Preservation Round-Up: The Keep Detroit Beautiful Edition

Posted on: February 7th, 2011 by Jason Clement 16 Comments

What was your reaction to Chrysler's "Imported From Detroit" Super Bowl spot?

Last night, at approximately 9:03 p.m. EST, Super Bowl XLV changed for me -- big time.

First, a disclaimer: Unlike my colleague who just tweeted "Only three months to wait for the 2011 NFL schedule announcement," I am not a pro football fanatic. However, I do appreciate the Super Bowl for three reasons: 1) no-holds-barred eating and/or chip dipping, 2) the pre-game and half-time pageantry, and 3) the Brand Bowl.

Another disclaimer: I majored in advertising. And though I decided very early on that I wanted to do something with a soul rather than sell diapers on prime time, I still have a soft spot for smart communication that works (for the brand) and rewards (for the consumer). Unfortunately, that very rarely happens on Super Bowl night. Yes, the commercials are high of hype and humor, but to me they represent advertising at its most basic -- and oftentimes egregious -- form. Think about it: People who are covered in Dorito crumbs and on their second or third beer don't necessarily want deep and thoughtful. They want monkeys, awkward work situations, and men dressed as women.

However, every once in a while, a really great spot shatters this mold, eliciting in living rooms everywhere a momentary pause in chip consumption and a long "Duuuuuuude." Apple's legendary (well, among advertising nerds anyway) 1984 spot is an example. It dropped like a bomb during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII, and continued to win awards up until 2007. I remember watching it in one of my classes and thinking, "Wow, this is why I want to do this."

Now, back to last night. During the third quarter (coincidence?), Chrysler managed -- in just two minutes -- to make me cry, think, feel proud, question my Toyota, and want to hug the entire city of Detroit while screaming the lyrics to I'm Proud to Be an American. That roller coaster of emotion aside, the spot also managed to reaffirm my values and beliefs as a preservationist. File under "Things I Never Expected From A Car Commercial."

Let me be upfront: I realize this is not a commercial about historic preservation. And whether or not Chrysler genuinely loves Detroit and its struggling stock of historic treasures is irrelevant because, at the end of the day, they have a very clear bottom line: Sell cars. I get it. However, in my eyes, the ad clearly linked preservation to progress -- to the rebirth of a city that "has been to Hell and back." The screen capture of Eminem in front of the restored and insanely gorgeous Fox Theater with "Keep Detroit Beautiful" glowing on the marquee says it all. Cue the choir (of course there was a choir!) and you've got water works.

Other than the "Imported From Detroit" tag line, which succeeded in igniting every competitive urge in my body, I also found the overall look and feel of the commercial to be deeply moving. For me, it showed that cities are alive -- and can die. And the juxtaposition of progress and the city's real but often sensationalized ruins was beyond poignant. Yes, moving inventory is critical to Detroit's recovery, but so is historic preservation.

Moments after it aired (and when I was able to rid my fingers of Dorito dust), we shared a link to the video on the National Trust's Facebook and Twitter accounts. For the round-up portion of this round-up, I'd like to spotlight some of the comments shared there and in other corners of the Internet.

First to Facebook and Twitter:

Jill S. Thomsen: The commercial was for a City. It presented a City as a living, breathing thing - which it is, but not 'everyone' sees that. For this reason it was my fav of the night - insight is good for all!

@BlackFinnRO: In a stunning turn of events Detroit wins Super Bowl XLV #Eminem #Chrysler #ImportedFromDetroit

Gary Gilmore: There's no preservation here. Detroit could care less about preserving anything. I know, I work in a historic building that would have been razed, and the city did little, if anything, to lend a hand in saving it.

@KrisColvin: Commercials that are funny amuse us, but those that *mean* something to you can change lives. That to me, is a good ad. #brandbowl #chrysler

Amanda Smith: No one is claiming Detroit's government is full of preservationists. Detroit needs people who are excited and passionate about making it a better place. If a commercial like this can get people talking, it's a start.

@graphicalchela: ok #chrysler, where are the IMPORTED FROM DETROIT t-shirts? i need a dozen....

Beth McMullen: That commercial for many was less about the car they were selling and more about shaping a community identity based on pride and the preservation of those buildings and places that represent Detroit's rich if sometimes difficult history. The places that make it truly unique.

In a story posted at 5:14 this morning, the Detroit Free Press posed a great question to folks outside of Michigan: Does this commercial change your perception of us? Some of the responses:

You know the "IMPORTED FROM DETROIT" can really become a great theme for Detroit if marketed the right way.

I live in Pittsburgh and watched as a room full of people stopped what they were doing to watch the ad. When it was over someone in the room simply said "wow"... I think that sums it up. Nice ad Detroit!

I thought the commercial was excellent! Showed the grittiness of Detroit and then nicely transitioned from smokestacks to Campus Martius and the Fox Theatre and the choir. With Eminem keeping the edginess throughout, it said -- the city is tough, the car is tough.

In another story posted even earlier this morning, the same paper asked a question exclusively for locals: Did you feel it?

Detroit still has a long way to go, however, great commercial and I "felt" it as well! Eminem definitely represents his city well when it comes to entertainment.

The question that popped in my head was what do they mean by Detroit? The city? The auto industry? Its people? Therein lay the brilliance of the ad - it didn't portray Detroit as a place, but as an attitude. And it's attitude that will determine what happens to this city. Do not underestimate this place.

It was an effective ad for Fiat/Chrysler but let's not get too excited folks. Motown has a long, long, long way to go. The video was dark and foreboding as was intended but that is the reality of Detroit.

However, the commercial didn't just make headlines in Detroit. This post from the Los Angeles Times offers a great note to end on:

In a way, it's also more than a message about Detroit. As BMW also showed in an ad featuring the plant making its X3 model, it's honoring a time when America was about making things -- real, hulking tangible pieces of machinery. It stood in contrast to the rest of the ads for things we click on, things made far, far away, things created by people sitting behind a desk (not that there's anything wrong with that). Chrysler seems to say that Detroit isn't dead, and maybe the spirit of Americans making things isn't dead either.

I couldn't agree more. Americans are capable of making -- and saving -- great things.

Let's do this.

Jason Lloyd Clement is an online content provider for He doesn't want to be another person who has never been to Detroit.

The Preservation Round-Up is the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s twice-weekly digest of preservation news and notes from around the country. Got any tips? Shoot us a link on Twitter or Facebook.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Jason Clement

Jason Clement

Jason Lloyd Clement is the director of community outreach at the National Trust, which is really just a fancy way of saying he’s a professional place lover. For him, any day that involves a bike, a camera, and a gritty historic neighborhood is basically the best day ever.

News Round-Ups

16 Responses

  1. Amy McAuley

    February 7, 2011

    In a time when a lot craftsmanship has been lost in American I think this ad could do a lot to make people realize that there is value in making a quality product be it cars, buildings, or advertising. But will this commercial spur enough people to act and save this city and its many treasures? The optimist in me is hopeful. This city is too great to let die.

  2. Joe Borgstrom

    February 7, 2011

    Great post Jason! My Twitter and Facebook feeds blew up after this commercial. Not only did the acclaim and pride come from my fellow Michiganders, but from those who used to live here and moved somewhere else, and from those who’d never been. I’ve often said that there is not another state that has as much pride and a bigger chip on its shoulder than the great state of Michigan. This ad, for many of us, finally gave the other side of the story. Like many of our historic buildings, we’re still standing here. Maybe battered, bruised and lilttle neglected, but we’ll be damned if we’ll let people ignore the great things we do here. For every (pre)Madonna that’s left, we have a Bob Seger, Eminem and Kid Rock who’s stayed. I am thankful Chrysler and Eminem helped shine a little light on our great state and our great city. There are those who think Michigan and Detroit are a lost cause. We are not. Just watch. We’ll show you.

  3. Hannah

    February 7, 2011

    I love this post and the Chrysler ad. Detroit has far too much potential to be ignored, and too many passionate people rooting for its success. From a preservation standpoint, take a look at Michigan Opera Theatre and the Detroit Riverfront Conservancy (among many others) as two standout organizations changing the face of Detroit. Then there’s reporting on redevelopment and business in the city. Detroit will get better- and ads like this from Chrysler will help us get on the map.

  4. Ben Schreiner

    February 7, 2011

    As someone keenly in love with America and historic preservation all I can say is a simple “Wow”. Thank you to the imaginative folks that put that ad together. It was a breath of much needed fresh air.

  5. Kelly Lynch

    February 7, 2011


    “Americans are capable of making — and saving — great things.”

    Your last line is the first thing I eat for breakfast and the last thing that goes through my head at night.

    I even started a web series based on the same token for my railroad non-profit, which (fittingly) restores and operates American machines (imported from Ohio) from the 1940s. The start is nothing flashy, though clearly inspired by Jeep/Chrysler’s same mantra. I’m happy to see people shrugging the dust off and realizing we became the country that was so great because we made great things. Let’s get back to it.


  6. Robert Brincheck

    February 7, 2011

    As a strong supporter of the Trust and a metro Detroit resident, I am very glad to see members of the Trust embrace the spirt of this ad. While it is still just a car ad the images they selected to use are very insightful and show a deep knowledge and understanding of the area and the city. Highlighting the restored beauty of the DIA and Fox Theater, along with the beautiful Fisher building shows a respect for the city’s heritage. I also enjoyed the image of the preserved facade near the beginning. This restoration has fallen victim to the economic collapse but is being preserved for future development. This facade is not something well known or even easy to find so the crew had to know the area to be aware of it.

    Great article Jason. There is great work being done to preserve many of the city’s treasures even while more work remains to be done. Glad to see the Trust giving the attention it deserves. Next step is to move beyond the ad and talk about some of the innovative efforts being used.

  7. Nadeen Steffey

    February 7, 2011

    Great article….great commercial….sharing now…..

  8. Stan Surratt

    February 7, 2011

    The “Imported from Detroit” Chrysler Ad, was great from so many perspectives. Pride in your city. Pride in your work, and, yes, pride in your country. We need to pay more attention to American businesses and products, and stop running them down, this is part of national conservation as well. Am I biased , yes, as a Chrysler retiree, I am proud to see a great American Company coming back.

  9. Want My Churro? | Que sera, Sarah

    February 7, 2011

    […] preservationists think alike. Jason had blogging duties today, and his thoughts – well worth a read – pretty much echo my own. And since he covered the words, I’ll let the pictures speak […]

  10. Dymaxion

    February 8, 2011

    What’s interesting in all of this incredible response to this one ad, is the same thing happened in Miami in the early 80’s, when that city was the butt of jokes nationwide about being “god’s waiting room” and the cocaine capital of the world with tremendous crime, deteriorating infrastructure and worse.

    Then the artists Christo and Jeanne Claude came to town and wrapped several islands in Biscayne Bay with pink plastic resembling giant flowers, and photographed them from the air and it caused a national sensation- it’s considered today to be the singular piece of “advertising” on Miami that glavanized support for Miami Beach’s preservation and amazing revival since.

    This Chrysler ad is feeling a whole lot like this, though it’s important to note, that the visuals of the wrapped islands showcased one of Miami’s best attributes- it’s beautiful physical location on the Atlantic and it’s weather.

    Detroit needs to realize it’s architctural patrimony was showcased in this ad, and is it’s chief physical attribute that needs to be highlighted and preserved at all costs- no one would be interested in seeing dull, contemporary strip malls and Phoenix style blandness. Building on this, and steering new development to be sensitive to Detroit’s physical history will be key to any revival as it was in Miami Beach.

    If the city, it’s leaders and citizens embrace this, the Chrysler ad will be known years from now as the spark that lit the fire.

  11. Bruce Campbell

    February 8, 2011

    I watched it when it came out during the Superbowl and I loved it, probably, for a lot of reasons. I recognized many of the places. It was well-made, and credible. Detroit gets trashed so much in the media and this felt like our way of saying that it has been tough and we know we’re not perfect, but we are proud of what we are doing and I believe we can do much better. And it is true that Detroit is Motown: obsessed with automobiles.

  12. Eric

    February 9, 2011

    Visually the ad is beautiful; it conveys the grandeur and integrity of the city. As advertising it isucceeds because people will long be talking about it and the product it’s pushing. But as a reflection of Detroit’s –or any formerly robust and now anemic city’s– personality, I would reject the ad. I wouldn’t want that finger-in-your-face, “don’t mess with me” attitude to speak for my city…ever. I think the voiceover’s tone–vaguely belligerent, brittle and defensive–also weakens the visual power and message of resilient dignity.

    If Emimen has helped heal Detroit, I’m glad to hear it. But I think this is a dishonest and sentimental commercial. Eminem is a saavy, rich businessman posturing here as a tough guy in order to give a cartoonish, working class vibe to a city that is more rich and complex than that. The voiceover sounds like a bad impersonation of a mobster. Is this how “working class” people in Detroit are “supposed” to sound? My factory-working grandparents would have told him to get the look off his face.

    This is the kind of facile imagery that people get sentimental about, but when you look at it closely, the stale cliches surface. Pride in one’s city carries weight when it speaks with dignity and strength, not defensive swagger. This ad will not dent anyone’s perception of Detroit; it will just make people in New York and Chicago think their cities are immune to Detroit’s exotic fevers, namely decay, corruption, poverty and despair. Detroit as the poor, desolate island whose cars we “import” but where we dare not live. Of course the ills of Detroit infect all older American cities to some degree, but this ad reinforces the lie that those ills are quarantined in the motor city.
    Detroit, such a beautiful city and important city, deserves better.

  13. Jim Walters

    February 9, 2011

    I’d second Eric’s comments and also note that many of the people who “write about” Detroit are from Detroit – like Paul Clemens.

  14. Nancy Finegood

    February 10, 2011

    I say congratulations to Chrysler for having the guts to step outside of the “commercial” box and stand up for the auto industries’ home, Detroit. The bonus was that people across the nation saw, for a few moments, the beauty of the historic buildings in Detroit, instead of all the “ruins” that have pervaded the media over the past few years.

    There are alot of dedicated people working to preserve and revitalize Detroit! They all deserve a round of applause!

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  16. Round the Blogosphere 2-14-2011 | Preservation in Mississippi

    February 14, 2011

    […] For two opposite perspectives, see “Why That ‘Imported from Detroit’ Ad Was So Good” on The Moderate Voice and “Chrysler’s Deplorable “Detroit” Super Bowl Ad” by Mother Jones. Yes, they’re both referring to the same commercial. Even the National Trust’s blog ran a post about the commercial, “Preservation Roundup: The Keep Detroit Beautiful Edition.” […]