By now, many Detroiters have gotten their first taste of the glitzy new rides that are being shown at the Detroit International Auto Show. Behind each one of the designs, presentations and stages is an idea or concept into which some creative thought has been engendered. As I walked across the floor last week, the reverberating sounds of last year’s Chrysler 200 commercial kept making me wonder: who was really behind what amounted to this tribute to the resiliency of the people of Detroit featuring the 200 as a metaphor for the spirit of this city?
During one of the sessions, I encountered Chrysler’s CEO, Sergio Marchionne. I asked him who was responsible for this truly unique ad. He said that all of the people who were involved in it were “home grown.” This led me to a discussion with a young man with a tall, quiet presence and intellectually sharp. His name was Saad Chehab. Given Chrysler’s 49% increase in market share over the last year, I just had to think that some of that growth owed to this young man who handles marketing for a renewed Chrysler.
As we talked prior to the interview, I found out that Saad was a graduate of the University of Detroit, and had spent time at St. Andrew’s Hall in the exclusive underground level known as “The Shelter.” He proudly proclaimed that he considered himself a Detroiter, though not born here, and had seen Eminem long before his 8 Mile fame, and certainly before he uttered those famous words, “This is Detroit, and this is how we do.”
As we spoke further, we found ourselves reliving some of the same memories about Detroit—memories rarely dispensed in the daily news reports which tout the pain of the city like a broken water pipe. Saad took me on the tour of the development of this spot, citing the resiliency of Detroiters—the never-say-die attitude, and the tempering of character grown out of misfortune. Saad said that the true idea of this spot was centered in the everyday hardworking people—the guy with the swagger that walked across Griswold, the doorman who gives an approving wave, not just for the car you’re driving, but because of the connection that he feels with you as a fellow inhabitant of this special place known as Detroit.
At that point, I witnessed something I’ve rarely seen in the many interviews I have done, especially amongst auto executives. Saad started to tear up when he mentioned the doorman. I felt the deep love and connection that he shared, not just with an ad, but with the people of the City of Detroit that made the essence of that ad possible. I had been prepared to ask why Eminem was used, and when Saad regained his composure he told me that the original point of the spot was to illustrate the involvement of ordinary people, and that as the commercial evolved, Marshall Mathers/Eminem was added—as, ironically, was the choir featured at the Fox Theatre, which had been serendipitously rehearsing at the Fox the night the camera crew came to shoot the spot.
Saad added that Eminem proved to be a metaphor for the spot. His life, after all, reflects Detroit—one that bridged the traverse from poverty to success. He maintains his connection with the working class from whence he came.publicschool
There will be many reports this week about automobiles, and just as many reports about the people who build them, market them and sell them. But few will have the strength, the sensitivity and the true passion for this city and its people which I witnessed during this interview.
I have done many interviews in my career. They have been excited, varied and interesting. But rarely have I been involved in an interview/connection which touches my soul, reflects the soul of the city and captures the soul of a company.
Having talked with the marketing team at Chrysler this week, I am even more convinced. Through that iconic 200 commercial they were trying, not only to sell a product, but encourage people around the world to love and respect Detroit just a little bit more.