Detroit right now is having a bit of a down day - this perhaps being the understatement of the century. Not all that long ago the city of Detroit was a teeming metropolis of 1.8 million people and it had the highest per capita income in the United States. It's been slapped around the face with bankruptcy, it's once industrial, hard-working exterior is crumbling and less than half of residents over the age of 16 are in employment. In some areas you can snap up a 3 bed house for $500 and there are currently 78,000 homes lying empty across the city. So it would seem strange then that there seems to be a growing trend for American companies to use the Detroit name to sell their product. The city, for all it's faults, has become a synonym for the well made, the industrious and evokes a sort of heritage that brands clamber after.
Shinola, which takes its name from the resurrected shoe polish brand, specialises in bicycles, watches and leather goods, many of which are made in Detroit. Shinola is very keen to get this point across, just look at their website with its loving portraits of workers in its factory, and a rose-tinted tribute to local artisanship. This company perfectly demonstrates the flavour of the moment - buying something made in Detroit, is buying into the revival of a great American manufacturing city gone to shit (or at least the idea of this). Everybody loves an underdog.
There has been a conscious effort by businesses and residents to re-brand Detroit as the city of opportunity, a city reborn, a phoenix rising out of the ashes you could say. You can see the The 'Opportunity Detroit' logo is stamped all over the downtown area, as well as having a heavy online presence. A boldly designed OpportunityDetroit.com invites you to 'find your opportunity' choosing one of three pathways - live, work and play.
By associating themselves with Detroit, brands are associating themselves with a struggle, overcoming difficulty with resilience. It represents a sort of strength knowing that you can build yourself out of a hole. "Having "Detroit" on the dial was a source of fascination and pride for many customers, says Steven Katz - a watch seller stocking Shinola. "People would be less likely to balk at the price because it's made in America."
Detroit's ties to the auto industry have also lent it an appeal as the "real man's city", says Scott Galloway, who teaches marketing at New York University's Stern Business School. "Detroit 'reeks grit and toughness', he says, an association that is strongly male but can appeal to both sexes. Associating with a product that makes you feel manly or masculine is an incredible asset, and right now there is no more macho city than Detroit."
America is rooting for Detroit, hoping it will rebuild and revitalise. In making the connection between products and the city, businesses are indeed hoping that consumers will in turn root for their brand.
These images, when placed side by side, perfectly demonstrate the juxtaposition the city finds itself in today. A struggling broken city that still clings to it's industrious past in the hope that this may be the thing that can bring it back from the brink....