Thursday, February 10th, 2011
Unless you are one of my overseas readers, you’ve doubtless seen the $9 million “Imported from Detroit” Chrysler ad featuring Detroit grit and Eminem that ran during the Superbowl. It was a huge crowd favorite and I really thought it was done well. I’ve never had anything that generated as many “did you see this?” type emails as this one did. Here’s the ad (if the video doesn’t display, click here).
I suppose it was inevitable that this would generate blowback, but even I was surprised to see such strange bedfellows as Mother Jones and Mark Steyn united in their distaste of the commercial. It’s notable that most of the criticism seems not to be from Detroit or the Rust Belt itself, which liked the ad and doesn’t feel patronized by it. The critics seem to be mostly those who are incensed that the auto industry and Detroit have the temerity to dare to fight back rather than meekly accepting due recompense for their unholy bailout-Democrat-autodependent-consumerist-capitalist sins.
But to me that’s not the interesting part. What this really shows once again is the power of brand Detroit. Is there another city in America an ad like that could have been created about? Even in a radically different style, it’s hard to imagine someone using the power of a city’s brand to sell a product in that way other than perhaps a tourist town or in a totally facile way (“We brew our beer in Milwaukee”). If someone tried, it certainly wouldn’t be nearly as effective. There are lots of cities that have “been to hell and back,” but I can only think of two where you could pull off something like this: Detroit and New Orleans. Not even Chicago has the brand power to resonate like this, showing at least one way in which Detroit actually exceeds the Windy City.
Detroit may be facing a very tough road ahead, but if nothing else, it remains a place that has the power to command the world’s attention in a manner few other American cities could ever aspire to achieve.