Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Selling Detroit - The biggest branding challenge ever?

According to Stuart Elliot's NY Times piece on 11/15, a new multi-agency effort is about to be launched in an attempt to attract young talent and creativity to what has got to be America's most downtrodden city.

I'm speaking of the once mighty motor city - Detroit. And if ever there was a city more desperately in need of a re-branding, that's it. I'd say

Newark or Paterson, NJ would come under that same category (the latter being place of my birth) but the weather is better in Jersey and Detroit is in far worse shape. One look at the houses, factories and other infrastructure literally crumbling before your eyes would be enough to frighten away the most dauntless of entrepreneurs among us.

I read a story recently about the last little company moving out of the old Packard plant. The place has been falling apart for years - from a combination of constant vandalism and neglect - and no cars have been built there in more than fifty years. In the meantime, VW is spending over a billion dollars on a new plant in Chattanooga. I guess if the domestic carmakers can't make the numbers work in Detroit, then why expect a European company to give it a go?

Anyway, the the yearlong “Assignment Detroit” project is being sponsored by the Time Inc. unit of Time Warner and involves reporters and editors from Essence, Fortune,

Money, Sports Illustrated, Time and related Web sites. Several advertising agencies with offices in the Detroit area were asked to develop campaigns. The five who agreed to take part are Campbell-Ewald, McCann Erickson, the Troy office of Leo Burnett, and Doner and GlobalHue, both in Southfield, MI.

Time Inc. is devoting an estimated $400,000 in ad pages in Fortune to the contest. An ironically-named spokesperson, Mark Ford, president for the news group at Time Inc. in New York, said the contest springs from the group's belief in the renewal of the city. The campaign will be targeted more to the 18-to-34-year-old demographic.

I'll be watching this one closely. Who knows - maybe the situation isn't as hopeless as it seems. And maybe advertising really can make a difference. I applaud those agencies for having taken a stake in the resurgence of a great American city. Maybe the same thing could work for Newark and Paterson.

Visitors to the Web sites will be able to vote for their favorite among the five campaigns. The winner is to be announced on Dec. 2, during an annual awards ceremony in Detroit known as the D Show.

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