Sounds from Jay-Z's seminal 10-year-old hit 'Heart in the City (Ain't No Love)' blasts from the Chrysler 300M in the latest ad from the company's award-winning 'Imported from Detroit' campaign. Jay-Z's music follows other hip hop artists featured in previous ads like Dr. Dre's Beats by Dr. Dre speakers, and Eminen's hit 'Lose Yourself'. But the eyebrow-raising irony is as the popular campaign continues to lift the veil on America's rejected city, from it's wildly successful Superbowl debut to current print spots with bold messaging like 'Good Things Comes to Those Who Work,' the latest ad in the series that has given a voice to Detroit residents plagued by unemployment, and violence -- with an allegorical hard work meets style Americana -- has no black Detroiters in sight.
Commenting on the ad, Chrysler's president and CEO says, "The new commercial continues our "Imported from Detroit" theme by taking this great city to the rest of the world and captures a day-in-the-life of local citizens in and around Detroit." Dianna C. Gutierrez from the brand's media relations assures us that the local citizens featured are real people, not actors. The ad is a departure from the brand's first ad -- a dark and gritty display of a city narrowly branded just as that. The new ad however, attempts to show the world another side of Detroit where it's bright, and sunny, where white kids ride bikes uninterrupted by abandoned houses, and street corners decorated in honor of slain children with framed pictures and teddy bears stained by rain and urban mud.
White hands grip the car's stirring wheel in the 60-second spot, slowly steering to the iconic Woodward Avenue, Michigan Avenue, and in an automotive campaign built on the pride of the city that made the world mobile -- and an automotive company built on the backs of black assembly-line workers -- black Detroiters find themselves driven outside of the 'Imported from Detroit' narrative as the campaign makes it's most bizarre and backward turn yet by driving across 8 Mile, and leaving the city.
The sight of the 8 Mile sign in the 'Imported from Detroit' ad operates as a disturbing trope for black Detroiters. To people outside of Detroit, 8-Mile signals memories of Eminem's biopic, charting the rapper's meteoric rise from random white emcee to global superstar, but to real Detroiters, 8 Mile is a haunting symbol of racial divide, separating the inner-city's black working-class from white suburbia -- a reality that has tormented Detroit for decades, and is arguably a primary marker of the city's present condition. And even though the city's suburbs like Grosse Pointe, Birmingham, and West Bloomfield has shown a mainstay of black middle-class occupants since, like forever, there's no evidence of this reality in Chrysler's most recent commercial.
Instead we see scenes of white suburbia -- white kids working a lemonade stand, white firemen, and school children in uniforms (a direct slap in the face to Detroit's still-lingering public school crisis). Luxury advertising absent of black bodies is nothing new, but this is Detroit, a city that's 82 percent black. And while the city's crippled economy found Detroiters migrating out of the city by the thousands, a 25 percent decline in population to be exact, there remains a strong and obscured populous of Detroiters willing to duke it out -- and these Detroiters living within the city limits are not only black, they are unquestionably the most authentic heart of the city.
Weiden and Kennedy, the agency of record on the Chrysler business could have avoided all of this by injecting a little more diversity, and accurately portraying the real local citizens of Detroit. An ad based on one of America's most black cities void of black people -- who are generally the folk actually driving Chrysler cars -- is not only discriminating, it's just dumb.
'Imported from Detroit' has sparked everything from political debate to Twitter hashtags, and Hart Plaza t-shirts, and certainly there are whites who can identify. Detroit's white residents have been beaten over the head with the city's negative reputation as well. But at the end of the day, they can leave their Woodward avenue offices, get inside their cars, and drive across 8-Mile detaching themselves by a city thinly stereotyped as poor, ghetto, backward, and hopeless -- a false and near inescapable identity that has directly affected black Detroiters both in and outside of the city.
It seems as long as everyone's cars are imported from Detroit, it is evidently still all good.
See the ad here: