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Schadenfreude is so, so satisfying…

Now that we’ve all had a good laugh at Dan Gilbert’s “trumpet guy” billboard, though, we need to have a conversation about quality control.

You can see “the billboard” attached. It’s easy to see how PR folks – and especially native Detroiters – might find this tableau de phony-baloney a bit “tone-deaf.” Gilbert admitted as much, during his general apology for the entire “See Detroit Like We Do” marketing debacle-turned-meme in 2017.

In a departure from convention and possibly sanity, I’m going to take a stab at defending the brand itself. “Grain of salt” firmly implied — I grew up 2,342 miles from Detroit, knowing only that Alan Trammell was the odious spawn of Lucifer for breaking my Friars’ hearts in the 1984 World Series.

See, I think “See Detroit Like We Do” is actually a pretty elegant, grassroots-y message for a city looking to attract investment. It’s just facing the wrong way.

For example, it’s the last thing you want to hear from a bunch of Armanis flanking a carpetbagging billionaire – even one with the best of motives and intentions. It’s hard not to bristle at the implications of “transforming” a city built as much on its cultural influence as its industrial innovation.

But, spoken from the perspective of the hard-working and diverse people of Detroit, it’s not bad. “Hey, huge company looking for a place to invest: See Detroit Like WE Do”. In other words: “You are honored guests, but this will always be OUR city. Build on the foundation of OUR history, culture and demographics, and we’ll all transform together.” (actually, that’s a pretty good brand! Maybe a little unwieldy, though…)

The “inclusive diversity” lesson here isn’t even a lesson. Whether you’re one of America’s most influential cities, or a local community college, you want your diverse communities to “see themselves” in your branding. I mean… obviously. And if, for example, your community’s cultural bobbin runs along a thread of inspired genius, from The Blues to Del Shannon to Aretha Franklin… make sure you don’t just give them Kid Rock and call it a day.

The real lesson here, as I see it, is about the importance of quality control. For most of us, the stakes don’t involve billions of dollars and the very survival of a city, but even so… every piece representing the campaign needs to stand on its own, bearing the core message under its own weight.

Most of us have never made a billion-dollar mistake. But we’ve all made lots of little ones. Even Alan Trammell – the clutch-hitting jerk – didn’t smack two homers off Eric Show every game, the jerk.

It’s OK… I’m OK… It was 34 years ago. Let it go, Jim. Just let it go…

 

Jim Wiseman is a marketer, writer, four-time Pulitzer Prize winner and inveterate liar. He is Interact’s Strategic Director (honest!)



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