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Super Bowl Ad Stories: Chrysler, Eminem Break an Awkward Silence in Detroit

What impact can an ad really have? Can it actually make a city feel better about itself? The answer this morning seems to be yes, thanks to Chrysler and Wieden + Kennedy.

The relationship between America’s car companies and the city that originally made them has been awkward for years. The city of Detroit housed and raised the factory workers of Chrysler, GM, and Ford’s (as some in the city still call it, as if it were still a little family business). But the car companies discouraged diversification of the city’s economy, and city residents will tell you that the Big Three pretty much just stood by as the unemployment rate soared, the school system went sour, violence reached epidemic proportions, and city government became a piggy bank for the friends and family of city officials.

But a Super Bowl ad from the company that is now 25%-owned by foreigners has the whole city buzzing today. Chrysler, which is run by Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne, delivered a rousing two-minute spot last night that summed up the hopes of everyone who believes the city can come back strong. The ad made the front page of today’s Detroit Free Press, with the headline "Motor City Pride." On Facebook, Detroiters across the country are raving about the spot, reflecting the affection they still feel for the city they left. "We all cried," wrote Shelby Meade, a publicist who grew up and attended school in the area but now lives in L.A. "Mom reminded us that Grandpa Walker did advertising for Chrysler."

The ad was ostensibly for the Chrysler 200, and it roared out from the pack of silliness last night during the third quarter. It did so much so right, offering so many details that showed a real understanding of Motown. Opening shots of factories; interstate road signs to introduce the name "Detroit;" cutting to downtown as the narrator begins to discuss "luxury," a downtown still resplendent with buildings and architectural detail from a time when Detroit was the richest city in America; straight ahead references to the fact that the city has "been to hell and back"; and finally a ride down Woodward Avenue, ending up outside the beautiful, powerful Fox Theatre, built in 1928, restored in 1988 thanks to the Ilitch family, which also owns the Red Wings and the Tigers. And the tagline, "Imported from Detroit," is perfect. It blends luxury and quality with Motown pride, while at the same time acknowledging just how much America has wanted to pretend that Detroit is from a different country, an "unAmerican" country that would allow its citizens to live in such despair.

But the biggest choice Wieden + Kennedy and Chrysler made was their choice of spokesmusician. The guy who emerged from that gleaming Chrysler 200 was Eminem, not Kid Rock. Kid Rock is the singer who has been most associated with the revival of the city. His recent 40th birthday concert at Ford Field was a rockfest celebrating the city; he’s sponsored one charitable event after another for Detroit; and he has at least two businesses ("Made in Detroit" clothing and "Badass" Beer) that are local and proud of it.

Eminem’s support of the city has been clear but overshadowed by Kid Rock’s. Not last night. The ad (which had been set up perfectly by an earlier Lipton Brisk spot in which an animated Eminem mocked the singer’s well-known aversion to publicity, love of profanity, and need for "hot chicks") drew power from the fact that Em doesn’t do this kind of thing. There’s a moment early on when viewers could see Eminem at the wheel of the car, creating a level of disbelief that it’s actually him. But the pulsing music behind the whole thing is the great intro to "Lose Yourself," whose propulsive beat has always seemed to me the best modern expression of what’s at the best heart of the city.

The ad caps an amazing year for Wieden + Kennedy. You may remember the Super Bowl last year, when the agency debuted a little ad starring a former footballer who’s come to be known as "The Old Spice Guy." Not a bad 365 days.

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  • Michael Barnard

    Just to show the impact that this ad had... (outside of the Edmunds data posted previously)

    On Feb 7th, 2011 the top 5 searches on google were.

    1.superbowl commercial...
    2.the springs costa ri...
    3.queen noor
    4.michelle baker 200

    Darth Vader ad was 8th

    Also, if you look at the google search trends over the past 30 days for "Chrysler 200"

    Though if you look at the top cities, Detroit is #1, and "Atleast we're not Detroit" is #2 for searches.
    It is also interesting to see that Italy is 3rd in search volume for "Chrysler 200".

  • Nathaniel Pachtner

    What a great commercial for Chrysler and more importantly Detroit! Did anyone else like the Eminem/Rhys Chatham mashup version of "Lose Yourself"? If you did you can check out more of Rhys' music at

  • David Kaiser

    This ad was beautiful and raw and compelling. I love how it confronted the stories and the images directly instead of dancing around them. I haven't been to Detroit in 20 years, and I hated it then, but I would be willing to have another look.

    David Kaiser
    Executive Coach and CEO

  • Jayson Jordan

    This ad is especially interesting considering the fact that Chrysler is looking for more money from the taxpayers, and it is obvious that it was not cheap to produce. This article seems to want to lay Detroit's decline at the step of the automobile companies, yet it was first and foremost Democratic economic policy that drove the city into the ground. It is wretchedly painful to see what Detroit once was and what it is today. May I direct those who aren't already aware of the photography of two Frenchmen, Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre.


    i really enjoy this spot, gave me chills... did eminem make anyone uncomfortable at the end?

  • None Required

    Thanks for your input Thom. It's pretty obvious you don't know very much about advertising and the different methods encompassed by the term.

    So, was your "review" based on jealousy or are you one of those "journalists" who's mentioned in the spot as the folks that write bad about the place but "have never been here"?

  • John Conroy

    Yeah, a really strong and smart spot for Chrysler. Hits the right notes of heritage and rebirth ... has a great sense of something bigger, making Chrysler the scrappy underdog you want to root for. Elevates the whole brand. Awesome job.

  • joe jameson

    obviously you don't know your advertising very well - this ad and the VW ad are pretty much the only 2 being talked about nationwide today. so would you rather spend 9 million on a 2 minute ad everyone is talking about (and google said it was THE most searched item last night), or spend 15 million on 5 ads and bomb out like chevy did? i think your ego needs to be massaged sir, good luck finding someone to do it.

  • Michelle

    Ads worked: Shopping consideration on online car shopping site went up overnight 328% for Chrysler make, 1,729% for Chrysler 200 that starred in the ad, 174% for Chrysler 300

  • Shane M. Liebler

    Disagree, Thom. The ad showed heart and had a sublime uplifting quality to it that is universal. And I think "Imported from Detroit" is a clever and solid tag line.

  • Thom Mitchell

    Of course the ad resonated in Detriot - it was all Detriot, all the time. I'm glad Chrysler chose to spend it's dollars massaging and soothing the egos of Detroiters everywhere, but I thought the purpose of ads was to build brand loyalty and sell stuff, and the last time I checked Chrysler wasn't doing a very good job of that. To me the ad just as easily could have been made by the Detriot Visitors and Convention Bureau or the Detriot Chamber of Congress not by Chrysler.

    Once you get past Eminem's music - which is great and all - the ad starts to look pretty ordinary. Here's my full breakdown of this year's Superbowl commercials.

    Thom Mitchell

  • Michael Brown

    Thom Mitchell wrote: "Of course the ad resonated in Detriot - it was all Detriot, all the time. I'm glad Chrysler chose to spend it's dollars massaging and soothing the egos of Detroiters everywhere, but I thought the purpose of ads was to build brand loyalty and sell stuff..."

    Well, Thom, that's easily said when you don't live in a city that is the butt of every joke, the scourge and bane of the national spotlight and the first name that comes to mind whenever crime and dilapidation are mentioned. The turn-around for the big three is as much tied to a since of pride about what you drive as it is the quality and reliability of what you drive.

    Chrysler is making strides in the quality department (very slowly, I will add). But why not address the "pride of ownership" aspect also?

    Don't view the ad as an attempt to simply make Detroiters feel better (which, let's face it - we deserve more than anyone else in this country right now - with our near 25%, yes 25% unemployment rate). View it as an underdog story. A Rocky vs. Apollo Creed story. Everybody likes to rally behind the underdog.

    Detroit is coming back. But apparently some people just seem determined not to let it. And you wonder why we're the underdog we've become.