The city of Detroit once stood tall, a shinning beacon of American capitalism, culture and character. The legacy of Henry Ford and the assembly line, a thriving middle-class, and an automotive industry driving growth in the post WWII economy are reminiscent of better times for the country. Sadly, while the rest of the U.S. continued to move forward, the 1950s were the pinnacle years for Detroit. The economic and social decline that would ensue for decades later caused irreparable damage to the city's image and brands.
Today, as the country slowly recovers from recession, Detroit seems to have emerged from it disparity — though perhaps this is an illusion. It appears as if the city hit bottom and is rising up into a hotbed of creativity, innovation, art, music, and (dare I say it) maybe even jobs. The brands most closely associated with the city's decline have experienced a resurgence. Chrysler and GM are back in the black after a bailout and bankruptcies, and the Ford namesake invokes national pride (if only because they managed to do the same without restructuring or government assistance). Together, they've displayed a resilience and perseverance that is fueling the inspiration of hardworking Americans in the Motor City.
Chrysler's "Imported from Detroit" slogan has become a rallying cry for buying domestic and the American manufacturing base. The commercials have accumulated tens of millions of views and for awhile #importedfromdetroit was a top trending twitter hashtag driven by proud residents and consumers. In the technological age of tangled, overlapping and instantaneous feedback loops, companies can not afford to mismanage their social media efforts. Since dumping New Strategies at the beginning of this year over a tweeting mishap, Chrysler hired Ignite in an attempt to protect what has become both their, and the city of Detroit's, brand image. And good thing they did, because another slip-up occurred.
It was an unfortunate oversight by both Chrysler and Wieden + Kennedy to introduce the Chrysler 300 into the campaign, because it's come to light that the vehicle is assembled in Canada. Only a few days ago a lawsuit was brought against Chrysler by the Made in USA Foundation on the merits that, “Chrysler’s false advertising is likely to cause substantial injury to consumers who seek to buy U.S.-made vehicles.” Ironic, considering that Fiat Group, an Italian automaker, owns 25% of Chrysler Group LLC. Making matters worse, it appears as though Chrysler and Ford have both been in the practice of removing country of origin labels from their car windows at auto shows.
Is this only bad press for Chrysler or could the mantra “Imported from Detroit” and the city’s negative reputation have a harmful impact on Ford and GM, too? Does showcasing a personality like Eminem leave the city with a bad rap (pun intended)? If so who's left to fight for the image of the city of Detroit and the Big Three? In 2009, Kwame Kilpatrick and the city council came close to losing the North American International auto show (one of the largest annual revenue generating events for the city) because of their mismanagement of the city's dilapidated expo center, Cobo Hall, amongst other things.
Second only to cars, Detroit’s pride rests in one place: sports.
The Red Wings are always a great team, but hockey season is just getting underway. The Pistons may not even play this year because of the NBA lockout. In a game 6 breakdown the Tigers lost the ALCS; and after an unlikely winning streak, the Lions have fallen to a 5-1 record. They were 5-0 for the first time since (yes, you guessed it) 1956.
So, here’s to hoping the sports teams, the city’s elected officials, and the automakers can hold on to the momentum they’re gaining. Henry Ford said it best, “You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.” Now, we’ll wait and see.
The Dozen is an eclectic take on innovation, branding, media, strategy and research, brought to you by the creative minds at Egg Strategy.