The Luv For Eminem's Detroit (Chrysler?) Ad: Bizarre & Wrong

February 9, 2011
Eminem in Chrysler's Super Bowl XLV ad

Eminem in Chrysler's Super Bowl XLV ad

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 ad

Chrysler Born of Fire Super Bowl XLV ad

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 200

Underdog story

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 flag

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.

Eminem in Chrysler's Super Bowl XLV ad

Eminem in Chrysler's Super Bowl XLV ad

Love the industry, hate the city

But the biggest irony of all this is that most of the ad's defenders--at least in the auto industry--don't live in the City of Detroit at all. They go there as little as possible, and really viscerally loathe the place.

They seem to view the city rather as they would a sibling who's an active drug user: They know they should love him, and in some part of their heart they do. They just don't want to see him around. Ever.

A memorable four-hour tour through huge swaths of the city, including the inhabited ones, will explain why that is. Fix that, and people from all over will respect Detroit, love it even.

But ads saying how tough Detroit is only amount to self-indulgent, feel-good pap that do nothing to solve the problems. On Chrysler's nickel, no less.

2011 Chrysler 200

2011 Chrysler 200

Ummm, hey, cars too ...

Still, let's acknowledge that the first part of the ad is visually striking. It's when a car enters the picture that the ad goes wrong, in a hurry. Its logic could be summarized a couple of different ways.

Take 1: Our city is a wreck and a disaster area, but we are tough so we can make ... ummm ... luxury cars that are better than the Germans make.

Take 2: 'American luxury' equals a verbally adept (allegedly) wife-abusing hopefully-recovering addict hiphop guy plus a rotting industrial past.

Either one: Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

Part of the problem is the 2011 Chrysler 200 that flashes briefly on the screen. It's utterly jarring, 'cause Eminem don't drive no 200s--just like Fifty Cent didn't drive a Pontiac Solstice.

Eminem might, though, drive its bad-boy big brother, the 300. Unfortunately, the 2011 Chrysler 300 full-size sedan is built in Brampton, Ontario, Canada.

So much for "Imported From Detroit."

Will it sell cars?

Whether the ad will ultimately be worth the cash depends on whether it increases purchase intent, among the toughest car shoppers, for the redesigned and renamed 2011 Chrysler 200, which for all its improvements is still a warmed-over Sebring.

It's not about all those Midwestern buyers who, out of misplaced loyalty, stuck with domestic makers during decades of substandard cars.

No, the people who matter for Chrysler's next decade are those oft-reviled "coastal elites" and the Southern Californians who lead most automotive trends. They're the ones who, right now, haven't a clue where their local Chrysler dealer is. Because they've never even considered buying one.

We don't have a geographical breakdown, but it's clear the ads attracted attention to Chrysler and the 200. Kelley Blue Book recorded a 213-percent increase in Chrysler brand traffic, the highest of all Super Bowl advertisers (Mini was next, with a 154-percent lift).

The Chrysler 200 itself saw 10 times as many inquiries, far above the next best model advertised, the upcoming 2012 Volkswagen Beetle, whose inquiry traffic rose by a factor of 3. Similarly, Edmunds reports that Chrysler 200 traffic rose 1600 percent following the commercial.

Whether interest in the car translates into increased sales remains to be seen. The browsers may be impressed with the ugly Sebring's metamorphosis into a 200 swan. Or they may not, since in profile it's the same shape. We'll be watching the sales data closely. And, yes, California counts.

Want one?

But, hey, what do statistics matter against the appeal of a driving Eminem backbeat, with a gospel choir tossed for good measure, that somehow makes you feel good and proud and, durnit, American?

Because everyone knows that only Communists could hate a gospel choir.

Here's the bottom line: If the Eminem ad worked, you should want to go out and test-drive a 2011 Chrysler 200 right now.

Do you?

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