McClane character, but Advance Auto Parts brought an idea to integrate DieHard the battery into the ‘Die Hard’ story through a short film that’s authentic to McClane and both brands.” 

Advance plans to continue the campaign with 30- and 15-second versions of the spots in English and Spanish, airing nationally and in key local markets.