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 PreservationNation.org. 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.