Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Detroit: What Do Twenty-Something Californians Think?

I had a chance to talk with 14 college students in California about Detroit and the Chrysler Super Bowl commercial. We even watched it together. (By the way, it was sunny and 70 outside; not exactly conducive for conjuring the Motor City in February.)

Eleven of the students were from the Golden State, along with one each from Washington, Illinois and Colorado. Only one person had ever been to Michigan. All were in their early twenties. Eight drove foreign cars; six drove American. They were kind enough to participate in a very unscientific survey.

Before watching the commercial, I asked them to write down any thoughts they had about Detroit:
Eminem and 8-Mile.

It's the airport my friends at UM use to get to Ann Arbor.

Literally, I don't think of anything.

A kid I went to middle school was from there.


I know it's cold and they make cars, but I don't know much else.

Foggy, dirty, cold, car industry.

Dirty, homeless people, diverse, factories, industrial.

Most dangerous city in the U.S.


Crime, dirty — never been though.

Did watching the commercial change your opinion of the city?
Makes me realize there is much more there than bad rumors — more history and culture.

It makes it look modern, clean and classy.

No, I've been to Detroit. I liked what I saw. I loved the colorful atmosphere and, to be honest, it confirms a lot of stereotypical Detroit images.

Not really. It seems to depict a hard-working city with a history. Hard and harsh.

Verifies it as a city, but paints a "tougher" image than I imagined.

I don't think it taught me enough about Detroit to judge it.

I never had an opinion but now I think it's a "tough" area.


  1. I have seen this posted by Michigander's all over the place. My first reaction was it appealed to my (frankly faded) sense of car town/tough town pride.

    Then I asked myself, (because unlike you, Gordie, I don't have access to quasi-focus groups): For people who are NOT emotionally connected to Detroit (like your subjects), what is this commercial really doing for them?. I concluded: it's just another celebrity endorsement. The fact is, you take Eminem's celebrity persona out of the ad, and it would have almost zero buzz. It is well shot, kinda cool, but is still just a black car driving around a urban landscape, and in case you haven't noticed, this is pretty much standard issue auto advertising. So the like all ads, the buzz is the measure of success and this one seems to be doing alright.

    But Eminem has been pushing Detroit's 'tough cred' for years in his work, but this hasn't put a dent in the downward spiral of perception. Doing the same thing from the seat of a black Chrysler won't really move the needle.

    Now if they can sell one black chrysler to every Eminem fan...

  2. I prefer to think of us as "gritty". As far as I'm concerned, this commercial blew away the Superbowl. Chrysler and Eminem really nailed the feeling and movement of Detroit.

  3. Good Job Gordie! Sometimes it is hard to imagine people not knowing anything about Detroit or Flint. You did a good job of polling them and getting them to think about a place they never thought of before.

    It's kind of like people in the U.P. A lot of them have never even seen the Mackinac bridge.. Who ever herd of such a thing! Ya know?

  4. I will admit, the commercial got me. It generated the emotional response I think it was trying to achieve. After I saw it, I thought it was the best one of the bunch.

  5. "Robbers rob robbers in Detroit." That's what my dad always said about the place when I was a kid. I always think of that when I think of Detroit. That, and Diana Ross & The Supremes (of course).

    And do you remember Grosse Pointe? That old TV show on the WB? I think of that too! Perhaps I'm aging myself...

  6. Next Chrysler commercial for Emmanin should be shot during the "Woodward Dream Cruse"..Detroit and cars and real people....that should resonate w/maybe all but California.

  7. Grew up in Flint in the 50’s,would ride my bike from the north end to the south end to visit my grand-parents. Shipped off to the Marine Corps right out of Flint Central, after my tour came back to my home town to be disappointed by the sense of entitlement the unions fostered. Moved to Calif and raised 7 children, 8 grandchildren who are not interested in Mich at all. Still miss the Mich. the Super bowl commercial tried to reproduce.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at www.teardownbook.com.