Detroit has declared itself bankrupt.
Is this the first step in repairing a damaged brand, or the beginning of the end for Motor City?
Wow. The news that Detroit has filed for bankruptcy has left me feeling… What, exactly?
Sad? Melancholy? Hopeful?
All of the above.
The city that got America moving and grooving is down. The brand, once glittering, now tarnished with collapsing public services, dwindling residential population and spiking murder rates, is in imminent danger of complete destruction.
That makes me sad. Deeply so. (Mostly because I’d give a select appendage get the chance to run a place branding and marketing campaign for somewhere like Detroit. That would be awesome. You know how to contact me.)
And especially downcast because the ‘Imported from Detroit’ campaign had such promise. (OK, it was really a vehicle for Chrysler to shift more units, but it had some significant place branding potential.)
How brilliant is that?
How fantastic that Chrysler put their money where their mouth is, and played not only to their heritage and their aspiration, but to the heritage of the people and place that spawned them.
Even as a non-American, I want to punch the air and give a whopping ‘Hell YEAH’ to that ad.
The work rightly won awards. In fact, here’s an extract from the official press release that accompanied its Effie (via autoblog):
The challenge for the Grand Effie winner, according to its entry, “after Chrysler’s 2009 bankruptcy, the 200 launched with no loyalty to leverage and no eager buyers waiting to see what was coming. Unfortunately, America had turned its back on American cars. In turn, America turned its back on Detroit. If Chrysler could bring back Detroit, it could take back its rightful place within it. Success required us to keep the public’s eye on Chrysler’s future – to see the possibility, energy and will-to-win in Chrysler. Chrysler launched “IMPORTED FROM DETROIT”, which punctuated every piece of communication that has come from the brand since. The first-ever two-minute commercial in the Super Bowl (featuring Eminem) formed the centerpiece of the campaign. As a result, the effort achieved a PR extravaganza and Chrysler search and sales skyrocketed. The success of this campaign has contributed significantly to the company’s sales growth over 2010, and as a result of this success, Chrysler has paid off their government bailout six years early.”
Ah, but, wait. Look at this line: “If Chrysler could bring back Detroit…”
That’s the worm in the apple, and the proof that all the awards in the world won’t stop bad things happening. You know, like bankruptcy. And murder.
They didn’t, they haven’t. But they sold a lot of their units, which was nice for them.
But now Detroit is slowly becoming cool.
Check out this Google ad for one example:
(I didn’t realise, initially, that this was Detroit. Thanks to Buzzfeed for the original source)
Some of these ideas aren’t new – in fact, there’s a lot of resonance with what you can read today with this piece published by Alan ‘Brand’ Williamson in 2006.
This article by David Muller also speaks a lot of sense, advocating cities such as Detroit leverage existing assets rather than succumbing to Shiny New Object Syndrome (perfect advice which any place, or brand, would be wise to take before splashing cash on un-needed and ill-thought-through frippery).
Like London’s Hoxteth or The Annex in Toronto, the grit of the place appeals.
Places such as these become hotbeds of creativity as those who can’t afford to live in ‘nice’ areas move in, and force a gentrification.
They suddenly start to pull themselves up, redefine their sense of purpose, create a desirable brand around themselves.
Yes, they’re not perfect, but they’re ‘real’, ‘authentic’.
And that counts for one hell of a lot.
By using this sense of the real, the city could find its saving grace…
Detroit still has potential. By playing to its heritage while taking the opportunity to redefine and (literally) rebuild itself as a City of the Future, we could see one of the most important, audacious and inspiring rebranding exercises in recent history.
Watch this space.
Neil Hopkins is a Marketing and Branding Theorist at heart, and a Marketing Communications Manager by day. His blog – interacter – is the primary location he shares insight and information relating to marketing, branding and advertising strategy.
You can follow Neil on Twitter, circle him (like an escaped bull) on Google+ or track him down in any number of other ways.
And he really, really, really, would like a ticket to Detroit to chat branding and marketing. He REALLY would.
Image credit: femaletrumpet02 on Flickr