Eminem in Chrysler's Super Bowl XLV adEnlarge Photo
Maybe it's just basic TV advertising 101: Commercials are too short to make a logical appeal, so they rely on emotion.
Unfortunately, emotion often trumps both logic and reason. And the much-discussed, much-searched, 2-minute Super Bowl starring Eminem promoting Detroit's grit is a stunning example of emotional impact obliterating the purpose of car advertising: to increase the likelihood that buyers will choose your cars.
The ad also apparently had something to do with Chrysler, incidentally. They paid for it.
To be fair, it's not yet clear whether the ad will sell cars for Chrysler. We'll find out only in a few months. And it did hit a sweet spot among viewers ready to believe that American cars may not be rolling [expletive deleted] any more. It's just massively flawed and illogical.
Chrysler Born of Fire Super Bowl XLV adEnlarge Photo
Detroit is tough
The Eminem ad has ignited fierce discussions among auto journalists, with those who disliked the ad in a distinct minority.
Consider this a counter-argument to the paeans of love-love-LUV for the ad that have spread across screens and paper pages since the ad aired.
Let's start with the premise: Detroit is a tough place. No argument there. The City of Detroit is a Dresden-esque ruin that has lost half its population in half a century. It properly evokes a mix of horror, pity, and contempt.
And it will stay that way until it gets a city government that isn't corrupt, that provides competent services to its residents, plows its Interstates, balances its budgets, educates its children for the needs of the 21st century, protects its citizens, grows its tax base, and generally does the blocking and tackling that the vast majority of city governments seem to do fairly competently.
Detroit? Two words: Kwame Kilpatrick. Look it up if you're not familiar.
2011 Chrysler 200
2011 Chrysler 200Enlarge Photo
Of course, it's part of U.S. culture to root for the underdog. And that sentiment has come through loud and clear in the plaudits for the ad. Clearly U.S. car buyers want to recapture the days when cars were designed and built in the U.S.
Detroit residents, meanwhile, uniformly love the ad. Why? "It makes Detroiters feel good about themselves," as more than one correspondent wrote.
And that's fine. But why should Chrysler pay a reported $9 million to promote Detroit and make its residents feel good about themselves?
The love is a little odd to outsiders, too. Feel good about the beautifully photographed ruins? About the fact that two of its three car companies went bankrupt after decades of lousy management and even worse cars? And had to be rescued by U.S. taxpayers? That's something that should make residents feel ashamed, no?
GM Renaissance Center American flag
GM Renaissance Center American flagEnlarge Photo
Already, new glimmerings of the old arrogance seem to be creeping back into the discourse. Yes, the cars produced by Detroit automakers are now largely competitive in the market.
But it will take time for public perceptions to catch up to that reality after 30 years of unreliable, unexciting, sub-standard rolling appliances better suited to rental-car companies than sentient buyers.
Detroit v the entire rest of the world
And yet posing these arguments seems to generate a sighing chorus of, "Oh, you just don't get it, do you?"
In other words, we're from Detroit, so we know better. "This isn't New York City..."
Well, no. It's not. How many people from all over the world come to the City of Detroit to see its splendors versus coming to NYC for the same purpose?
To some of us, it's puzzling and bizarre that an ad with Eminem pointing his finger like a gun and stabbing viewers in the chest from the TV screen apparently makes residents feel good and optimistic about the utter wreckage that is the city of Detroit.