Chrysler's Deplorable "Detroit" Super Bowl Ad
[UPDATE: The AP reports that Chrysler's allegedly heartfelt ode to Detroit was the brainchild of a Portland, Oregon, ad agency whose other major client is Nike. The automaker shifted its ad accounts to the Portland shop after its previous PR firm, the storied BBDO, ended its Detroit operations. Which probably had something to do with the car manufacturer's stiffing BBDO to the tune of $58 million.]
In case you missed it, Chrysler—a car corporation that's better known for bailouts, buyouts, and management shuffles than reliable cars—somehow succeeded in winning hearts and minds last night with its two-minute Super Bowl ad buy, the longest and most expensive in the Big Game's marketing history. "Imported From Detroit," the $9 million ad, starred not a car but the beleaguered Michigan burg, its troubles, and its market-anointed favorite son, rapper Eminem, declaring: "This is Motor City, and this is what we do." The attempt to jumble Detroit's urban problems and its big-name corporate overseers into one orgasmic pulse of hip-hop-infused Americanism apparently succeeded. "Did you see it? Or, if you're a Detroiter, did you feel it?" genuflected one columnist for the city's dead-tree media. That made Ad Age's gushing sound downright subtle: "What starts out as a down-on-our-luck tribute to a broken city morphs into a defiant, we're-back rallying cry."
But there's a lot to dislike here: the fact that a major bailout recipient is dishing beaucoup bucks for a one-off ad to boost its image; the cynical racism (or at least colonialism) of positioning Chrysler as a tough, gritty, 8 Mile-style brand that's perfect for what marketers call the "urban core" demographic; and using Detroit poverty porn to hawk your product while simultaneously trying to deride the media's recent Detroit poverty porn. (To be fair, maybe Chrysler ended up with a crappy commercial because the word's out on Madison Avenue that Chrysler also counts its advertising firms among the many parties it screws over. One of its previous ad execs complained that Chrysler "makes cars which no one wants and continues to throw money at them...and now, they want us to bail them out.)
But most appalling is the idea that Chrysler is one of the great things about gritty Detroit and America, when in fact it's one of the corporate locusts that choked the city and nation purple with its credit-backed gobbling of skilled labor and its excretion of abandoned worker plants. It's as if some Wall Street marketer hired by Chrysler was stuck at his social-worker sister's apartment in West Harlem and skimmed her copy of the November/December Mother Jones while she was preparing two cups of kombucha in the kitchen. Because, clearly, the creators of this ad read Charlie LeDuff's amazing elegy for his hometown...and, clearly, they didn't get it at all.