The Hypocrisy of Chrysler’s “Imported from Detroit” Campaign

I’ll admit it: I love the Chrysler ad campaign “Imported from Detroit,” which debuted in February’s Super Bowl spot starring Eminem.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for hometown pride. I was born about 60 miles downriver from the Motor City in Toledo, Ohio, a town sometimes known affectionately as “Little Detroit.” I remember when it was considered treasonous to drive a foreign car.

That’s the brilliance of these ads. They appeal to our inner urge to root for the underdog, our nostalgia for simpler days. Those flashes of a grand-looking Woodward Avenue. The water tower that proudly shouts “Birmingham, Michigan.”

It’s also very telling, the commodification of Detroit. It says something about Americans’ new-found fascination with cities — the same fascination that has inspired many young entrepreneurs who are working to reinvent Detroit.

But Chrysler is selective about the Detroit it celebrates. Absent is the ruin that now accounts for a large share of the city. Invisible is the crushing poverty, constantly present in the urban landscape. The driver in the most recent installment, traveling out from the center of Detroit to its suburbs, is in control of his fate (thanks to his snappy ride) in a way few in the region really are.

Despite the defiant sentimentality of its ads, Chrysler, as well, is selective about its commitment to the city of Detroit.

Chrysler's suburban office park isn't the kind of setting that inspires award-winning ad campaigns. Photo: ##http://bobgray2011.com/?page_id=6## Bobgray2011.com##

If the man in the commercial were a Chrysler employee, we wouldn’t see him pulling out of a downtown parking garage. In the 1990s, Chrysler traded its headquarters in Highland Park, a tiny urban enclave nestled within Detroit’s borders, for a new suburban office park in exurban Auburn Hills.

Chrysler’s decision was by no means remarkable for the Detroit region, where job sprawl is more the rule than the exception. Only seven percent of the region’s total jobs are within three miles of the urban core anymore. You can make a strong case that sprawl, more than de-industrialization, is responsible for the city’s decline.

Meanwhile, Highland Park has never been able to replace the tax revenue that Chrysler’s employees delivered. In the last 20 years, the city has shed half its total population. Now, local officials are going to extreme measures to weather the recession. They grabbed headlines nationally last week when they decided to stop illuminating streetlights in order to save $4 million.

But who could blame Chrysler for trying to cash in on Detroit pride. After all, “Imported from Auburn Hills, Michigan” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it?

  • RichardC

    Well, at least the driver’s trip from downtown to a home in mid-20th century suburbia is an appropriate parallel to the company itself…

  • thielges

    Great article Angie!  And I like the irony that the act of fleeing the urban core denigrates the iconic city that the ad celebrates.  I visited Detroit for the first time last month and was amazed by how much established infrastructure has been abandoned and eviscerated.  The region as a whole (including the ‘burbs) is still economically healthy but the city’s core is completely rotten.  Maybe low rents will attract a new wave of urban pioneers who can’t afford to live in cities that have already rebounded.

  • I mentioned it before, but the race thing is what sticks out to me. Detroit is 85% black. Chrysler hides that by using the “standard” mix of 90% white, 10% minority we see in all corporate campaigns.

  • Angie, would you have rather Chrysler just gone under ??? That way the whole city could have turned the lights out. I know where a lot of your loser citizens went………they went to my home town of Houston , TX…………….where unions are NOT welcome !!!!!!!!!!!

  • Reggie McPhee

    Exactly, Brooks. Unions ruined the Rust Belt. The jobs went to the South, where the spirit of free enterprise, independence, hard work, and freedom still reigns (not to mention our weather and food are a million times better). Unions are anti-American and should be outlawed, most are just Communist fronts. Decent, hard-working people don’t need a corrupt union to protect their jobs. If they are good workers, they’ll be retained and get ahead. Unions also allow lazy, unproductive workers to get paid exorbitant salaries.

    Anyway, the future of America isn’t in the burned out urban cores hamstrung by unions, public pensions, outmoded transportation systems, crime, and homeless people. It’s in the exurbs, where there’s space, privacy, low crime, low noise and levels. Not to mention low taxes and a “can-do” spirit not seen in Democrat-run dumps called “major cities”. Read Joel Kotkin. He makes the case that the suburbs will be the
    economic growth engines of the future in his book “The Next Hundred
    Million: America in 2050?.

  • Matthew Arnold

    Oh please, haters. Without unions the Rust Belt would have been a feudal shithole like your dear old Dixie. Now, after moving generations of union working people into the middle class, it’s got a strong infrastructure — education, transportation, healthcare and skilled workers — to weather the fallout of globalization, deindustrialization and automation. What have you got? A couple strip malls and really good barbecue. Good luck with that, and enjoy the climate change!

  • You haters going to blame the unions for the Big 3 designing and manufacturing cars that people didn’t want?

  • Reggie,
    This is coming from someone who doesn’t and has never belonged to a union. Do you like your 40 hour workweek? If you’re an hourly worker, do you like getting overtime pay? Do you like your company paid vacation time? Your sick time? Your bereavement time? Your workplace safety rules? These and a myriad of other things that people take for granted were all first established by unions. They basically didn’t exist before unions pushed for them. It’s amazing to me how many people will denigrate unions but are more than happy to take advantage of the workplace benefits they get that wouldn’t be available to them without the existence of unions.

  • Irwinc

    The biggest hypocrisy? Chrysler 300 is made in Ontario Canada. Last time I checked, that’s another country.

  • Anonymous

    FYI – Chrysler’s Canadian plants are unionized. I guess only American unions are a communist plot that destroy jobs.

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, but Chrysler’s real HQ hasn’t been in Detroit since 1998.  Currently it is located in Turin, Italy having been moved from Germany.

    Also, I find it fun (and an institutionalized pro-auto bias) that a Chrysler 300 which is made in Brampton, Ontario or the Ford Crown Victoria, the last of which just rolled off the line in St. Thomas, Ontario are considered “US-built” and can be purchased by public agencies without restriction, while a rail vehicle made in Thunder Bay, Ontario or La Pocatiere, Quebec are “Foreign” and are not exempt from “Buy America” hassles.

  • Mig

    Good point SteveT.  But Reggie and Brooks must be “decent, hard-working” people — unlike folks who recognize the benefits that unions have provided. 

    And Brooks, the jobs didn’t go to Houston, Texas, they went overseas.  Uninformed people like you can continue to consider cars built overseas American and wave your teabag talking point pompoms, but please review your understanding (or complete lack thereof) in this situation.

  • The only African Americans I saw in this ad were a woman walking across the street and a few children.  Leave it to Chrysler to create an ad about Detroit without African Americans.

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