Business

The Ad Industry Seizes On Detroit As Its Next Hipster Darling

The motor city has long been a hotbed for car commercials. But recently advertisers have been jumping at the chance to document Detroit’s cultural transformation.

Detroit’s evolution from motor city to recessionary wasteland to hipster hotbed is taking place before our very eyes — documented in commercials over the last few years. Google, for instance, just released an ad for its new Maps app that features the city’s edgier side.

Google’s spot showcases a whirlwind 24 hours in the city from an outsider’s perspective, leaving him dazzled and exhausted by a mix of Detroit’s eclectic and vibrant culture experiences. It is the latest in a series of ads set in Detroit that underscore the city’s spirit and culture.

While the advertising industry has always used Detroit as a centerpiece for brands, the city wasn’t always portrayed in such a glamorous and hip way.

In 2009, after Obama’s $24.9 billion bailout of two of the Big Three automakers, the ad industry pounced on its downtrodden-city-with-something-to-prove narrative with Chrysler’s 2011 “Imported from Detroit” campaign as its centerpiece.

The following year, the narrative shifted to other industries and a bootstrap-the-city’s-revitalization theme took hold. Kansas City-based tax consulting giant H&R Block selected Detroit as the star of its “Never Settle for Less” fundraising and advertising initiative.

Quicken Loans, which had moved its headquarters to downtown Detroit in 2010, also created an ad campaign around rebuilding and revitalizing the city center. Dan Gilbert, the founder of the company, which is the third largest mortgage lender in the nation, has been spearheading downtown Detroit’s commercial renaissance ever since, buying up and renovating commercial buildings.

Even Twitter announced plans to open an office in Detroit last spring as part of its efforts to boost advertising and brand promotion through sponsored tweets.

Though Google banked on the city’s cultural and structural renaissance for its ad, which nearly a week after debuting had more than 670,000 views on YouTube, it didn’t ignore Detroit’s reputation as a struggling metropolis. The idea behind the ad, according to a consulting source familiar with its production, was that a guy misses his flight and is upset about having to stay overnight in Detroit, even if it is at the Westin Book Cadillac downtown. But then he uses the new Google Maps app and discovers the city’s awesomeness.

But why Detroit and why now?

Google is a marketer that wants to tap into a hipper audience, the source says. And Detroit provided the perfect backdrop, with its bustling startup atmosphere and burgeoning art scene, among other factors.

“It’s no longer ‘let’s bring Detroit back,’ it’s like, Detroit is actually cool now,” said the consultant.

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